Monday, July 20, 2015

You Say Tomato, I Say Boston

In Boston for a long weekend. Stumbled upon a sprawling Farmer's Market walking from the Financial District towards North End. The produce was just incredible so today I dedicate a post to 'fruit'.

과일 [gwa-il]
فاكهة [faakiha]
くだもの | 果物 [kudamono]
水果 [shuǐguǒ]

Monday, July 13, 2015

Countdown to Spectre: "Dr. No" and a Dry Martini, Shaken, Not Stirred

Every time a new James Bond film is released, I say I'm going to rewatch all the other films in preparation, but I've never succeeded in completing this epic endeavor. This November welcomes the premiere of "Spectre", the 24th James Bond film (counting only those by Eon Productions, of course), so once again I'll try to see this 20-plus week marathon through to the end.

A couple of weeks ago, I started yet again from the beginning with "Dr. No."

Film: Dr. No
Year: 1962
Bond: Sean Connery
Lady: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress)

This being the first of the films to be released, I had to memorialize the signature Bond martini. After all, anyone can tell you that two of the most well-known Bond phrases are "Bond. James Bond." and "shaken, not stirred." Herein, though, lies the problem: which martini recipe is the classic? The first reference to a martini in this film is when a hotel employee prepares the drink in Bond's hotel room.

While handing the libation off to 007, he says, "one medium dry vodka martini mixed like you said, sir, but not stirred". Worth noting is that there are a bowl of sliced limes on his drink cart.

The next mention of a martini occurs towards the end of the film when villian Dr. No offers his guest hostage a "medium dry martini, lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred." Bond asks, "Vodka?" To which, Dr. No dryly (and with a little bit of a side eye) responds, "Of course."

While it's clear Bond likes his martinis of the vodka variety, it's hard to say what exactly is meant by 'medium dry'. It's a grey area ... unless, of course, you cheat, which I do. I'm a cinematic fan of Bond, meaning I haven't read any of the books. My love for these movies is born mostly from nostalgia, from all the times I watched them on TV with my dad and uncle. I'm sure I'd quite enjoy the novels, but I never really thought to read them. However, for the purpose of this exercise, I had to reference one of the novels, namely 'Casino Royale', where, in the seventh chapter, James Bond orders:
"A dry martini," he said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet." 
"Oui, monsieur." 
"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?"
This signature cocktail is known as a Vesper, after the agent's love interest in the book. Since the book is the source material from which the movies are based, I have to conclude that the Vesper is the recipe by which we need to memorialize Bond's very special drink.

At this point in the post, I'd enjoy my own version of the cocktail and post pics, but as I am 16 weeks pregnant I'll have to upload a pic from the last time I attempted (to drink my way through) a Bond marathon. Sigh...


호텔 [ho-tehr]
فندق [funduq]
ホテル [hoteru]
酒店 [jiǔdiàn] (large hotel)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day Trip: Philly Food Crawl

It was the second day of spring. The sun was out, the birds were chirping... a fresh layer of snow covered the ground. Wait, what? Yes, it appears spring on the east coast (and midwest according to my Chicago friends) was heralded in by a snow storm this year. Yikes! I needed to get away and my FBF (food best friend), Lier, was up to the challenge of taking our weekly food crawl out of state. There was a time when we once thought Flushing was far, but on this day we were hitting the road and heading to Philly!

I made my way to Chinatown in NYC to catch the Philly-bound bus early on Saturday morning. I know New Yorkers lament about the rising costs of those Chinatown buses in recent years, but I still think an $18 round trip ticket is a steal! I pay more for intra-Manhattan cab rides after all. So, I bid adieu to the Big Apple and two hours later said hello to the City of Brotherly Love.

As the bus stop was in Philly's Chinatown, we intended for our first meal to be at Rangoon, a fairly popular Burmese restaurant. I was especially excited about the restaurant after I saw this video vignette about the three lovely co-owners. Unfortunately we had arrived too early and the restaurant was still closed! We were down but not out. We walked around the block and stumbled upon Xi'an Sizzling Woks, whose window boasted a picture menu which included biang biang noodles. As this dish is a recent obsession of ours, we were intrigued.

Upon our entry, we were welcomed by Rebecca who was so incredibly hospitable and an absolute joy. We told her we just wanted to share a bowl of noodles and she obliged, even welcomed us to see the pulling of the dough. The end result was a perfect bowl of chewy, slippery, and slightly spicy noodles.

When Rebecca delivered the bowl, she was so excited she mixed the noodles for us and kept telling us about all the fresh ingredients comprising our dish. As with any good host, she left us to enjoy the food before it got cold, and we proceeded to lick our plates clean!

