Eating With Reckless Abandon in Baja California (Mexico)

Guess I have a thing for border cities.  I used to live in Shenzhen, China, a city that straddles the Hong Kong border.  Back when Hong Kong still stamped passports, I’d sometimes cross just to buy a drink, or to witness a public restroom that had soap, or to change the equivalent of US$2.

I’ve crossed a bunch more – Niagara Falls, US to Niagara Falls, Canada, Lefkoşa, Turkish Cyprus to Nicosia, Cyprus, and even the one from North to South Korea…and back, to name but a few.

There’s clearly something about the atmosphere of border cities that is a lure.  Partially, it’s the international aspect, but it’s also the fact that internal migration often plays a large role in the composition of a frontier town.  Consequently, you can sometimes see a great variety in food in such places as Shenzhen and Tijuana, in the state of Baja California, Mexico, right across the border from the suburbs of San Diego, California.  Today, we’ll check out a few different – though mostly local – meals sampled in Tijuana and its southerly neighbor of Puerto Nuevo, part of the beach resort called Rosarito.

Another thing many border cities share is notoriety (for whatever reason).  Tijuana and again, Shenzhen are two oft-cited examples of this…naturally by folks living on the other side of the border.  For the most part, bollocks.  As in most places, don’t wander around tugging one of those gold bullion vending machines on your person, and you’ll be fine.  Oh, and don’t go to the bad neighborhoods.  Duh.

Let’s abruptly move on to the food:

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (4)Flautas (flutes), or tacos enrollados (rolled tacos, this time with chicken) with guacamole, grated cheese, crema, and lettuce.  Starting off with an appetizer that will already leave me full.  Great idea, eh?

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (7)A tamal with salsa verde.  Wish I had actually read the sign, because I then would have ordered a champurrado (chocolate drink with corn flour) too.  Then again, how full would I have been after that?

Note to self: I need a “full meter” somewhere in this post.

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (1)One of the vendors called those bratwurst-looking things “Mexican caviar.”  Still not sure what it was, though it was yellow.  The hemispheres are marlin tacos.

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (2)¿Curious about the history of tacos al pastorYou can thank eastern Mediterranean immigrants for that picture.

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (3)End result.  Can’t believe that, after eating so many limes, radishes and cucumbers – and everything else – that Mexico has yet to offend my innards.

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (5)Have another photo of tacos al pastor, this time, with the vitamin C- and fiber-packed jicama.

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (6)Tacos de pescado y un taco de camarones (fish tacos and a shrimp taco)–one of the primary gastronomic reasons I’ve been to Tijuana a few times.  Ok, it is fried, but I compensate for that fact by walking to and fro the border crossing…

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (9)I said leche (milk), not pickled pig tails, dang it!

Puerto Nuevo, Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (1)Puerto Nuevo’s main draw – besides prescription medication? – is the langosta, in the lobster family.  That day, my friend and I enjoyed langosta burritos, margaritas and…what, no guacamole?

Puerto Nuevo, Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (2)Dessert time.  The bricks flecked with (and without) pecans are called jamoncillo (de leche), aka Mexican fudge.  As that stuff isn’t commonly found in New York – and due to a request from a friend across the border – I tried some.  I’d buy it again, if only I weren’t so full from everything else.  Yawn, such a cliché refrain.

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico - Food (Comida) (8)In Madrid, you might eat churros with hot chocolate, but in Tijuana, you eat them standing behind traffic-choked lanes bound for San Diego.  These way-too-sweets are another reason I like crossing the border, and as an added bonus, they were encanelados, filled with cinnamon cream.

In short, Tijuana isn’t as bad as you want it to be.  Just look at the food!

See anything you like?  Have you visited Tijuana/Baja California?


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Moscow’s Quirky Vending Machines, Part Dva

I really thought Japan had the monopoly on weird vending machines, but Moscow, Russia sits comfortably in second place, tied with China.

Since I’ve written about Russian vending machines once before, it’s about time we learn how to read – and if we’re lucky, pronounce – the Russian translation for them.  Here it goes…торговый автомат, or targo-veh avtomatAutomats? Those sound familiar.

