Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Weirdest Foods I've Ever Eaten: Part 2

Food and drink are important aspects of material culture. Cultural norms define the boundaries of what we believe is acceptable to eat while other potential food sources that fall outside these boundaries are seen as strange or weird. When I travel I push myself to challenge the norms defined by my culture by seeking out meals that would never be served at my family's dinner table. This is part two of a three part series of the weirdest foods I've eaten.  Link to Part One

Bird's Nest Drink
In search of a refreshing beverage in the heat and humidity of Saigon, I was delighted to come across "Bird's Nest Drink." While all the usual suspect soft drinks were available, I figured "how could I go wrong with an ingredient list that read 'Water, Sugar, White fungus, Bird's Nest'?" The drink itself tasted like sugar water but had the added bonus of floating jelly chunks throughout (presumably fungus and nest?). This drink does not go down smooth, at all. Bird's nest is a popular ingredient in many Asian dishes. The particular type of nest used is that of a Cave Swift which unlike most birds, makes it's nest from it's spit. So, if you are having cravings for sugar water with chunks of gelatinous bird spit, head to your local Asian market now!

Grilled Pigeon
Within hours of arriving in Phnom Penh I had a hankering for some local food. While searching for a suitable restaurant I passed by a woman grilling up some chicken on the side of the road. When I took a second glance I realized that these were no chickens, but were clearly pigeons with their heads and feet still in tact. They were cheap, so I bought one. The meat was quite good, similar to duck, but eating an animal with it's head still attached took some getting used to. I still wonder if those pigeons were raised for consumption or just caught around town.

Snake whiskey
As a friend and I we're playing pool in a small bar called "Nam Bar" in Hoi-An, Vietnam we met the friendly barkeep named Moon. At one point Moon asked us if we wanted to try some "Snake whiskey." He took us to the back room of the bar where there was a large jar of anonymous 'animal parts' with some liquid, which was presumably whiskey. Moon explained to us how they made it themselves in house from ingredients purchased from a traditional Chinese medicine shop and how the liquid had many health benefits for which he takes at least a shot a day. Dr. Moon then prescribed my friend and me a shot, I was happy to accept, my friend...declined the offer (how rude). When poured, the shot contained no obvious animal extremities a appeared only as a yellowish liquid. Down the hatch......uggh! Not the best tasting liquor I have had, perhaps one of the worst, but if the what Moon tells me about the health benefits is true, I'll take it over Buckley's any day.

Snake + Snake blood
Le Mat, a village on the outskirts on Hanoi, is home to an assortment of restaurants all serving entirely snake meat. Eating snake meat is traditional in northern Vietnam and is an activity for 'Manly men.' In traditional Vietnamese medicine drinking the blood of snakes (particularly the cobra) is believed to increase sexual virility. Knowing that I was certainly a 'manly man' in search of this 'sexual virility,' I took a tour to Le Mat. The tour took us to a small restaurant on the banks of the Red River. Once we were seated the waiters brought a live snake that they prompted us to kill (so you know it's fresh). The waiters then assisted us in preparing shot of snake blood with the still beating heart and bile mixed with local spirits. The taste was almost entirely that of the very rough spirits and the tiny heart was unnoticeable in the shot.

Once the shots are taken the snakes were brought back to the kitchen to be prepared. The snake dishes I had were phenomenal. I was truly amazed with how delicious everything was. I think it was mostly down to the great blend of spices that they used which could've made any food taste great. So what does snake taste like? I would have to say, it tastes like frog.

Snake meat meal
Dried Octopus
I picked up a pack of dried Octopus at the Tokyo Narita Airport in an attempt to get rid of my last remaining Yen. I decided to save them until I got home so that my whole family could try. Obviously, they were delighted. Eating the octa-jerky was like chewing on a fishy tasting chunk of rubber. I think it could work well as a gum substitute for people not into the normal minty gum flavours. People looking for that fishy breath scent that says "yes ladies, I would like to make out."

