food porn

Ethiopian Boundaries

8 days in Ethiopia and it seemed so much longer. That's less about the country than it is about me--I'm frankly tired. I'm now 14 months into the one-way ticket, and even for the happy writer traveler it's starting to wear. It's tough to motivate sometimes--I mean, eventually a mountain looks like a mountain, a hotel is a hotel, and no matter how you spice it, chicken and rice is chicken and rice.

Which, on that last one at least, is a selling point for Ethiopia--cause this ain't chicken and rice:  

I'm so excited I don't even know where to look! Photo credit Bekele Atakilte

I'm so excited I don't even know where to look! Photo credit Bekele Atakilte

On my second day in Gondar, my excellent guide Bekele Atakilte connected me with a tour of Lake Tana and Gorgora. Riding the green lake waters on a perfect-weather day was lovely and peaceful--except when my lake guide (who will remain unnamed) was talking. He was a chatty fellow. And maybe it's just my cranky nature, but I feel like when you're on a boat you should talk sparingly if at all and just enjoy the view. Like a movie.

Anyway.

Ethiopia is a deeply religious country, and the majority practice Orthodox ChristianityLake Tana is home to numerous tiny Orthodox monasteries, some dating back to the 14th century. As we came to shore at one of them--the Manendeaba Abune Yassay Medhanealem Communal Monastery--my unnamed chatty lake guide bent over, cupped his hands in the water, and took several deep drinks. "It's holy water," he said. "It's like medicine."

Throughout my journey I've been conscious and intentional, avoiding judgment of other cultures and faiths. I was raised Roman Catholic, and honestly I find some of their tenets, umm... flawed. But at the end of the day, none of us know who or what God is, and my beliefs could be wrong.

With that said, I do believe strongly in the existence of waterborne pathogens. So when unnamed chatty lake guide offers me a drink of "medicine", I politely decline.

Next he brings me onto the monastery grounds to see the buildings and artifacts and meet the residents. I get the typical stares but I don't mind--it's a fascinating place. It's like stepping back in time. I see the relics accumulated over centuries. I admire the rough-hewn church, set among only trees and sky. It's simple and calming. I can see how one finds God here.

IMG_5597.JPG

Then it's time for lunch, and more simplicity: rough and rustic bread, thin broth, and local beer.

thankfully I had a big breakfast

thankfully I had a big breakfast

Unnamed chatty lake guide is solicitous and pushy. "Good, right?" "Local beer is good, right?"

And no, it wasn't particularly good, but I was down with a few bites and sips to have the experience. A very cool thing to do once.

"Eat more," he says.  

I tell him I'm not that hungry but it doesn't seem to matter. "No worries. Eat more." I'm getting annoyed but whatever--I get annoyed all the time. But then, as we're eating, he takes a handful of liquid-dipped bread and sticks it in my mouth.

In. My. Mouth.

I feel the tips of his fingers pushing against my lips. Fingers I had not seen him wash once.

Oh the revulsion.

I could have said something. I should have said something. But I was so shocked, even though I knew that was part of the old Ethiopian culture.

And maybe because I knew some Ethiopians still did this as a show of community and appreciation and welcoming that I didn't say anything. I knew he didn't mean any ill in doing it. And I certainly didn't want to offend him or the elders.

At the same time, eww eww eww.

enjoying new experiences. Can you tell I'm enjoying?

enjoying new experiences. Can you tell I'm enjoying?

So the anxiety was high as I took another drink of the sour local beer and saw his hand form again around a chunk of rough injera and perch nearby. I held that drink a long time, and still his hand hovered. I knew what was coming next.

Again, I could have said something. Again, I should have said something.

Instead, as I pulled my cup away, his hand found my mouth.

Ugh. I felt miserable--and not just from the spirochetes gleefully charging into my GI tract. Because I believe it's important to get out of one's comfort zone. New experiences expand the mind and enhance life. I've tried to say "yes" whenever possible on the one-way ticket and it's made a difference.

But sometimes you gotta listen to Nancy:

So when? And I guess I'm still learning, but probably when your own discomfort outweighs any offense you might cause others, that's a good time. Or when saying yes means a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Lesson learned.