By the time we were done with our 'amuse bouche', Rangoon was open so we headed over to get our fill of Burmese. Though we had a list of recommended dishes, we chose a few items from the menu we thought we'd like better. In the end, we were underwhelmed with our food (particularly our beef and noodle dishes) and the dining experience as a whole, but perhaps Xi'an Sizzling Woks had set the bar too high. Not all was bad though, I particularly liked the tea leaf salad, which was an explosion of (crunchy, peanuty, sour yet refreshing) flavor.

With our bellies full, we were ready to explore. As it was both our second times in the city, we were excited to re-visit a few places, like Reading Terminal Market, and discover new sites. Since we were downtown, we headed towards the market. We essentially walked the entire market and sampled some free food, but none of the stalls seemed to catch our attention. I know everyone loves the DiNic's pork sandwich, but I had already tried one during my first visit back in September. Quite frankly, I think that enormous sandwich would've killed us! Instead we enjoyed a little 'window shopping'.

Being a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Reading Terminal Market was packed. After an hour or so of pushing past and squeezing by crowds of people, we were ready to get a little fresh air. Lier had never seen the South 9th St. Italian Market so we headed that way. I was keen to re-visit D'Angelo Bros. where during my first visit I picked up some wonderful kangaroo, bison, and elk jerkies. These guys are great butchers and when we popped in they had just started butchering a couple of rabbits so I got to watch the masters at work. I had hoped to come back before our evening departure to pick up some goods, but missed the opportunity. Next time, I won't make that mistake!

Lier and I continued walking around the neighborhood and decided we needed a drink. I found a couple of locals and asked them to point us to the closest bar. They initially suggested Ray's Happy Birthday Bar, but the smoke-filled dive was a little too much for daylight hours so they instead sent us to Garage.

After a couple of whiskys and deep discussion, we were ready for our next meal. Last September, when I visited Philly with Jon, we had walked by a strip mall packed with a bunch of Vietnamese businesses. I noted its existence and upon my return to NYC I inquired about it and learned that there was actually really great Vietnamese food in Philly, specifically in that strip mall. Since NYC lacks great Vietnamese, Lier and I knew we had to try it for ourselves. We headed to Pho Ha on a recommendation and ordered a pho and a bun, which is exactly what our slightly tipsy appetites needed. The verdict: bliss.

Now with our hearts AND stomachs full of happiness, we embarked on another walk. We headed toward the Magic Gardens to get our fill of art. Unfortunately, the space was closed for a private event so we couldn't go inside. Still, we enjoyed the mosaics on the outside and on the nearby buildings. The tiled patterns were actually quite lovely to see and they were especially beautiful basking in the sunny spring day.

Photo by @jlierchen

Not sure of what to do next, we continued our walk towards Independence National Historical Park. However, by the time we arrived, it was nearly 6pm and the monuments were closing for the day. We peeked at the Liberty Bell, which I had the pleasure of visiting the last time around, and the spent some time resting on a bench in Independence Mall. It was really such a lovely day that it was nice to sit and unwind, particularly after all the food we had eaten.

With the remainder of our time, we decided to head back to Reading Terminal Market to pick up some goodies to take back to NYC and grab another drink. We hadn't thought to check the operating hours so we came back to a closed market. Since we had already agreed that we couldn't possibly eat anymore food we went back to Chinatown where we were able to jump on an earlier bus and head back home, concluding a perfect day trip to our neighbors in Pennsylvania. Until next time!

버스 [beo-seu]
حافلة [Haafila]
バス [basu]
公共汽车 [gōnggòng qìchē] (lit. 'public car')

Xi'an Sizzling Woks
902 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

Rangoon Burmese Restaurant
112 N. 9th St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

Reading Terminal Market
51 N 12th St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

D'Angelo Bros
909 S. 9th St., Philadelphia, PA 19147

1231-1233 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, PA 18147

Pho Ha
610 Washington Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
1020 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jordan: Jordan River Baptism Site & Dead Sea

On our third day in Jordan, we took a day trip to visit the Baptism Site of Jesus, known as el-Maghtas (المغطس‎). The area, known as Wadi Kharrar, has only been excavated since 1996, but many remains from both the Roman and Byzantine periods have been found, and it is widely believed to be the biblical Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

These are some views as we traveled toward the Baptism Site. The picture on the left shows two of the various churches that have been erected in recent years, including an Anglican, Armenian, Coptic and Catholic church. I particularly loved the view as it reminded me a little of Tatooine. [Amirite, Star Wars fans?]

Visitors are shepherded through the area by a guide, basically making your way from the entrance of the site to the bank of the Jordan River.