Chicken Feet
I tried chicken feet for the first time as a post-bar snack in Vietnam and they were not as "finger licking good" as I had hoped. My honest opinion was "what's the point." Most of the edible meat on the feet consists of skin and tendons, without much muscle. That means that all you get out of chicken feet is some dried up skin and chewy tendons. I really have no idea why chicken feet are so popular in Asia. In China they are called Phoenix talons, so maybe pretending you are eating a mythical creature makes it more palatable.  Though, personally I don't think I'd have much of a taste for Unicorn's hoof either. Useless.
Finger Licking Good?
Cricket's and Tarantulas
A brief rest-stop en-route from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap presented me the opportunity to try a different type of meat than I am used to, from the world's most abundant protein source: Bugs. I saw the large bowls containing various bugs as soon as I stepped off the bus but I was reluctant to immediately go for it as I had just woken up. An elderly local woman saw me eyeing the bowls of bugs and offered me a cricket from her own personal stash that she had bought. She even prepared the cricket for me by removing the legs and wings. The cricket wasn't bad, it had been soaked in spicy oil which dominated the flavour. The best part was that the woman seemed very happy to have shared a part of her culture with me.
Encouraged by the 'not so bad' cricket I was tempted to expand my palate further. The next bowl over contained large black tarantulas soaked in a similar oil concoction. I bought one and proceeded to eat a couple of the legs, which were crunchy and not dissimilar to the cricket. It was only when I bit into the spider bulbous abdomen that I began to question some of my choices. The inside of the abdomen was black and chalky with an unappealing flavour. Needless to say, I had had enough spider for at least a little while.

Part 3 coming soon: The weirdest foods I havn't eaten (yet).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Favourite Travel Photos: Castell Statue, Tarragona

A Castell (a human tower built traditionally in festivals) statue in Tarragona, Spain.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

International Beer of the Week: Hitachino Nest White Ale

Country: Japan

Best Enjoyed: at a Hanami party (flower blossom viewing)

Hitachino Nest beer is a fine example of Japanese craft brewing. With labels sporting the lovable Pokemon-esque Owl, Hitachino Nest beer has earned a reputation both in Japan and abroad for great, innovative beer.

Brewed by Kiuchi Brewery (木内酒造) in Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, Hitachino Nest beer combines European beer-making technology with traditional Japanese brewing techniques. The brewery has been producing sake since 1823 and did not venture into the beer industry until 1996. With a hint of traditional sake brewing methods and high quality ingredients imported from Europe, Hitachino Nest beers have won numerous awards worldwide. Visitors to Kiuchi Brewery can brew their own original Ales with a help of the award winning brewers. The brewing process roughly takes 3 to 4 hours and the finished products are delivered to your door in three weeks time (if you live in Japan). While Kiuchi Brewery brews a diverse line of innovative beers, the beer of the week is my personal favourite: the Hitachino Nest White Ale.

Hitachino Nest White Ale is proof that Japanese brewers can make great European style beers.  White Ale or witbier, as it is known in Belgium, is a Belgian wheat beer that differs from the German style through the addition of flavouring ingredients such as coriander and orange.

This particular white ale pours a cloudy straw-coloured beer with a creamy white head. Grain, malt and yeast dominate the first taste followed by a very refreshing citrusy-orange hop and spicy clove and coriander character. It is no wonder why this is one of Hitachino Nest's best selling beers when it tastes this good. This is an excellent beer and by Japanese, Belgian or any other standards. Simply delicious.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Weirdest Foods I've Ever Eaten: Part 1 of 2

Food and drink are important aspects of material culture. Cultural norms define the boundaries of what we believe is acceptable to eat while other potential food sources that fall outside these boundaries are seen as strange or weird. When I travel I push myself to challenge the norms defined by my culture by seeking out meals that would never be served at my family's dinner table. This is part one of a three part series of the weirdest foods I've eaten.

A relatively tame way to begin this list is with my experience eating the iconic Australian Marsupial: the Kangaroo. While eating kangaroo meat isn't all that common in Australia it can be found in most supermarkets. My first taste of Roo meat was in the for of Kangaroo sausages, aptly labelled 'Kanga Bangers.' The sausages were very tasty and lean, prompting me to seek out Kangaroo steak on my next visit to the supermarket. The steak tasted similar to beef-steak, as kangaroo is a red meat, but stronger in flavour than the meat from commercially raised food animals. Although many people find kangaroos to be too cute for consumption Kangaroo meat is high in protein and low in fat (about 2%) and has been attributed with a wide range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties. I personally have no trouble eating both 'Kanga' and 'Roo' of the "Winnie the Pooh" stories because if they are anything like the other kangaroos I have encountered, they will be delicious.

Soused herring
Known as maatjesharing in Dutch, soused herring is gross. While many people may not find this to be particularity weird or gross, soused-herring was one of the least enjoyable things I ate in europe. I bought a herring sandwich in Amsterdam after my friend informed me that it was a famous Dutch food. I ignored the fact that I don't particularly enjoy fish to experience the local culinary culture. I should have stuck to fries and mayo. Soused herring or Maatjesharing is a type of pickled herring prepared by preserving raw herring with salt followed by brine. The liver and pancreas are left in the fish during the salt-curing process because they release enzymes essential for flavour. The herrings are then placed in the brine for approximately 5 days, traditionally in oak casks. They require no further preparation after fillet and skin removal and can be eaten as a between meal snack with a few finely cut raw onions or as a sandwich. So maybe it isn't all that weird but I didn't like the texture or the taste.

When I was in Beijing I found that many interesting foods served on a stick. I was most intrigued by the big black scorpions of which I promptly purchased one. After selecting the skewered scorpion of my choice the 'chef' tossed it into the deep fryer. After a few minutes I was handed the skewer. At first I didn't know how to go about eating the giant bug but eventually I took a bite of one of the large claws. It was crunchy at first and then somewhat chewy. I was actually disappointed that I couldn't find much flavour, other than from the fat it was fried in (I was kinda hoping it would be like a little lobster). Overall, it was nothing to be afraid of, and what looks cooler than chomping into a massive scorpion?

Now everybody is aware that frog-legs are an iconic part of French cuisine; however I was not in France when I tried frog meat, and it was not only the legs. The frog I ate was battered and fried whole at a street-side vendor's stand in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Turns out that chicken tastes like frog, except I found the frog meat to be somewhat slipperier (or moist I suppose). Pretty good little snack actually although I didn't eat the entire frog.

Century egg
Admittedly, I did not actually try these while travelling. I recall seeing them while I was in China but I didn't get around to tasting one. It was only when I was back in Vancouver that I managed to convince myself to buy a 4-pack from a China-town supermarket. The exterior of the egg's shells seems innocent enough; slightly grey but nothing too concerning. The eggs offputting qualities are only revealed once the shell is removed. made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks, the yolk becomes a dark green, cream-like substance with a strong odor of sulphur and ammonia (or piss), while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavour. The sight of the egg alone is enough to turn most westerners away, but in truth the taste wasn't entirely bad. I was able to eat most of an egg and found that it mostly tasted like a hard-boiled egg (which I'm not a fan of).

'Hot' Dog
No, not hot-dogs but hot dog. Thats right dog meat, man's most delicious friend. It turns out dog meat is popular in northern Vietnam so, naturally, when I was in Hanoi I knew I had to try it. After a long day of wandering around Hanoi I stumbled upon a vendor with, what can only be described as, a spit roasted dog (in tact, head and all) on a platter. I wasn't really prepared for how the cooked dog would be presented. But alas, I pointed to the dog and indicated that I wanted some, at which point the vendor brought out a cleaver and hacked up some meat from a previously dismantled dog. I was given a bag which included a decent portion of meat as well as some sausage (made from the dog's intestines). I found the flavour to be similar to mutton, which was kinda odd. All-in-all a nice little lunch. Now, before you assume that I'm an evil dog hating monster hear me out. I like dogs and grew up with a pet dog at home, but I also like cows and pigs and don't have much against chickens either. I have no problem separating food from pets and these dogs were bred for food.

Tune-in for Part 2 featuring Tarantulas, snakes and more!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Favourite Travel Photos: Mekong Sunset in Luang Prabang

laos, mekong, travek
The departure point for Slow and Fast boats en route to Thailand. Taken in Luang Prabang, Laos

Friday, September 17, 2010

International Beer of the Week: Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Märzen

In honour of particular beer-fest I bring to you, this week's international beer straight from the bowels Oktoberfest: Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Märzen. This is one of the beers that all the Germans will be getting pissed-up on this weekend and for the following couple of weeks at Oktoberfest. 

Founded in 1417, Hacker-Pschorr is one of the so-called 'Big Six' Munich breweries. While originally founded under the name Hacker Brewery, in the late 1700s Joseph Pschorr bought the Hacker brewery from his father-in-law and subsequently founded a separate brewery under his own name. His two sons divided his estate by each taking control of one breweries and it wasn't until 1972 that Hacker and Pschorr merged to form Hacker-Pschorr.

Oktoberfest Märzen is a special type of beer produced seasonally for Oktoberfest. The style originated from a time before refrigeration when it was difficult to brew beer in the summer due to the hot weather and bacterial infections. The brewing season ended with the coming of spring, and began again in the fall. Beer intended to last until the fall was brewed at the end of spring in March (März in German). These brews were typically brewed with higher alcohol or strengthened hopping so they would keep throughout the Summer. The style is characterized as full-bodied, rich, toasty, typically dark copper in colour with a medium to high alcohol content.

The taste of this particular Märzenbier is mildly malty with caramel flavours. The hoppiness is relatively mild but maintains a nice flowery character. A nice refreshing beer that would be perfectly complimented by an oversized pretzel or some wießwurst while sitting under the blue skies of the Hacker-Pschorr beer tent. In addition to all other goodness, this beer is 5.8% abv making the piss-up all that much greater.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oktoberfest: Pure Awesomeness, or so I've always assumed.

Oktoberfest is pure awesomeness, or so I've always assumed. Admittedly I have never actually been to Oktoberfest; however, I did once write a paper in German class about it, I have been to Munich several times and once I even seriously contemplated buying a pair of lederhosen. Now that it has been established how fully qualified I am to write this, without further adieu I give you: Oktoberfest Fun Facts!

  • Oktoberfest is one of the most famous events in Germany and the world's largest fair.
  • The original "Oktoberfest" occurred in Munich, on October 18, 1810: For the commemoration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese.  
  •  In Germany, the evenings and nights can get very cold in October, so to ensure high attendance, authorities decided to move the celebration to the end of September. The name did not change because the Oktoberfest ends the first weekend of October.
  • Since 1950, A twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at 12:00 by Mayor of Munich with the cry "O'zapft is!" ("It's tapped!" in the Austro-Bavarian language) opens the Oktoberfest.
  • 2010 marks the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. For the anniversary, there will be a horse race in historical costumes again on opening day. 

    • Six million people attending every year. Around 60% are aged 30 or less
    • 72% of the festival visitors come from the home state of Bavaria, whilst another 13% come from the rest of Germany. Approximately 15% are visitors from abroad 
        • Many attendees wear traditional Bavarian clothing.  Lederhosen for the men and Drindls for the ladies (Side-fact: drindls are sexy!)


        • There are 14 beer tents (or beer halls), each offering their own special brew or entertainment.
        • The Germans jokingly refer to those who have succumbed to too much beer as “Bierleichen”(beer corpses).
        • The German breweries represented at the Munich Oktoberfest tents are: Augustiner, Paulaner, Spaten-Franziskaner, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräu.
        • The larger beer tents can seat up to 9,000 people and a total of 1800 waitresses serve the festival's beer. 
        • In 2009 6.5 million litres of beer were consumed
        • This German beer festival is not only about beer. German wine is also served and there is a wine tent call the WeinZelt, which offers more than 15 different wine.
          • In 2008, Bavarian Anita Schwarz set a new (Guinness) world record when she carried 19 full beer steins (5 in either hand and 9 on top) totaling 45 kg, or 90 lbs over a distance of 40 meters without any spillage and placed on a table.