OK, so they may not be a match for pancake juice, but let’s have a look at three more entries:

Moscow, Russia - Fresh Orange Juice Vending MachineZumo being Spanish for juice, since this is an orange juice vending machine, maybe someone visited Valencia one time and thought it would be a good name?

Coming from the US where I only ever see tobacco, sodas and candy in vending machines – oh, and lobsters – it was a double shock that one could exist offering something healthy AND fresh.  Though…how long have those oranges been around?  This was at Domodedovo Airport.

Moscow, Russia - Pizza Vending MachineEncountered this pizza version at a buffet along New Arbat Avenue.  Using my rudimentary Russian skills, I believe it offers “pizza in 90 seconds.”  Using your common sense skills, you probably knew that too.

Moscow, Russia - Vending Machine with Empty CupAn empty cup, the winner of today’s weird vending machine “competition.”  This was at Vnukovo Airport…though it’s not as if you should be delighting in Muscovite tap water either.

Still, the point is to reduce waste.  I also noticed in restaurants in Moscow that condiments and other items you’d expect to be free in other countries come with a small charge.  Many restaurants in China charge for napkins, and that’s 没问题 (no problem).  Relics of tougher times, perhaps?

Have you seen any other vending machines worth a mention here?

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Baguette Battle New York 2016

Disclaimer: In exchange for this review, I received a ticket to the 2016 Baguette Battle New York.

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (2)The first of its kind…in New York.  Brought to us by the French-American news site French Morning and hosted at the Midtown Sofitel on January 21, I had no idea how the event was going to play out…besides the usual mosh pit atmosphere.

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (8)Some background: various boulangeries – bakeries and other markets submitted two simple baguettes and one eccentric baguette to be deemed the best in New York.  I didn’t expect to see Fairway (a local supermarket chain) and Le Pain Quotidien (a Belgium-based bakery chain) competing alongside likelier entrants such as Eric Kayser and Bien Cuit.

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (3)The joys of being part of the press…but the minder downstairs didn’t let me know until five minutes before the general public made their way.

Photo time?

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (10)If you really needed to ask, yes, I like bread, greatly so.  All of the samples that I tried were quite good, but what I was craving – next door – was an olive oil battle.  That would’ve been boss.

As for Eric Kayser, 1) they were one of the winners last night, and 2) in Japan, they had a very nice yuzu-flecked bread which I couldn’t resist.

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (11)Amy’s Bread, with three locations in the Tristate area, had this unusual addition to the show.  Fennel has grown on me, and golden raisins may have too.

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (5)Le District’s market is underwhelming, but I’ll give them credit for the seasonal pecan cranberry roll.

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (9)The judges, doing what everyone else was doing, just on a stage.

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (6)

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (4)

Baguette Battle New York 2016, French Morning, 21 January 2016 (7)D’Artagnan sponsored cheese, a charcuterie tray and cornichons.

I mistakenly thought butter was a slice of brie.

I was full even before entering the room.

Upon closer inspection, I should’ve made that a haiku.  Anyway, merci beaucoup, French Morning!

How does a bread-focused food event sound to you?

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Natto Now, Natto (for) Ever: Japanese Fermented Soybeans

Natto (なっとう/納豆) refers to the Japanese April Fool’s joke breakfast consisting of fermented soybeans.  As legumes they’re a good source of fiber and protein, and natto has the added benefits of offering ample amounts of the B-vitamin complex, vitamin C and vitamin K.

BUT WAIT, there’s more…

Tokyo, Matsuya - Natto (Fermented Soybeans)…natto is among the slimiest things to have ever been considered food.  Probably.  Even okra shudders at the sight of natto. It’s apparently not as popular in western Japan, but then again, nor are airports that don’t sink.

During my first visit to Japan in 2000, my host family once challenged me to consume a bowl of natto and a bowl of vinegared rice (in other words, rice used in sushi).

End result?  Jonathan: 1, Japan: 0.

In fact, there’s a weird sub-genre of Japanese cooking called nebaneba ( ねばねば /粘々) which regards slimy and/or sticky foods.  Natto is on the list, as are tororo, or grated yam, okra, and a few types of seaweed.  Try a ねばねば, or nebaneba don, which combines all of that stuff with a raw egg.

How does a bowl of natto in the morning sound to you?


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The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show

Disclaimer: In exchange for a press pass to The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, I am writing this brief review.

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (2)The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show took place on 8-10 January, 2016, at the Javits Center in Manhattan, New York.  I was only able to attend on the 8th, which was the only day reserved for travel professionals and the press.  To be more accurate, I was only able to attend on the 8th because I drank many a cup of coffee on the flight in earlier that morning.

So, what does it mean to visit to event without, specifically, the general public?  Significantly less crowds, of course, more networking and more seminars:

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (3)

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (4)The crux of the travel expo is to introduce and familiarize attendees with various destinations and tour companies, and throw in some musical dance numbers and food samples to tempt everyone a little more.  Special thanks to the Indonesia pavilion for offering peaberry coffee, as I REALLY needed it.

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (5)Anyone spot the bear costume at the opening ceremony?  They say it’s part of the Taiwanese display right behind it, but I think it’s Kuma from Tekken.

Let’s have a look at some of the booths:

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (6)I was jet lagged from having been in Tokyo a day earlier.  Naturally, they were the first people I went to chat with, particularly the Okinawa tourism board representatives.

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (7)Terima kasih untuk menyajikan kopi gratis! (Thanks for the free coffee!)

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (8)If they had fresh pupusas, I never would have left.

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (9)Lithuania’s delegation offered a bite of šakotis (sha-kotis), or tree cake.  It’s made on a rotating spit, much like Germany’s rounder baumkuchen, which I first learned about in Japan.  How many more countries can we fit in this description?  LOTS.

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (10)Gaz, or nougat originating near Isfahan in present-day Iran.  Reading about what makes it nougat is… your prerogative, and other typical ingredients include almonds, pistachios, rosewater, egg whites, and likely sugar.

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (11)My favorite booth this year might have been the one for Vermont Rail System, a family-run service since 1964.  Sounds like fun in the autumn months, as they run foliage tours throughout various parts of the state.

The 13th Annual New York Times Travel Show, 08 January 2016 (12)Well the ad campaign for my home state relishes in hyperbole, but I will admit that there are some pleasant places to visit upstate.

Have you ever attended a travel show?  How about this one?

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Restaurant Review: UNO MAS, Bangkok, Thailand

Disclaimer: In exchange for a review of UNO MAS, my associate and I received a comped dinner.  Photos are courtesy of both Mr. Mark Reardon and UNO MAS.

LOGOSpanish food in Bangkok, Thailand?”, you reluctantly utter…why not, I say.  After repeatedly telling Thai restaurants pet pet (very spicy) and consequently, repeatedly not being able to speak for ten minutes at a time due to pet pet – by the way, do you know which peninsula introduced chilies to Thailand and much of the rest of the world? – I figured it was time for a change.

Located on the 54th floor of the Centara Grand hotel right behind the CentralWorld shopping center, close to the Siam and Ploenchit BTS (elevated rapid transit system) stations along the ever busy thoroughfare known as Sukhumvit, UNO MAS offers patrons not only a quality blend of Spanish and Catalan fare but also excellent views of the sprawling Bangkok cityscape.  The head chef, Joan Tanya Dot, is an affable fellow and comes with more than fifteen years experience cooking in restaurants in England, the Cayman Islands and Spain.

Open daily from 16:00-01:00, UNO MAS (uno más= “one more”), which just opened early in December 2015, is separated into three parts: the 42-seat Wine Cellar right by the entrance, the casual 60-seat Tapas & Raw Bar and the somewhat more upscale 78-seat Open Air Dining Deck.

Wine Cellar, From Above

Wine Cellar, From Above

Grabbing Wine Inside the Cellar

Grabbing Wine Inside the Cellar

It’s a bit gimmicky – on top of an already inefficient, though kinda cool display – but whenever someone orders a wine, someone has to hop in a harness and reach for it.