I've still got what it takes to satisfy your hunger

Food porn**, Malaysia edition:

Pan Mee, Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur. Delicious soup with noodles, egg, meat with crispy and soft textures--and plenty of chili. As I left the manager politely told me I ate it wrong--you're supposed to keep the broth separate.  It was still good. 

Pan Mee, Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur. Delicious soup with noodles, egg, meat with crispy and soft textures--and plenty of chili. As I left the manager politely told me I ate it wrong--you're supposed to keep the broth separate.

It was still good. 

Bean paste cakes, Kedai Sin Hua Bee Kuala Lumpur. Tasty--for a dessert made from beans that aren't cocoa.

Bean paste cakes, Kedai Sin Hua Bee Kuala Lumpur. Tasty--for a dessert made from beans that aren't cocoa.

Stingray asam pedas, Asam Pedas Pak Man Melaka. My driver from the bus station to hotel told me to try this local specialty and was I glad. Rich stew, very tasty and spicy--too spicy, in fact, for the woman behind the counter, and she was surprised I liked it. This made me like it even more :)  

Stingray asam pedas, Asam Pedas Pak Man Melaka. My driver from the bus station to hotel told me to try this local specialty and was I glad. Rich stew, very tasty and spicy--too spicy, in fact, for the woman behind the counter, and she was surprised I liked it. This made me like it even more :)  

Pandan kaya puff, Jonkor Street Melaka. Flaky pastry with just the right amount of filling and sweetness--was an excellent snack when I was flagging. 

Pandan kaya puff, Jonkor Street Melaka. Flaky pastry with just the right amount of filling and sweetness--was an excellent snack when I was flagging. 

Roast chicken meal and strawberry float, Kenny Rogers Roasters Ipoh. Allegedly there's still one of these in The States (Ontario California) but I hadn't seen a KRR in decades. Meanwhile there are 87 of them out here so imma call it Malaysian cuisine.  

Roast chicken meal and strawberry float, Kenny Rogers Roasters Ipoh. Allegedly there's still one of these in The States (Ontario California) but I hadn't seen a KRR in decades. Meanwhile there are 87 of them out here so imma call it Malaysian cuisine.  

Skewered snacks, Lok Lok street cart George Town. Lots of food on sticks plus sauces for cheap--how can you go wrong?

Skewered snacks, Lok Lok street cart George Town. Lots of food on sticks plus sauces for cheap--how can you go wrong?

Tandoori chicken and garlic cheese naan, Restoran Kapitan George Town. George Town has a bustling Little India, so of course it has excellent and affordable Indian restaurants--very helpful, as Malaysia was the most expensive of SE Asian countries I've visited thus far. 

Tandoori chicken and garlic cheese naan, Restoran Kapitan George Town. George Town has a bustling Little India, so of course it has excellent and affordable Indian restaurants--very helpful, as Malaysia was the most expensive of SE Asian countries I've visited thus far. 

Steamed rice and soy sauce chicken, Tai Tong Restaurant, George Town. My last dinner in Malaysia and it was lovely--simple and flavorful. A nice way to say goodbye.

Steamed rice and soy sauce chicken, Tai Tong Restaurant, George Town. My last dinner in Malaysia and it was lovely--simple and flavorful. A nice way to say goodbye.

**Which may be the only kind of porn Malaysia would allow. Not that I went looking for it, of course of course.

Border run #2: a greener shade of Cambodia

I'm now starting my third month in SE Asia, and on day 4 (of 12 scheduled) in Cambodia.

Tempus fugit, Ferris.

I've also posted lots of food porn here but not provided a proper restaurant review. Until now.  

HAPPY SIEM REAP PIZZA

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Pizza is big business in Siem Reap (at least, as big as business gets here), with some surprisingly high quality pies on offer.