            Traditional hearty food includes:
            • Hendl (chicken), 
            • Schweinsbraten (roast pork), 
            • Haxn (pork knuckle)
            • Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick)
            • Würstl (sausages) along with Brezn (Pretzel)
            • Knödel (potato or bread dumplings)
            • Kasspatzn (cheese noodles)
            • Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes)
            • Sauerkraut or Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a fatty, spiced cheese-butter concoction) and
            • Weisswurst (a white sausage). 

            The Fairgrounds

            • The festival is held on an area named the Theresienwiese (field, or meadow, of Therese), often called d’ Wiesn for short.
            • It takes two months for construction workers to transform the fairgrounds to a pulsating city of beer tents and food stands, roller coasters and carnival rides—and one month to disassemble it all.
            • In 2010 microscopic bacteria will be used in to fight smelly odours of stale beer and rotting food that was previously masked by smoking

            • Nearly 1,000 tons of garbage result annually from the Oktoberfest.

            • The mountains of garbage created are hauled away and the ways cleanly washed down each morning. The cleaning is paid for in part by the city of Munich and in part by the sponsors.

            • Approximately 1,800 toilets and urinals are available.

            Doesn't that all sound pretty awesome?  Unfortunately, I will yet again, not be attending this year however, I do plan to be there in 2011 in full lederhosen, possibly even with bells on.  Until then, Prost und auf Wiedersehen.

            Dates :
            Oktoberfest 2010: 18.09.2010 - 04.10.2010. 
            Oktoberfest 2011: 17.09.2011 - 03.10.2011. 
            Oktoberfest 2012: 22.09.2012 - 07.10.2012.

            Monday, September 13, 2010

            Travel Photo: "Live Asahi for Live People"

            japan, tokyo, travel
            Asahi beer machine in Asakusa, Tokyo.  I wish we had beer machines in Canada

            Friday, September 10, 2010

            International Spirits: Baijiu

            Under the dull fluorescent lighting of a Wal-mart like no other I had ever encountered was where I met Baijiu. I spotted the small clear bottle containing an equally clear liquid adorned with a red and blue label and hastily moved toward it. The label contained little text I could read other than 56% which was adjacent to image of an older Chinese man smiling and giving a 'thumbs up' as if to say "Go on! Drink It!" I looked up at the price sign which featured the familiar Wal-mart smiley face next to a price that read ¥9 ($1.30). Hell yes I bought it!

            baijiu, Travel

            Thursday, September 9, 2010

            International Beer of the Week: Tsingtao

            china, beer, travel

            Country: China

            Best Enjoyed: Anywhere in China really....

            Founded in 1903 by German settlers Tsingtao is China's largest brewery. The beer is produced in Qingdao in Shandong province and now claims about 15% of domestic market share. While named for the city where it's brewed the name of the beer uses the old French transliteration and the beer's logo displays an image of a famous pier on Qingdao's southern shore.

            While Tsingtao brewery produces several varieties of beer, Tsingtao Beer, its flagship beer is a well-hopped standard lager with 4.7% alcohol. Originally, Tsingtao Beer was brewed in accordance with the German Reinheitsgebot ('Purity Law') utilizing only water, barley, and hops. Today however, Tsingtao beer, like many other beers made in China, contains a proportion of the less-expensive rice as an adjunct in the mash but as the label states, Tsingtao is still "Made with water from the famous pure mountain water of Laoshan."

            china, nightlife
            Straight from the classic green bottle (or plastic bag if you prefer) the aroma is of faint grains with some hop floral notes. The first sip finds a medium bodied beer with flavours of grain and bread and a malty sweetness. A healthy hop bitterness follows the malt character and creates a beer that is pleasantly crisp. All in all a surprisingly refreshing beer that is a great accompaniment to Chinese cuisine.

