Posts Tagged 'Food'

Days 4 & 5: Sugar in the Sauce

THE WATERCOLOR GLOW OF RED and white lanterns washes over Pontocho alley as dusk slips silently into night. We had set out to find the perfect setting for our final dinner in Kyoto, but after being brusquely turned away from our first pick (no reservation) we find ourselves wandering. The restaurants all appear nameless, their doors hidden. The tiny rooms we pass are filled with diners and brimming with conversation. To my ears the words are an indiscernible murmur, but I imagine they speak of an Old Japan that even then was colored by change.

With no knowledge of written Japanese, we pause only at places that include pictures on their menus. We soon realize, however, that whether or not a restaurant uses photos is indicative of its atmosphere and caliber. Those that seem the most refined or traditional rely solely on the printed word to list their dishes. And so we feel our options whittled down to a potentially embarrassing/unappetizing meal at an upscale establishment or a more common experience if we play it safe.

Just as we consider exiting the alley to seek food elsewhere, a small, simple menu outside the doorway of an aged wooden building catches our eye. There are only a few things printed in English and no descriptions. But the name of one dish touches on the fading memory of a meal I once ate as a child — sukiyaki.

Continue reading ‘Days 4 & 5: Sugar in the Sauce’

Seoul Journal: Tell Me What It Mela-Means

Beef protest in northern Seoul, June 2008. Photo by Mr. Matt.

Beef protest in northern Seoul, June 2008. Photo by Mr. Matt.

SEOUL — DAWN IS AN OPALESCENT SOUP of haze and refracted sunlight. I pour a bowl of cereal, shuddering slightly as the flakes and bran twigs tap out a quiet cacophony on the porcelain, and reach for the milk. I pause, vaguely wondering about toxic proteins from New Zealand. The thought passes.

I take a jog through my neighborhood and see a woman selling dairy from a yellow pushcart, one of the many found in this city in the early hours. I wonder how her business has been affected. At the office, a co-worker asks if I’d like an instant coffee. I tell him tea would be better for both of us; there’s probably melamine in the creamer. I eat a sandwich for lunch and wonder briefly about what went into the cheese, the bread. At night, my wife brings home some icecream for dessert. We check the label and see “China” listed as an ingredient’s country of origin. We chuck it.

The globalization of the food chain has exploded the range of China’s melamine debacle. But here in such close proximity to the new world power, the likelihood is even greater that people are ingesting, buying, selling or giving contaminated foods to their kids. The industrial chemical that has claimed the lives of at least four infants in China has been found here in fish feed, snacks, dairy and candy. There are growing concerns that it may have been used as a pesticide on imported vegetables. The nation — indeed, the region as a whole — is facing a food safety crisis of unprecedented pervasiveness.

Yet months after South Korea’s citizens cried for the ouster of the Lee Myung-bak government, claiming his decision to open the local market to U.S. beef created a public health risk, there is no visible uproar over the melamine issue. The Korea Food and Drug Administration carries out its tests of products containing imported dairy, announces the results, and then — presumably — consumers change their behavior. No one is up in arms about Mars shirking the news that melamine was found in its products (the levels detected are supposedly too low to pose a health risk), and no one is blocking the ports where Chinese products are arriving, as happened when the first U.S. beef shipments arrived.

The belated reporting of the melamine crisis has revealed a gaping vacuum where morals, corporate responsibility and oversight should have been. China’s citizens are crying out, though due to the country’s media sieve, the outside world likely hears only a muffled echo of the true anguish felt by the tens of thousands of parents whose babies are suffering in hospitals across the country.

Why Korea’s people have chosen to stay silent on an issue that affects them more intimately and poisonously than mad cow disease ever will is a mystery that invites speculation: Perhaps, like smoking, the idea of gradually-accumulated chemicals causing harm is not immediate enough to stir panic. Or it may be simply that there’s just no real way to pin this one on the wildly unpopular President Lee. Either way, Korea would do well to meditate on what it means when the country’s largest trade partner is growing increasingly toxic, and spend an extra moment thinking about what might be floating in the milk.

[Edited on 2008.10.06]

This Week’s Wandering News

It’s been a long time since This Week’s has run, but in an attempt to — once again — get things into a normal rhythm here at TDT, we’re bringing it back. This week we lead with another disheartening tidbit about fakery at the Olympic Games.

  • Remember the ethnic minorities? They were fake too, says Foreign Policy blog Passport. Linking to a piece printed in Britain’s Telegraph, FP says the boys and girls who supposedly represented China’s 56 ethnic minorities in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics were, in fact, all Han Chinese.
  • Canadian writer-gone-English-teacher Joel McConvey posts a witty piece of booze-laden journalism about expat bars from his corner of the world in Jeju-do, South Korea. He deftly observes that the most memorable foreigner-filled watering holes are those that foster a “sense of limbo, wherein the bar’s palpable detachment from the surrounding geography and the norms of both the society in which it exists and that which it strives to emulate mirrors that of its transient patrons.”
  • Despite food prices being on the rise, people are still Buying into ‘organic,’ ‘natural,’ ‘local,’ writes IHT journalist Aline Sullivan. From the under-the-bridge farmers markets to the aisles of Whole Foods, foodies from Orange County to Britain are putting their money where their mouth is.
  • The Head of the House Homeland Security Committee has labeled TSA screener testing ‘a waste’, according to USA Today. Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) was reportedly pretty peeved when he found out that no follow-up examinations were being made after personnel failed to discover guns and other contraband that made it through the screening process. “You have a system that’s supposed to strengthen airport security, but you don’t use the results of the tests to do exactly what you’re doing the tests for,” he said. “It’s obviously a waste of money.”
  • And last Sunday, the Independent‘s Gap Year Guide took readers to the scorched New Mexico desert to show them How to be a modern day Mowgli. Or at least, how they can volunteer at a wolf sanctuary, hopefully without getting bitten.