That's not Happy Siem Reap Pizza. No, they--along with four or five other joints in town--specialize in happy pizzas. Thus, my must-do travel itinerary for Siem Reap was the following, in no particular order:

  • Visit with stepbrother
  • Angkor Wat
  • Happy Pizza

The interior of Happy Siem Reap Pizza is rustic, with dark wood and brick throughout. This is no doubt helpful for hiding bloodshot eyes. The service is quick and the staff is knowledgeable. When I ordered my small mushroom pie, priced at $3.50, I was quick to remind that I wanted it happy. My waiter informed me it’s $2 extra to make it happy.

Now, one might argue that paying extra for happiness, at a place with “happy” in their name, amounts to bait and switch. But I remembered mai pen rai, then remembered I was in Cambodia, not Thailand, and so remembered que sera sera.

“No problem,” I say. “Ah kon.”

that green ain’t basil

that green ain’t basil

My pie (and milkshake) came quickly. The taste? Eh. Reminded me of Chef Boyardee pizza kits I made as a teenager (which, if I’d made those "happy", would’ve made my friends much happier too). But the flavor isn’t what I savored of those three slices--no, this was a pizza that truly lived up to its promise. And I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room, flipping channels and grinning a fool.

By the way, K-Pop is amazing:

It was also a valuable reminder that the Nate Dogg way of Life was a valuable one to mine, but ultimately, was unsustainable. Good as it is to take care of head, without a little good, fine, hard work, I'll never not be workin on that novel.

But with all that said, I was also a fan of Happy Siem Reap Pizza’s to-go boxes--because they have them. I got one, and am looking forward to cold pizza for dinner. And breakfast.

Overall rating: 4.20

IMG_6927.JPG

I've got what it takes to satisfy your hunger

I know what you want.

And you've been waiting so patiently...

So now it's time for me to give it to you...

That's right, baby. Food porn, SE Asia style.

You like it spicy? I know I do.  Slow-cooked pork, Rot Fai night market, Bangkok

You like it spicy? I know I do. Slow-cooked pork, Rot Fai night market, Bangkok

Simple and delicious.  Stir fry chicken with basil, egg, rice. Random street food stall, Bangkok

Simple and delicious. Stir fry chicken with basil, egg, rice. Random street food stall, Bangkok

If there is a perfect sandwich, it's banh mi. This may be the best I've ever had. Price: 20,000 dong ($0.88 US)  Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa, Saigon

If there is a perfect sandwich, it's banh mi. This may be the best I've ever had. Price: 20,000 dong ($0.88 US) Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa, Saigon

The street food fried chicken in BKK is second only to Popeye's (your grandmother's homemade doesn't count).  Sutthisan MRT street food market

The street food fried chicken in BKK is second only to Popeye's (your grandmother's homemade doesn't count). Sutthisan MRT street food market

Y'all really think this is what we eat?  American fried rice, Mexican iced coffee, Black Canyon Coffee, Bangkok

Y'all really think this is what we eat? American fried rice, Mexican iced coffee, Black Canyon Coffee, Bangkok

Delicious soup, but I paid for it twice (the second time and way we will not discuss).  Pho 2000, Saigon

Delicious soup, but I paid for it twice (the second time and way we will not discuss). Pho 2000, Saigon

Prepping the most polarizing fruit in Asia.  Durian vendor, near Victory Monument, Bangkok

Prepping the most polarizing fruit in Asia. Durian vendor, near Victory Monument, Bangkok

Be glad you can't smell it--worse than durian, even.  Hard-cooking eggs in sulphur hot springs, Chiang Rai province

Be glad you can't smell it--worse than durian, even. Hard-cooking eggs in sulphur hot springs, Chiang Rai province

Probably not coming to a 7-11 near you.  Green tea Kit-Kat, Bangkok

Probably not coming to a 7-11 near you. Green tea Kit-Kat, Bangkok

Simple is still best.  Omelet, rice, watermelon juice, Chiang Mai

Simple is still best. Omelet, rice, watermelon juice, Chiang Mai

And the money shot--because only an ice cream chain originating in San Francisco but now significantly more popular in Thailand than in The States could come up with this: 

Good morning Vietnam! Now go the f*ck back to sleep.

Hey, it's not me using that language--it's that nice mom from the CapitalOne commercials so concerned about your double miles!

