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Posts tagged ‘Food’

Dear Indonesia, Terima Kasih

Dear Indonesia,

You knew I was coming back, right? You must have. You must have known I needed to see you and that my soul needed to climb a volcano, see orangutans in the wild, get food poisoning in front of 50 people, think my boyfriend was proposing (read on for that one), see a few sunrises and sunsets, and snorkel the most amazing waters – you knew, you crazy, beautiful, chaotic, fascinating nation, you knew didn’t you?

So how does a girl get a two week vacation in Indonesia in late August and early September 2016? The simple answer is quit the job where you’ve been miserable for months (thanks rounds of layoffs) and convince your new boss that starting a job in financial journalism in August when everyone is on vacation is not a great idea. Then you get Victor to talk you into going to Indonesia (a country you’ve talked about incessantly for the past four years) instead of a new country. So in less than two weeks I planned a two week Indonesia trip that would take us to Java, Sumatra, Lombok, and the Gili Islands. Planning this meant I got to choose places I never made it to while I lived in Indonesia and also avoid the heavily touristed places (while still great, I’d much rather do off season).

After running through the Dubai airport (the most intense workout of my life) we caught our connecting flight and made it to Singapore. After traveling for 24 hours you deserve a cocktail or two and sometimes you get lucky and a truly fantastic place, Hopscotch, is right near your hotel (oh my god the Jewel of Maxwell cocktail with gin, lychee, yuzu, rose cordial, grapefruit, and fresh citrus I’m still thinking of you – don’t worry full restaurant, hotel, adventure list at the end of this post). We spent 24 hours running around Singapore exploring, eating, and catching up with friends.

Of course I would sit down next to Mr. Retra (whose business card says business manager) on the flight from Singapore to Jakarta. Within a few minutes we were chatting and he said I should call him if Victor and I needed a ride or just wanted to hang out while we were in Jakarta (Indonesian hospitality and kindness is always heartwarming). I was surprised how quickly my basic Indonesian came back to me. It’s true about things hiding in the back of your mind somewhere.

It had been four years since I set foot in Jakarta. My friend Niar was there to greet us in the morning and spend all day with us exploring Kota Tua, having lunch in Grand Indonesia, going to the spa, and eating a big Indonesian dinner. I still recognized Jakarta despite the continuing building boom. Traffic has gotten worse, but the city is actually looking a bit cleaner. A lot of that, in Niar’s opinion, is thanks to the governor Ahok. In late August sitting in a cab in Jakarta traffic talking politics with Niar neither of us could predict that in less than a year Donald Trump would be elected president in the U.S. and that Ahok would be charged with blasphemy and face two years in jail. It’s a crazy, unpredictable world these days and Indonesia’s echoes of 1998-1999 are really scary to me especially when it comes to mentions of Chinese Indonesians.

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Dreaming of Japan

Two years ago around this time I took a trip to Japan with grad school classmates. It was an amazing trip organized by Japanese students attending Columbia (most of whom are back in Japan these days working for their government), which meant they organized and guided us through their home cities making sure we got to see, eat, and do as much as possible. Now that I work full-time, I find myself dreaming about my next trip to somewhere far, far, away, but while I plot that, I figured I should share some photos from Japan that I never got around to two years ago.

We started out trip in Kyoto — a city I hope to return to some day. Like the Japanese ladies below, we got dressed in kimonos (minus face paint) and walked around seeing temples, eating, and enjoying warm weather.

Geisha Walk

Geisha Back

Latern Sign

Wishes and Prayers

Kiyomizu-dera temple above Kyoto:

Temple and Kyoto Tower

Catching Water

Kyoto Temple


Kimono Pickings

Kyoto’s Golden temple, also known as Kinkaku-ji:

Golden Temple

Temple Incents

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Ukraine Eats

Before I embark on a weekend of eating grilled things to celebrate the birth of America, I thought I would show you what I ate for a month while in Ukraine. These days Kyiv (and to a lesser extent Lviv) have many options. Sushi has really taken off in Ukraine. In Kyiv I lived by a place called Yellow Ocean (slightly racist), I never did have sushi over the month I was there, but it looked good whenever I walked by. I tend to live by the “when in Rome,” so “when in Ukraine, eat Ukrainian food.” I love Ukrainian food, now maybe it’s the Proust-like link to my childhood and my grandmother’s warm kitchen in upstate New York where she always let me help her chop and peel and instilled a love of food in me at an early age. So call me biased. Two very traditional dishes (you will also find variations in Russia, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe) are borsch, a beet soup, and varenyky, dumplings (called pierogies by Poles in English). On one of my first days in Lviv I sat on the main square in downtown and treated myself to both plus extra sour cream — you only live once.

Lviv lunch

Sour cream is one of those items Ukrainians have in their fridges at all times. Add it into soup, mix it in with salads, sweeten it with sugar and vanilla — it’s one of those ingredients that is adaptable to whatever you may be cooking or eating.


I like to think that borsch is in many ways a beautiful metaphor for Ukraine and it’s regional variations. No one borsch is the same — some people add beans or more tomatoes, sometimes the beets are cut very thin, other times you get beet chunks. Borsch is one of those dishes that everyone will say their mother or grandmother makes best — better than your mother or grandmother.

Military Bowl

And then there’s green borsch which is totally different from red borsch. Made with sorrel and often served cold, it’s meant as a summer soup.

Green Borscht

One thing I didn’t grow up with in the diaspora with was salo. Salo is essentially pork fat. People will slice off slabs and snack on it while drinking vodka. I actually like it when it’s mashed up with garlic and spread on brown bread. It’s one of those things you just have to try.

Bread and Dip

Some potato piroshki:


One of the cheapest places to get a Ukrainian meal in Ukraine is Puzata Hata. The chain has locations across Ukraine and for a few bucks you can get a plate of delicious varenyky, meat stuff ones pictured below.

Meat Varenyky

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Tropical Fruit Installment 19: An Ode to Mango

A friend in college, who had grown up in the Phillippines, had one thing to say to me before I moved to Asia: “You know nothing about mangoes.” She went on to tell me how the one, maybe two, easily found varieties we get in the US are sub-par. Needless to say, within about a week of being in Indonesia, I realized she was completely and totally right. Not only are there hundreds of varities of mangoes, they can taste like completely different fruits. Really I could write a Dr. Seuss rhyme here…

Mango Vendor

So in my effort to get to 20 tropical fruit posts, here’s my ode to a fruit most people know, but don’t really know. When mango season arrives across Asia, there’s an excitment among the vendors. And the fruit isn’t necessarily cheap. I would sometimes pay almost $2USD for a large, perfect mango in Jakarta. Often street vendores give you a spicy salt that you can dip the fruit into.

Piles of Mango

It seems that India wins on the mango craze. The Alphonso variety is considered the creme de la creme — here’s a NYTimes story on mangoes in India. And here is a CNNGo piece about the same area where the very expensive prized variety comes from. I have yet to try it.

Slices of Heaven


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Laos Eats

I’ll be honest with you: I knew nothing about Laotian food before I traveled to Laos. And I have no clue why I didn’t because there is a large Hmong population in my hometown, but only one restaurant I have heard of since. Lao cuisine is delicious and different from neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam (sorry never got to Burma to eat). The French influence is very noticeable in Laos with baguettes easily found and several French restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Because I heard so many great things from Chloe, I decided that Victor and I would take a cooking class at Tamarind, a restaurant and cooking school, in Luang Prabang.

Laos Sampler

We arrived in Luang Prabang around lunchtime and decided to eat at Tamarind. The lunch was fantastic, so that boded well for our class. One of the first things that I noticed about Lao cuisine was sticky rice. Sticky rice comes with almost every meal and when people eat with their hands, they use the rice as a base to scoop up other food. We ordered a combination plate (pictured above) which came with Lao sausage, a jerky and few small pickled salads. Lao cuisine uses plenty of fresh herbs, but I was most surprised to encounter dill, an herb I associate with Eastern European cooking. It was so hot when we arrived in Luang Prabang I had to order a cucumber salad too:

Cucumber Salad

Sticky Rice

Cooking sticky rice in special bamboo baskets:

Cooking Sticky Rice

A PiA fellow who has lived in Laos for many years recommended Lao Kitchen in Vientiane. As the hotel manager circled the location for me on a map he said, “Good choice.” And it certainly was.

Rolled Up

Lao sausage with a delicious dipping sauce and plenty of dill:

Lao Sausage

A laap salad, consists of minced meat, pleanty of herbs and a kick of heat from some chili:


Breakfast in Luang Prabang — if I had to liken it to anything, I would call it a rice noodle savory breakfast crepe:

Hotel Breakfast

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