36 Hours in Seattle

photo by puja

IT’S THE SUICIDE CAPITAL, a city blanketed by a dark watercolor sky for the better part of eight months each year. For a long time, the only thing out-of-towners could say about Seattle was, “it rains a lot there, right?”

But the city has gotten better press lately. The Puget Sound area is becoming known for its balance of urban living and quick access to the rugged outdoors — an aspect which led Seattle’s tourism bureau to coin the unfortunate buzzword, “Metronatural”. And of course, there’s the coffee. Thanks, Starbucks.

What still remains a bit of a secret, though, is how sweet Seattle can be in the summertime. The Emerald City becomes even more lush. A cool wind carries a blended perfume of salt and pine, and keeps the air temperature hovering around a cozy 75 degrees. We don’t use AC in the Northwest, we just open the windows.

And as more people discover the goods, the city grows and becomes more colorful — even as its citizens lament the rise of condo after glittering condo. New joints pop up while old favorites continue to boom, and those who can’t hack the rain trickle out. But the people who stick around love the city for its subtleties; from the Chinatown shops and corner cafes where you can while away the dreary months, to the outdoor markets and bike paths where you can celebrate the sun.

Read more at Vagabondish.

Perspective: The Food Crisis, from Wisconsin to Cambodia

bags of rice, thailand. photo by IRRI images.

I WISH I’D HAD A TAPE RECORDER. One day the manager at the cafe where I work was lamenting the climbing cost of her weekly groceries, the next she was attempting to justify the higher prices on our soup.

“[Another cafe] is charging five dollars for a cup that’s the same size!” she said, explaining why it was now costing our customers a dollar more for a product that we dump out of a bag. The economic reasoning seemed rather dubious to me, especially juxtaposed against her earlier complaints.

“This is how food prices go up,” I said to her dryly. She shot me a look that seemed to say, Whatever.

It was an illustrative moment. While I can’t pretend to fully understand the complexities of the looming food crisis, amid all the factors that lay out of human control — floods, poor crops, shortages, etc. — the common denominator appears to be human greed. This has manifested itself on a range of levels, from questionable price gouging to grain hoarding.

With recent riots over food prices in Haiti and the IHT reporting that elementary schools in rural Cambodia are being forced to suspend free breakfast programs, it’s obvious that — as ever — the world’s poorest are the first to feel the pinch of this greed. But in some backwards way it’s hopeful that Americans are too; proof that the distance of oceans doesn’t insulate us from everything.

The worrisome aspect of that equation is this: Americans have agency and buying power, whereas citizens of third world nations have little to none. Bloomberg says that hoarding by eager Wall Streeters is already adding to the pain of farmers and consumers.

And so we’re left with a reality that has always existed in some form but has rarely been so plainly presented — unless we check greed and panic in this situation, people will starve and die.

Looking at soaring food costs as an opportunity for capital gains is one-dimensional and shortsighted. Those inching up their prices hoping to make an extra buck are only going to turn around to find their dollars don’t go as far in the aisles of the grocery store. But Statesiders ought to reflect on the fact that on the other side of the world, the consequences are more real; kids going to school with empty bellies, families grinding by on rations bought with $2 a day.

This Week’s Wandering News

  • A new food blog is meticulously combing Seattle’s Chinatown restaurants in search of good eats. MSG150 has a total of 11 bloggers, each of whom takes photos of their meal, breaks down the good and the bad, and even copies their after-meal fortune. Via SeriousEats.
  • On the complete opposite of the food spectrum, shortages in North Korea are making political tensions worse. A poor autumn harvest, skyrocketing rice prices in China and Kim Jong Il’s rejection of South Korean aid are all culminating to create what could be a disastrous famine. From the IHT.
  • In the travel blogosphere, Nerd’s Eye View says she’s tired of all the on-the-cusp travelers whining about how tourists ruin everything. Her post, “The Thin Edge of the Tourism Wedge” cuts to the heart of the debate.
  • Marjane Satrapi, author of the Persepolis graphic novel series — now also major film — was interviewed by the Guardian last week. Journalist Simon Hattenstone talks about Satrapi’s precocious youth and her views on the way the world is heading.
  • A reminder to all us young writers and bloggers to keep perspective; there will always be someone who’s working harder.

This Week’s Wandering News

THIS BLOG HAS NEVER really had a strict format — and it likely never will. But in an effort to make things just a smidgen more consistent and a tad more daily, I’m making a few tentative changes. The first is the return of This Week’s Wandering News, a collection of links from around the interweb that relate to travel and world news. This will be posted every Sunday. If you can’t wait a week to get your hands on what TDT’s been reading, then check out my del.icio.us. Enjoy!

  • Going to be in the Rainy City for St. Patty’s Day? Then check out the bar guide over at The Stranger to go “beyond green beer.” Molly Macguire’s in Ballard is my personal favorite.
  • Korean burritos? Steak and bleu cheese dumplings? A new fusion restaurant in Chicago called “Crisp” is blaspheming traditional Korean dishes and making some delicious-looking concoctions.
  • An eerie capture of devotees dancing at an Indian festival celebrating the Hindu god Shiva is one among many fascinating photos in a Chicago Tribune collection.
  • The Philharmonic has left, the desperation continues. Fifteen people were shot by North Korean soldiers along the Chinese border. According to reports, some of the victims had been trying to flee the country while others had simply been aiding their escape into China.
  • Cycling groups are gaining popularity in Indonesia, as thousands of Jakartans are biking to work.

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