Oh Ho Chi Minh City, I don’t know what I find more troubling: that you could kick my ass, or that I might enjoy it.

Last night I arrive after wailing, gnashing of teeth, and debating interpretation of travel rules (since I’m an expert and airport security isn’t), I get modestly overcharged for a taxi to my hotel. Three-tenths of a km before arrival I hear and see a band covering Cranberries’ “Zombie” in the park. Now I know where I’m going after check-in. 

wish we had these in The States

wish we had these in The States

Hit the night market, have a delicious beef and corn stew pita sandwich (I’m in Vietnam so it’s all Vietnamese food, if you think about it), allow grill smoke fill my eyes listen to more music--this is becoming almost routine. Not routine were some of the meats there (I debated snapping a pic of the skinned and roasted crocodile with head still green and almost smiling but even I have lines). Grab a couple more provisions at the Circle K (what 7-11 is to Thailand, it seems--I blame Napoleon) and take a shower, where I see just how efficient things can get in this world.

but did they really need a bum gun at that point?

but did they really need a bum gun at that point?

Now maybe they can do even better. Perhaps my hotel in Laos will have the bathtub in the actual toilet. Why not, it’s all pipes.

I’m in bed by midnight.

Know who else is in bed at midnight? Nobody in Ho Chi Minh. And so it remained at 1:30 a.m. and 2:30. By 4:00 the sounds had gone fainter but not totally away. A couple of times when I rise I go pee and my feet get wet from remains of the earlier shower and then feel something tickling my leghairs and remember cockroaches are drawn by standing water and run back to bed trying to think of nothing anymore.

At 5:45 the noise was nearly nil, but now the sun was out.

You might think going to sleep five times in the night sounds good--after all, that’s five times the sleeping, right?

Wrong. I’m not so good at math, certainly not when I keep getting awakened every couple of hours. But it's time for breakfast.

Even after, still groggy from sleeping in four separate sessions (you'd think that might be better but no). And while I could sleepwalk in Ayutthaya get only a cut toe, here it will get me killed. In each moment you are the hub, and 360 degrees of spokes are coming at you, going away from you. Circling. Direction can change and you best be watching. Even a green walk light just means fewer motorbikes darting your way. Most people go slow but it's still several hundred kilos of metal with hot exhaust manifolds--and anywhere from one to four people in tight concentric alignment. Knees, elbows and skulls. You can't win that battle.

Best practice I've found is pick your gap, commit, and maintain speed. Convey direction in body language so they know what you're doing. It takes trust. But like Reagan, verify--keep your head on and be ready to adjust if the situation warrants. And it certainly will at some point.

Ignore the horns-- Probably won't hear the one that gets you and there are far too many to discern your own special honk, the one made just for you. No, let them blend into the unyielding symphony of diesel revving and car alarms.

And don't think the sidewalks are a safe haven. That'd be your biggest mistake--letting your guard down for a moment in an in-name-only, pedestrian-only zone. Don't forget you have parkways in the states and last I checked you can't just park on one.

Within minutes I thought "it'll be nice to return to the tranquility and order of Bangkok”.

 

But a couple of more trips out and I get the flow. It becomes fun to swim among the motorbikes, moving at a slight angle as if in the beach tides. There’s a moment when a little child, 2 years or less and sitting between his father and the handlebars smiles up bright at me and waves. I grin and wave back, making the other three members of his family smile.

Think about that: 4 people, one scooter. And it wasn’t the first or last time I saw the configuration. I didn’t like fitting four people in my car--when I had a car, that is.

and I'll have at least one more before I go

and I'll have at least one more before I go

For lunch I had the best banh mi at least as delicious as anything in Eden Center--filling and only 20,000 dong ($0.88). And through the day, since Vietnam is all about coffee, I had several cups in various styles--Vietnamese, American/French/commercial mass market with a foam heart--never cost more than 50k: even in a place called $nob Coffee, which appeals to the decadent capitalist pig-dog in all of us. And the scenery, with more fender rubs than Darlington, could hold even my attention for hours.

It’s a nice distraction from things weighing on my mind.