            乾杯! [干杯!]   (Gan BAY)  (cheers!)

            Wednesday, September 8, 2010

            Favourite Travel Photos: Sunsetting Over Prague

            Prague, PRaha, Travel, Travelling
            The sun setting over Wenceslas Square in Prague, right before departing on a Pub Crawl.

            Friday, September 3, 2010

            Singapore Slang

            singapore, Travel, Traveler, guide

            Singapore, the great city that makes up a tiny country is a wonderful destination for any traveller. Whether you seek shopping, nightlife or cultural experiences Singapore has it all. Nestled on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore can provide a refreshing break from the hectic nature Southeast Asian travel but for those looking to do more than take breather, Singapore offers some of the best nightclubs in the world that make it no wonder why Singapore is an mandatory stop for any recording artist touring Asia.

            Populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians, and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe, Singapore is a Multi-cultural melting pot. While English is the primary spoken language most Singaporeans speak at least one other Asian language. As a result of the blend of cultures and languages a unique dialect of English, know as Singlish, has developed. While Singlish is nearly unintelligible to English speakers, nearly all Singaporeans are capable of speaking standard English. Despite Singapore's partly deserved reputation for being an uptight finance and business centre city knows how to party when the sun goes down.

            If you are looking for a laid-back night out Boat  and Clarke Quay are the place to go. Boat Quay is a historical quay in Singapore which is situated upstream from the mouth of the Singapore River. Shophouses on it have been carefully conserved and now house various bars, pubs and restaurants.

            clarke quay, singapore, travel, alcohol

            Clarke Quay  boasts more than 50 eateries featuring more than 20 different types of cuisine, and more than 20 bars, clubs and pubs. One bar of particular note is the hospital themed 'Clinic.' Patrons at clinic are seated in wheelchairs while they sip cocktails out of an I.V. drip bag for outrageous prices. The most impressive nightclubs at Clarke quay are the gigantic Mega-Clubs: Zirca and Arena. Zirca took over Ministry of Sound's former digs and has kept their tradition of pounding out electronic beats from internationally renowned DJ's. Arena has been in operation since2007 and operates on much the same format as Zirca. If you find yourself out in Clarke Quay either one of these venues is unlikely to disappoint.

            Another great nightspot 'Dbl O' is found a couple blocks up the street from Clarke Quay. This large club boasts a total of four bars and a large dance floor. The best night to go is Wednesday when ladies drink for free.

            The Mega-Clubs of Clarke Quay were undoubtedly inspired by Singapore's oldest and most popular nightclub 'Zouk.' Named after the French Creole word for 'party,' Zouk is three clubs in one catering to all tastes, be sure to arrive early if you want access to all three clubs as tickets sell out. A beach dance party called ZoukOut is organized at the beach resort Sentosa in December of each year. The event features DJ's from around the world and is a must see if you happen to be in Singapore at the right time.
            travels, city guide, singapore
            drinking,party, nightlife

            As for what to drink before hitting the dance-floor, Singapore Sling, is of course a classic. The sickly sweet pink mix of pineapple juice, gin and more sells for very high prices simply to take advantage of the tourist desire. Tiger Beer is Singapore's first locally brewed beer and the largest beer brand. It is exported worldwide to more than 60 countries. Alcohol taxes make drinking quite the expensive endeavour in Singapore, so if you are flying in make sure to stock up at the duty free.

            The sights sounds and smells of Singapore make it a traveller's dream. So much to see and do are packed into this tiny Asian nation and the comforts of home are not hard find. The bars and clubs featured in this article are merely the 'tip of the iceberg' of what Singapore has to offer. If you haven't added Singapore to your travel itinerary yet do it now, but make sure to visit while you're young enough to explore what Singapore's vibrant nightlife has to offer!

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