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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Mischievous Menus, Japanese Jokesters

Today’s post is partially a game and partially a language lesson.  (Whenever I’m playing any game, music helps me concentrate; here’s the music video du jour.)

Take a minute to think about various homonyms in your native language(s).  How different are all of the meaningsWhat does it all mean?

No, we’re not going to go all transcendental here.  It’s merely a way to introduce to you the Japanese word tako (たこ).

First off, doesn’t that sound similar to a Mexican dish?  The joke’s on all of us…if you wanted to order a taco in Japan, the correct word is ta-ko-su (タコス).  Weird…but maybe not, since tako was already taken multiple times.  However, since the word is “pre-pluralized,” they were prescient in knowing how hungry I usually am.

Where were we… tako has a few different definitions.  One is “callus” (胼胝, but usually written たこ).  No need for a picture of this, but if you’re really curious, take an hours-long walk in shoes half the appropriate size.

A more neutral definition for tako is “kite” ().  A computer game I played as a kid would often tell me to “shut up and go fly a kite.”  There’s one anecdote for today.  Click here for topical foreshadowing.

Lastly, we have 蛸 (more commonly written as たこ).  This delicious (to me, anyway) character represents “octopus.”  It’s time for photos:

Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan - Octopus HeadIt’s a callus!  No…but it doesn’t look right, that’s for sure.  It’s an octopus head (蛸の頭, tako no atama).

Before stepping just a tad out of my comfort zone, I took a day trip from Sapporo to Otaru, a coastal city in Hokkaido.  My goal – as it generally is when in Japan – was to eat lots of seafood.  My curiosity was piqued after seeing octopus head as a potential meal option.

Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan - Octopus Head Nigiri (Sushi)Hey now, this kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi restaurant) read my mind–I like food.

Oh right, they also read my mind because this is a picture of octopus head nigiri.  Come to think of it, I should have started compiling a list long ago of items I’ve tried at a kaitenzushi.  (In case you were curious about the taste, it was bland.)

Thus ends our brief look at Japanese homonyms.  What homonyms did you come up with?  Equally importantly, would you try octopus head?

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments