We Specialize in Everything. We Specialize in Nothing.

Upper Darby - Rota's Quick Stop

A microcosm for US cities?

Wow, here’s one for the book of dubious records. Polish, Turkish, southern Chinese, Americanized Chinese, Filipino, and Pennsylvania Dutch.  If you weren’t hungry before, you still aren’t now.  Also, unlike this well-placed alliteration, I don’t crave anything the sign mentions. What about you? Would it be worse if the word “fusion” was added in the background?  Imagine having an egg roll with pretzel breading, or coffee adobo?  I think I’m going to be sick, and now I have me to blame.  Rota, where are your priorities?  Probably behind the fridge.

In addition, is the word Oriental fine to say these days?  It simply means “eastern.”  If you call me an Occidental, I wouldn’t be offended.  Hipsters probably use that word anyway, and they’re far more irritating.

In the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) suburb of Upper Darby, Rota’s Quick Stop was located right by where the map says Inter Serve USA.  I say was, because I took the photo in April 2010; even though I’ve visited the neighborhood since then, food led me straight to the H Mart, thus forgetting (not intentionally) to verify if Rota’s shop remained.



Airline Meals, Part Five: Ever Try Chinese Food? After This, You’ll Want to Say No

It’s that time of year again.  That is, it’s time to tempt you with various photos of airplane food from around the world.  Though, judging by the title of this entry, could you guess that we’ll focus on East Asia today?

Before you starting writing baleful comments in regards to the title, I’ll first attempt to curry your favor with a photo of a meal in economy class on a domestic US flight:


<insert blank space here>

Got you there!  We don’t get free meals anymore.  The joke’s on the airline too, because the food wasn’t going to be edible anyway.  If more (major) airports in the US opened supermarkets – miniature versions even – or failing that, if public transit could get us to nearby supermarkets, they’d receive their first compliment from me.

Enough of that, let’s get on to the main course.  As evidenced by the food & drink category to the right, eatingis one of the motivating factors for me to travel.  Thus, the airplane food of the national carrier is potentially my first – and the first of thousands of others – introduction to that location’s cuisine.   So, that’s why I think someone airlines should add in a vocabulary checklist for pharmaceutical terms in their magazines…

Airlines such as China Southern.  This collection of recycled cooking oil served beneath a pile of mushy goo was my lunch between Shenzhen and Shanghai Hongqiao.  There’s more liquid in the plate than in the cup of milk.

What’s with the roll?  Does every airline around the world bow to the roll?  Even though it’s not a southern Chinese food, they could’ve gone with mantou instead.  Also, did you notice the tomatoes in the corner?  Yep, because they are botanically fruits, in China, they’ll be served as dessert, sometimes with granulated sugar liberally sprinkled about.

By the way, this was for breakfast.

Another roll!  We’re on China Southern again, but the roll’s presence can be slightly excused, since this time the flight’s from Los Angeles to Guangzhou.  Hence, a packet of US-brand Smuckers anxiously awaits its fate.  The rice porridge that proudly shows off the colors of the Irish flag is a hallmark of Cantonese breakfast, though when it is served plain, that usually means it’s a side dish.  Can’t wait to add that strawberry jam to it.


Oh, roll, you’re just too much.

This breakfast, between Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, is with Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong-based airline.  By what other hint can you guess that it’s from HK?  Mr. Juicy and its line-up of self-defeating sugary fruit drinks.
But if you said dim sum, that’s, mm, too broad.

Not to mention…really packing in the starch aren’t we?  Well, if you don’t want to get passengers to complain about seat width, I suggest that you stop serving the edible equivalent of seat belt extensions.

Finally, a good depiction of airplane food, and unsurprisingly, it’s Korean.  It’s fair to say that I really didn’t know much about Korean food before this flight between Hong Kong and Seoul Incheon, other than an infrequent bowl of bibimbap or grilled meat.  Asiana, the south Korean carrier, somehow knew this, and went so far as to include a guide.  How many spoons are there?  No matter, for bibimbap always comes with a long metal spoon.  A standard serving of kimchi and a tube of gochujang round out the honest look at Korean eats.

That is a good example of an introduction to a region’s or country’s culinary landscape.  Have you been similarly delighted or completely turned-off from a cuisine due to airplane food?

Neo-Tokyo Pays a Visit to New York

Skyline-Movie-Sutton Place-New York-Untapped Cities-Jonathan DeLise

Manhattan has always possessed one of the most recognizable skylines in the world.  But, when you think about which Manhattan neighborhoods best exemplify the tropospheric spirit, the Sutton Place skyline likely doesn’t place in the top five.  Wait a sec-do you even know where Sutton Place is?  With that in mind, do you think Katsuhiro Otomo, the Japanese director of the 1988 anime (Japanese for animation) movie  “Akira,” had a clue?  On second thought, there’s always that Japanese hotel named Sutton Place

Akira was loosely based on a disheartening comic (manga) of the same name showcasing a dystopian post-modern skyline in Tokyo.  The story revolves around two members of a bike gang, the protagonist Kaneda and the antagonist Tetsuo, and Tetsuo’s accidental involvement with a clandestine government science project, called Akira.  The animated movie was expertly produced, and for me, much of the replay value stems from the unabashedly urban setting in which Akira takes place.  In fact, while I’m on the topic of skylines, even when you factor in the two times during the 20th century when Tokyo had to rebuild from scratch, the skyline surprisingly is not among the most well-known.  However, when someone does mention the phrase Tokyo skyline, I think of the movie Akira.

Gloominess aside, on the off-chance I’ll be in the area, I’ll always think of the corner of 53rd St. and Sutton Place as my very own miniature – and tangible – Akira movie set.

Tirana’s Piramida (Albania)

What’s your favorite thing about the word pyramid?  Is it that visiting one offers you insight into the world of traffic violations?  Or that ordering one for dessert will simultaneously make everyone else at the table hungry no more? Perhaps it’s the third option, where architects take creative license with the term pyramid and build something completely different?  On today’s adventure into the world of misanthropic architecture, I introduce to you the Piramida of Tirana, Albania.

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From the mid-1940s until 1990 when its citizens were once again permitted to leave the country, Albania was isolated from Europe and the rest of the world under a veil of Communism led by Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985, and Ramiz Alia.  To honor her father, Hoxha’s daughter had designed the Piramida to serve as a museum in the center of the capital Tirana.

Piramida dubiously reminds me of New York’s Castle Clinton and its equally strange bedfellows.

It was completed in 1988, but echoing the zeitgeist of pro-Western sentiment in much of Eastern Europe, in 1991 Piramida was converted into an exhibition and conference center, named after Pjeter Arbnori, a local activist dubbed the Mandela of the Balkans.  He is not to be confused with the Mandela of Albania, or even Super Mandela.

In 1999, Piramida was repurposed as a NATO base during various Kosovo conflicts, and then in 2001, a television station joined in the fun. However, anti-government protesters in 2011 had their way with much of the building, but after seeing so many different tenants, it had already fallen into various states neglect.  In fact, Albanian politicians merely a year earlier voted to bulldoze the relic and create a new parliament, but as my visit in 2013 should prove, protecting sordid memories of the past might be the best way to prevent encore presentations.

Based on my attempts to walk into the Tirana landmark, it still houses a tv station, but also a few armchairs, graffiti and shards of glass.  Thus, it’s a step up from LaGuardia Airport.

Have you ever been to Albania?  What do you think of the Piramida?

Taiwan: Fluent in Fun

On a recent trip back to the US, I had a one-night stopover at Taipei Taoyuan International – or for the more militant readers, Chiang Kai-shek International – Airport in Taiwan.  No big deal, I speak some of the language, can get Japanese hamburgers and most importantly, can speak some of the language.  Oh, did I write that already?  Read on…

My backpack was filled with dirty clothes, and that time, I didn’t have “a rainy season in Asia” to blame.  Regardless, why not explore Taoyuan – sweet, an airport suburb! – somewhere I never visited before, for my last hurrah of that trip.  Finding a laundromat would be key, for I was carrying around the inedible equivalent of the average Taiwanese night market.

The journey paid off, because there were signs for self-service laundry along the main drag (if you wanted to get there from Taoyuan Airport, hop on a bus).  However, what those signs said remains a mystery drowning in Engrish:

Taoyuan Laundromat - Engrish (1)More polite than the average animate object.  Or inanimate.

Taoyuan Laundromat - Engrish (2)

What I glean from the Chinese in the red column is, “before putting (literally “throwing”; for that part of the world, it makes sense) money in, please close the (dryer) door).”  You may not need a translation here, because eventually you’ll figure out that the narrow metal slot wasn’t where you put the clothes.

Taoyuan Laundromat - Engrish (3)

I’m hungry too.

Have you spotted any Engrish lately?  If so, care to share?

As a side note, I’d be glad to help you out with your translations if you’re in the market.

Kappa: Folklore Has Never Tasted This Bland

For a blog called BuildingMyBento, I don’t reference Japan enough.  Or am I wrong?

Ever tried cooked vinegared rice?  Pardon?  I’m referring to what is better known as sushi.  Already been there, done that?  But, have you ever tasted a cucumber wrapped in seaweed and cooked vinegared rice?  Boring, right?  It might not be if you knew the origin of its Japanese name, kappa maki (かっぱ巻).

Fukuoka - Kappa Sign

Noses? In a Japanese cartoon? That’s a new one.

Is it a legend?  Is it folklore?  Probably.  Or, it’s an easy way to get my SEO keywords out there.  In any event, the word Kappa 河童 means “river child,” which suggests that this mythic water-dweller was anthropomorphic, even if it also borrowed some of its good looks from frogs and/or monkeys.

That the sign in the photo above, which I took in Fukuoka, Japan (you can fly there using CheapOair), exists, hints that a notable someone in the community might’ve been drinking a bit too much that night.  The poignant Japanese reads “danger, you must not play/swim in the water,” but the reason is only obvious to those familiar with Kappa.  You see, those ornery cusses – besides having a thing for cucumbers – have been known to play tricks on and drown children, and do far, far worse things to women. Even more enriching, the bald space on the top of its head is where it gets all of its power, so if you’re really into playing ball by the coast, bring your least favorite hat for defense.  And you won’t believe what else I have in store for you.

Here’s the kicker.

Are you ready?

They DON’T exist!

However, I do appreciate how, on a completely random walk, you can encounter such local curiosities that help make Japan both ripe for exploration and yet profoundly distant.

What Cures Optimism? Reality.

Hello, my name is Surabaya, Indonesia, and I have an image problem.

While many other cities in Southeast AsiaSiem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, this one, even that four-letter island to the east of me – play host to ceaseless numbers of tourists, I can’t understand why I’m not in the same league.  I am the site of a major historical event, have easy access to volcanoes and mountains and if you’re a culinary tourist, I’ve got edible tar waiting for you.

Then again, I’m an Indonesian city.  If you like to breathe, you’re out of luck…

Surabaya - We Build Environment

Let’s chat again in a few years to see if the air quality has improved.