Tapas & Raw Bar

Tapas & Raw Bar

Open Air Dining Deck, Part 1

Open Air Dining Deck, Part 1

Open Air Dining Deck, Part 2

Open Air Dining Deck, Part 2

Me, Savoring the Views (and the Haze)

Me, Savoring the Views (and the Haze)

Time to move on to the Food & Drink



My associate and I were seated in the raw bar & tapas area, right by the window.  There was a rather loud party seated not too far from us, but so as to not embarrass our host, I didn’t want to rock the boat.


Clockwise from the center: wild porcini mushroom croquettes, chicharrones, Catalan-style roasted vegetables “escalivada” with anchovies, Marcona almonds – one of my many weaknesses, “Joselito” charcuterie board, sardines with piquillo pepper sauce, sangria-drowned watermelon cubes, also known as “mock tuna on ice,”  and potatoes with aioli.  Everything was a hit…which proved to be an issue with trying to finish savor the rest of the meal!

(The PR person introduced herself and said that everything would be ready in half an hour…in other words, they already had a set menu to introduce to us.  Phew, that makes it easy, because everything on the menu sounded delicious.)


Chef Joan, Myself, and the Thai Staff

Chef Joan, Myself, and the Thai Staff

Cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig, is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant.  Amusingly, it is served with standard issue gravy, Canary Islands green mojo sauce (made of cilantro, oil and vinegar) and as a bow to the local population, nam jim jeaw, or dried chili sauce.  Chef Joan, in the style of the Segovia region of Spain, cut the beautifully cooked pork with a plate, and then proceeded to break the plate, as if to say to the animal, “we’re even.”  Maybe.

uno-mas-centara-grand-hotel-bangkok-thailand-8Moving southeast towards the coastal city of Valencia, we were also served seafood paella, replete with saffron-cooked rice, lobster, prawns, mussels, clams, and scallops (vieira).  I know we’re both from the US but, even our stomachs have their limits.  Still, both the paella and the cochinillo were quite nice, particularly considering the breadth of different flavors and textures available.

uno-mas-centara-grand-hotel-bangkok-thailand-19You really shouldn’t have…churros with Valrhona chocolate sauce.  Finished within two minutes.  Even the cinnamon wasn’t spared.

My only two complaints about UNO MAS are that the bread was very underwhelming – though that night, it’s not as if we needed bread – and lobster forks/claw openers were given to us only after we finished the lobster.  It is likely that the bread will improve over time, and I reckon the latter issue was simply because the restaurant was still working out a few opening month kinks.

In all, with that caliber of cooking, good overall service and alfresco dining available year-round, I have high hopes for UNO MAS.

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Poison Bakery, Busan, South Korea

During my last visit to Japan, I had poisonous fish…that was the title of an earlier blog post.  Somehow, today’s entry harks back to that, in spite of this one taking place in the country on the other side of the East Sea Sea of Japan:

Busan, South Korea (Republic of Korea) - Poison Bakery (쁘아종 제과점)East Asia arguably has some of the most unusual signs aroundPoison Bakery, in Busan, South Korea, certainly earned its place in the weird signs category.

This one confused me on two levels.  Obviously, casually adding the word poison to a place expecting customers to try its food is misguided.

But, as I’ve come to learn from wandering around bakeries of that part of the world, French is equally as popular when it comes to nomenclature.  If you dissect the Korean,
쁘아종 제과점 (ppeuajong jegwajeom), well, the second word means bakery.  The first is – I’m guessing here – a French loanword…presumably poisson, which means fish.

If you know taiyaki (), the Japanese sweet baked in the shape of a sea bream (a type of fish), then you may also be interested in the Korean version, 붕어빵 (bungeoppang), in the shape of a Crucian carp.  They are both commonly stuffed with red bean paste, but I wouldn’t put a mayonnaise and yakisoba surprise past them either.

Would you dare eat at Poison Bakery?

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