On first impressions

I’ve often wondered what was going through the minds of the people watching me eat something for the first time. In almost every instance I’ve eaten some random thing I’d never even imagined out there in Asia, or wherever I was, I’ve gotten a similar reaction. It was that pleased smile, bordering on laughter, as the person with whom I was witnessed the precise moment in which the flavors and textures registered with my brain. Although, every now and then, their reactions were nothing short of perplexed as I was clearly not enjoying the delicious moon cakes they had offered. They can’t all be winners.

A few days ago, I had a couple of friends from Bangkok in Miami and I finally got to live through those food firsts from the other side. It’s some kind of wonderful to witness someone experience something so foreign to them yet so ubiquitous to your world that it’s a matter of fact.

There are many things I missed about Miami while I was living in Thailand, but most of all, the food. There’s nothing like the type of Latin American food you can get here: the Cuban, Peruvian, Nica, Colombian, Brazilian, Argentinian… I spent a lot of time trying to describe the wonders of maduros and properly seasoned black beans (i.e. not the Chipotle kind) to my friends in Bangkok. Even the rice is not the same, and Asia has their rice game on lock, but so do we, it’s just a different lock.

I took my friends to Versailles for them to get a proper taste of Cuban food. Right on cue, as we were taking a seat, they were mesmerized by the buttered Cuban bread on our table. I don’t blame them because I’m mesmerized by Cuban bread on a daily basis. It’s so simple yet so different from the stuff you get over there. I love me some Cuban bread and now, so do they. To warm things up, we got some batidos de mamey, which is a fruit you won’t find on that side of the world (as far as I know) and got the thumbs up. Then I caught them off-guard with the maduros (fried sweet plantains) that came with every dish we ordered-their expression was priceless-and then proceeded to kill it: vaca frita, arroz imperial, and chuletas the puerco, killed (see below).

We topped off the experience with two of my favorites, a flan Cubano and a tres leches, which turned out to be tasty but way heavier than they expected. Maybe that’s why I’m such a sucker for sticky rice and mango. After dessert, we were ready for a really long walk.

As we made our exit, Henry almost didn’t make it out in one piece. He got caught by the intense gravitational pull of the pan con guayaba, which acted on him like some kind of tractor beam. But we held our ground. After some deliberation and, I imagine, intense soul searching by my friend, we decided that those pastries would be better left for another day.

How to eat on a budget while traveling

NYT’s Frugal Traveler has post on a recent Facebook discussion about eating on the cheap while traveling. The consensus on the topic boiled down to three points:

  • Shop at food markets.
  • Keep your splurging and/or exploring to one meal a day.
  • The proper way to ask locals for suggestions.

All solid points, although, I think figuring out where locals eat can sometimes be easier than it seems and it may not even involve asking any questions. All it takes is keeping your ears open and your eyes peeled. Along the way, I’ve realized that the packed hole in the wall with the loud music is so much better than the fancy restaurant with the good write up on the Lonely Planet, or most of them for that matter. It might be a hole in the wall it’s not that hard to find. It will be much cheaper and infinitely more satisfying.

Obviously nothing beats befriending the local folks. I had the best cuy of life while hanging out with the manager of the hostel in which I was staying in Ollantaytambo in Peru. I got to go shopping at a food market in a town nearby, then tried out and splurged at a restaurant filled with office types at lunchtime with my new friends. Although some would say that $5 for a meal isn’t exactly breaking bank.

How to eat on a budget while traveling

I wasn’t too keen on John Oliver since he left the Daily Show but his 20 minute segments are starting to grow on me. Its focus on a single topic give it the feel of a longform version of the Daily Show. In this video he’s schooling us on food waste: Did you know that despite the popular belief that we can get sued if someone gets sick from donated food there hasn’t been a single case where a food donor has been sued. I didn’t. While he’s at it, he also shows us the proper way to shine the light on absurd (moronic, imbecilic, etc, etc, etc) presidential candidates.

John Oliver drops gems on food waste

Low budget notwithstanding, I get the feeling that this is going to be a very loose adaptation of one of the best anime series I’ve seen in recent times. This version seems less steam punk, more dystopian sci-fi. Also, Kiko Misuhara is on that Gal Gadot tip, based on this preview, she looks too frail to play a bad ass like Mikasa. I still love the pure b-movie feel of it, plus, it reminds me of a really high-budget, over-produced Thai horror flick and you can’t go wrong with those ;) If Hollywood ever got their hands on this, not that I’m overtly eager for it to happen, they should get Sam Raimi on the job (and not cast Emma Stone as Mikasa. Just saying.)

Attack on Titan

Summa time reading

It’s July and I’m about 5.5 books into my summer reading, still a couple behind my goal this year but luckily, I’ll have until early September before I have to shift my attention away onto something else. About two more months of books to catch up on a beach, with the crashing waves drowning out all other kinds of distraction, hoping not to get any sun-block-oiled finger smudges or sand in between the pages. Ah yes, the beach, the sun and a good book. The whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Here is a brief summary of my summer reading thus far:

  • Children of God by Maria Doria Russell. The superb sequel to the equally excellent ‘The Sparrow.’ It follows the story of Emilio Sandoz, the sole survivor of the botched mission to Rakhat, as he realizes that nothing is ever what it seems, not even when you’re supposed to have a better understanding of the situation at hand. Russell dispenses great words of wisdom and excellently written, interlacing story lines. I highly recommend it but would suggest you read ‘The Sparrow’ first, it will test your sense of faith.
  • Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. A brilliant piece on the food industry and how they game the consumer into buying their products through science and marketing. It will make you think twice about the stuff you buy at the supermarket.
  • American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett. A Stephen King-esque story about a woman who finds herself in a town so perfect that it could be out of a parallel universe. Things get more bizarre, terrifying and incredible as the fast paced story progresses. Think ‘They Live!’ without the campiness and the horror factor dialed up to eleven. Best read this year so far, which is saying a lot considering I’ve had some amazing reads so far.
  • Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Make Something Up: Stories That You Can’t Unread.’ A collection of short stories with plenty of stuff you wish you could unread but not really. While the gross-out factor is very high, the best stories aren’t on that tip. Disgusting and great all at once. It made me add another Palahniuk book to my list.
  • Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.’ I think I was supposed to read this back in high school and never did. I’m glad I finally got around to it despite the fact that I found the protagonist incredibly self-centered and frustrating! Ugh. Overall, it was an interesting peek into the world to which Mary Shelley belonged, where even a monster feared a lonely existence, and more interestingly, how he sought Victor to build him a companion of the opposite sex. Despite the ever lurking monster in the shadows, the slaughter of the innocent, and all the uncertainty suffered by Victor Frankenstein, it’s not a scary read. I mean, I would definitely classify it as a sci-fi “thriller” rather than as a horror story. What’s truly terrifying about this novel are the implications surrounding its theme.

I’m currently working on ‘How Not To Be Wrong’ by Jordan Ellenberg, a great read on the importance of math. It helps answering many a high school math students’ favorite question: “when am I ever going to use this?” by showing how mathematical concepts help us understand (and how they work in) every day situations. It is incredibly interesting, engaging and full of jokes, the math nerd kind.

Here are a bunch of other books on my list, a list to which I may or may not strictly adhere (and at worst hopefully get to by the end of the year):

Got any suggestions? Had any surprising and/or interesting reads so far this summer? If you do, give me a shout in the comments.