Along the way, there are several mosaics including the one on the left which depicts Pope John Paul II's visit in 2000, which was the first modern papal pilgrimage to the site and marked the Vatican’s blessing upon Bethany Beyond the Jordan as the location of Jesus’s baptism.

The Jordan River is actually much smaller now and is quite murky looking, but as a history buff or a person of faith or both, it's still quite moving. There is a serenity in the atmosphere and to think of the history in that location is awe-inspiring. The photo on the right shows the river flowing between Jordan, where I stood, and Israel, just beyond those steps. As I am fascinated by borders, it was quite interesting to literally toe the line between two countries.

Below is the actual spot where Jesus was allegedly baptized. The branch of the river that flowed through this pool fit for 300 pilgrims has long since dried up leaving a very dry bed of land. The summer heat only exaggerated the desiccation.

After our visit, we needed to escape the hot rays of the August sun so we headed toward the Dead Sea to cool off. We bought a day pass at the luxe Mövenpick Resort where we enjoyed the view of the Dead Sea from their infinity pool (maybe with a cocktail in hand).

Of course, we also took a dip in the sea, which was quite surreal. The high level of salt in the sea -- about 10 times as the ocean -- makes it quite dense which means you can't sink. Quite the opposite, you are buoyed up to the surface like a cork. You can barely stand up!

The mineral-rich mud is also full of therapeutic properties so you'll find scores of people covering themselves in it and baking in the sun. I'm not sure how much I nourished my skin in that one visit, but it was definitely as relaxing as any spa treatment I've had before... though it may have been the stunning views that ultimately calmed me.   

강 [gang]
نهر [nahr]
がわ| 川 [kawa]
河 [hé]

More from Jordan:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jordan: Eating in Amman (and Madaba)

For Part 2 of my Jordan posts, I wanted to highlight some of the delicious meals I had in Amman.

One of my first meals had to include real Middle Eastern falafel, so I headed straightaway to the famed Falafel al-Quds (فلافل القدس) on Rainbow Street. This place was barely a restaurant, but more of a brick-and-mortar stand where the options were limited to 'falafel sandwich on regular bread' or 'falafel sandwich on sesame bread'. For about less than $1USD, this fresh, hot falafel sandwich was already one of my favorite meals (and it was only my first full day in the city!).

On our second day, after a luxurious afternoon at the hamam, we headed to Reem al Bawadi (ريم البوادي) for one our bigger meals in Jordan. This sprawling restaurant, which has its flagship location in Dubai, was a treat just to be in. The Bedouin-like decor, with tents overhead and low tables and cushioned banquettes for seating, was a great backdrop for us as we took the time to unwind into the evening.

My absolute favorite meal in Jordan was at Sufra (سفرة) on Rainbow Street. This lovely restaurant is where I finally got to try mansaf (منسف), pictured bottom right, for the first time. Mansaf is Jordan's national dish and is made of lamb cooked in a dried fermented goat yogurt (called jameed جميد) and served atop a layer of flatbread with rice (or bulgar) and nuts. This rich, creamy dish is *the* definition of comfort.

In fact, I loved mansaf so much that when I spotted it on a menu recently I jumped at the chance to introduce this Jordanian gem to my dining companion. Best of all, we were dining at Chef Rawia Bishara's Tanoreen in Brooklyn, arguably one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in NYC, so the dish was as good as my first taste.

But back to Amman... Haret Jdoudna is actually not a meal had in Amman, but Madaba, a city about 20 miles out. We went to visit Madaba as they are known for their Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics (post forthcoming). After a few hours of wandering around, it was a delight to sit in the picturesque courtyard of Haret Jdoudna and enjoy a delicious Jordanian meal.

Lastly, there was street food (kind of). One night, we headed to Downtown Amman to Hashem Restaurant, a legendary 24-hour spot run for over a half century by a Turkish family. It is said to be the oldest restaurant in Amman... and who am I to fact check such a bold statement? It was clearly popular with the locals so you know it had to be good! The grand total of our meal came out to something like $5USD.

Of course no street food excursion would be complete without a stop at the famous Habibah Sweets, where the specialty is kunafa (كنافة), a warm cheese-filled dessert that is crusted with vermicelli-like threads (or fine semolina), soaked in a sweet syrup, and covered with crushed pistachios. I had sweet dreams indeed!

I missed a couple of meals, namely the ecofriendly Wild Jordan Café and the outstanding Levant Restaurant, both of which I highly recommend despite not having photos to share.

밥 [bap] (lit. 'rice')
طعام [Ta3aam]
たべもの | 食べ物 [tabeno]
饭 [fàn] (lit. 'rice')

More from Jordan: