2016 New York Summer Fancy Food Show

The New York Summer Fancy Food Show returned in 2016 with a vengeance.  I became stuffed after the first three aisles – as opposed to the usual four – and found that once again, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Korea were the regional highlights, with peanut butter, Italian cheeses, harissa – and condiments in generaland chocolate the stand-out foods.

On the whole, I neglected to take photos at this year’s event, but I have a few things to mention:

2016 New York Summer Fancy Food Show (1)Brand name of the show goes to Snob, the Ecuadorianfood company specializing in spreads, tinned canned fruits and vegetables, and syrups.

2016 New York Summer Fancy Food Show (2)Nightmare: I receive an invitation to spend a night in a room made entirely of parmiggiano, but I’m lactose-intolerant.

2016 New York Summer Fancy Food Show (3)The haul. Missing from the photo: lots and lots of seaweed, one of my favorite snacks of all time.

Calabro‘s straciatella was delicious, as were the tiger nut horchata and pinjur, and I’m always on the lookout for spice mixes.


c/o Casablanca Foods

I had a nice brief chat with the folks at Mina Harissa, so they offered me a couple of jars.  Although the parent company – Casablanca Foods – also produces a shakshuka sauce, as I’ve long been in the spicy food camp, their harissa has my number.

In case you’re interested in the back story, Mina is the name of a Moroccan woman who helped cooked for her ten siblings.  After some time in Paris, she moved to New York, where she became a private caterer.

Victoria Gourmet_Mediterranean Seasoning_Jar_Can

c/o Victoria Gourmet

Woburn, Massachusetts-based Victoria Gourmet was founded in 1998 by Victoria Taylor; her spice blends, salts, peppers, brines, and gift sets can all be found at more than 3000 retailers and various restaurant chains throughout North America.

I’m always open to trying new spices and blends – durian and Sichuan peppercorn, anyone? – and the folks at Victoria Gourmet gladly provided me with a delectable Mediterranean mix that pairs well with my usual humble snack of olive oil, tomatoes, ground cayenne pepper, and a baguette.  Next, I’ll have to check out some of their spicier concoctions, because I can’t seem to eat anything savory without a bit of heat.

Indeed, the 2016 New York Summer Fancy Food Show was another hit for seat belt extension manufacturers and food bloggers.  My hope for the 2017 show is that the Balkans and the Caucasus have a much larger space to show off their underappreciated cuisines, and that China’s awfully large – and forlorn – space is replaced with an extra restroom.  Believe it, it would see far more traffic.

Did you go to the show?  Whether or not you did, what are your thoughts about it?

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Idiosyncratic Indonesia

Oh, looks like we’ve been down this alliterative avenue before.  However, this time, we’ll paint Indonesia in a more playful light.

I’ve gathered three photos that have amused me since coming across their subjects in Java last year…although one of those subjects has been permanently banned from my bento for many years.

Care to guess what that is?

Jakarta, Indonesia - No Durians on Train Sign

“Prohibited to bring things with a stinging smell”

Durian.  Yes, this sign is quite common throughout Southeast Asia.  You’ll see it throughout various modes of transport, hotels, shopping malls, and synagogues elevators.

That said, over in Jakarta, it might be considered one of the better aromas from which to choose.

Jakarta, Indonesia - Air Freshener Remote ControlWhile we’re on the topic, how about this remote control for an air freshener?  I noticed this in an apartment in Jakarta.  Sadly, my traveling mates and I never tried it out, but I wonder if you could buy a durian-scented version?  What would be in the greatest hits collection?

Solo (Surakarta), Indonesia - Credit Card on Public Transit (1)Although I was only in Solo (a city in central Java) once, I was incredulous at the possibility of using a credit card machine to board a public bus.  Nuanced.  As some who actively likes testing out public transit, this was surprisingly a first for me.  Not exactly efficient during rush hour; on the plus side, these buses actually had four sides.

Fancy a visit to Indonesia now?

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Product Reviews: Zesty Z, GoMacro, and ReGrained

Note: In exchange for a brief review, I received the following products:

Today’s mentions include Zesty Z‘s zaatar, GoMacro‘s macro bars, and ReGrained‘s beer bars.

I was first – as far as the memory bank is letting on – introduced to zaatar, the delectable, versatile and vegan spread, on a trip to Lebanon in 2007.  Some shop in the Hamra neighborhood of Beirut was selling some awfully tempting mix of olive oil, sesame seeds, oregano, sumac, and thyme – that is, zaatar – on top of freshly baked khubz (pita).  How could I turn that down?

Beirut, Lebanon - Khubz with Zaatar(OK, so nothing in this photo screams Beirut, but take my word for it…that’s zaatar.)

Since then, I’ve bought many a zaatar blend, but Brooklyn-based Zesty Z seals the deal in that theirs already includes olive oil (and you don’t even need to refrigerate it).  To clarify, it’s not difficult finding good olive oil or zaatar in New York, but Zesty Z would totally come in handy if I lived in East Asia again.  Co-founders Lorraine and her son, Alexander Harik only started selling her zaatar in March of this year; their mission is to help popularize zaatar, and possibly add other variations/products down the line.  They’re a garrulous pair, and I had the pleasure of speaking with them at this year’s New York Fancy Food Show.

It’s healthy, it’s enjoyable at anytime of the day, and has ingredients that shouldn’t spook the average (American) consumer.

Zesty Z-ZaatarZesty Z and falafel.  It was a nostalgic duo.

I was an instant fan.   How about you?

Organic! Gluten-free!  Vegan!  Kosher! Non-gmo! Soy-free! Exclamation point!

To be fair, none of those words ever factors into my requirements in food purchases…but that won’t stop me from ever eating products with these attributes.

So, GoMacro, what’s a macro bar?  The idea stems from the term macrobiotic, which focuses on balancing one’s lifestyle with a high-fiber, low-fat diet based on the consumption of whole grains, vegetables, and beans.  Nothing spicy, either?  Well, you already lost me, but in the interest of fulfilling my duty, let’s move on to the bars.

GoMacro sent me a set of twelve of their macro bars– sesame butter date, peanut butter, cashew butter, granola coconut, cashew caramel, sunflower butter chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate chip, banana almond butter, almond butter carob, apple walnut, coconut peanut butter chocolate, and cherry berry.

Whereas I really liked the apple walnut and cherry berry bars, probably more than any other bar that I’ve purchased at a store in the same ilk as REI or Patagonia, the rest had flavors that didn’t distinguish them from any other bar.  However, if GoMacro would continue to add varieties that transported me to flavor profiles of the Pacific Northwest, I’d be buying up the lot of ’em.

ReGrained, a Bay Area-startup (a phrase rarely heard.  ever.), takes brewer’s grains – that is, grains leftover from the beer brewing process – from local breweries, and turns those into granola bars that are also good sources of protein and fiber.

Currently, they have two flavors, Honey Almond IPA and Chocolate Coffee Stout. The honey almond IPA had a rather emphatic almondy note, of which I approve, and the chocolate coffee stout tended towards coffee, which..is what it is.  They were both slightly bitter and not exactly filling, but I’d be open to trying other types, should they be offered.

Have you tried any of these three brands?

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Hotel Review: The Alexander, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (1)

Photo c/o The Alexander

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a two nights-stay in one of The Alexander‘s two bedroom California king suites.  (I had a last-minute need to be in Indianapolis, Indiana earlier than anticipated.  Fortunately, Jake, one of the front desk agents, was very helpful and proactively asked sales – on a Sunday, when they weren’t in-house – to get back to me about extending my stay from one night to two.)

It was around midnight when I had just stepped off of Amtrak’s Hoosier State service from Chicago . The Alexander, part of the Dolce Hotels and Resorts collection, is a short walk from both the Amtrak station and downtown; if biking is your thing, the hotel lets guests borrow a bike for free.  Considering the pleasant weather at the time, I decided to hop on the Monon Trail to visit the Broad Ripple neighborhood in the north.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (10)

Lobby — Photo c/o The Alexander

Although I checked in around midnight, Rebekah, the front desk agent at the time, was quite cheerful and eager to assist.  I was looking forward to my room, partially to see if a basket of fresh fruit would be available.  Well, Rebekah said that wasn’t the case, but she kindly went to Plat 99, the restaurant and bar next to check-in, to grab me some peaches and a pear.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (3)

Plat 99

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (9)

Apple and cucumber water, and candies…quite welcome after a slog in that humidity.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (5)The two peaches and the pear in my spacious suite.  As a New Yorker and one-time resident of Hong Kong, I’ve gotta say…those were good peaches.  OK, I mean, I’m not used to so much space.  Yes, having a suite clearly adds to the square footage, but even the standard rooms were generously sized.

More importantly, the common areas of the hotel, the restaurants, my room…everything looked immaculate.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (4)

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (11)The Indianapolis Art Museum helps to curate The Alexander with various works created by artists from around the world.

As a New Yorker and one-time resident of Hong Kong, I’ve gotta say…those were good peaches.  OK, I mean, I’m not used to so much space.  Yes, having a suite clearly adds to the square footage, but even the standard rooms were generously sized.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (6)More importantly, the common areas of the hotel, the restaurants, my room…everything looked immaculate.  That’s not something I’m used to in a hotel, either.

That said, one of my two complaints is that it was quite easy to hear other guests through the walls.  In the suite above, it sounded as if a bacchanal was happening.  Raise the tv volume by a substantial amount, and there’s your stopgap.  Or, call the front desk, I suppose.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (4)

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (11)The Indianapolis Art Museum helps to curate The Alexander with various works created by artists from around the world.  Though I’m not much of a contemporary art fan, the pieces do help reduce the usual sterile feel that often plagues hotels.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (7)I was offered a free buffet breakfast for both nights, and I’ll admit, for a US hotel, it was well-stocked.  You have the omelette corner, the breads and spreads, the mains, the cereal, yogurt, and dried and fresh fruit.

My second complaint about the hotel involves the rather slow service I had both days during breakfast.  After one of the waiters discovered that I was eating, he came by way too many times. The next day, the waitresses were slightly less intrusive, but in all, the service was not a high point.

The Alexander (A Dolce Hotel), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (8)

Going overboard at the buffet is a specialty of mine.

Wandering around the hotel, the staff generally seemed eager to please.  One of the agents let me sneak in a coffee and some dried fruit from a station typically reserved for meeting-goers.

The Alexander is a popular business hotel in Indianapolis, but without the stuffy, cookie-cutter vibe of the usual chains.  If I was beckoned back to Indiana’s capital, I’d certainly consider them again.

The Alexander is located at: 333 S Delaware St, Indianapolis, IN 46204.  Their direct line is +1 (317) 624-8200. They opened in January 2013, and currently offer 157 guest rooms and 52 extended-stay units.

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Falk You, England! Argentina and the Fifty Peso Note

Time to create a word: inflatuation.  Meaning?  (Tourist with a) fondness for countries suffering from superlatively high inflation.  Venezuela might be the current flavor of the month, but this issue isn’t new to Argentina either.  While your country is grappling with excessive inflation, you might as well instruct your state bank to try to instill some nationalist pride in your people.  Enter, the 50 peso note:

Argentina - Cincuenta Pesos (Fifty 50 Pesos) with Islas Malvinas aka the Falkland IslandsI’m shocked that nationalism hasn’t yet been mentioned in the bento box.  Anyway, it was rather cunning of former Argentine president Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner de Nada (ok, I added the “de Nada”) to redo one of her country’s bills with an outline of the Falkland Islands, or the Islas Malvinas.

In fact, an invading battalion of those islands – geographically in South America – in early April 1982 was mercilessly smited by the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s watch.  The invasion of – and counterattack by – respectively, by those countries was meant to earn them support and respect from the public.  That worked for PM Thatcher.  As for Argentina, it gave easily distracted tourists such as myself a unique souvenir.

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Flight Review: Mokulele Airlines, Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Imperial/El Centro, CA (IPL)

Mokulele Airlines LogoDisclaimer: In exchange for writing a review for the airline Mokulele Airlines, I was offered a flight between Los Angeles (LAX) and El Centro/Imperial County (IPL), California.

Oh, hey, a domestic fifth freedom flight!  Mokulele Airlines was founded in 1994 as Mokulele Air Services.  Although it originates from and is based in Hawaii, as part of the oft-mentioned Essential Air Service, they were granted the right to fly the Southern California route earlier this year; the one-propeller Cessna Caravans inaugurated the route on May 23rd.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (3)Check-in at LAX is at Terminal 6.  The Theme Building stands out in the background.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (2)As has been the case with previous reviews on smaller air carriers, the customer service and staff were very good all around, although – probably due in large part to the fact that it was a new flight – the gate agent seemed frazzled at times.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (4)The handful of other passengers and I were bused to the remote parking spot, where we were also told that the flight would be around 1.5 hours.  Have a look at a few photos of this memorable flight:

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (5)The port of Long Beach.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (8)Urban sprawl, to a hilt.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (6)A mosaic of well-watered spaces.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (9)But it’s not long before you hit the desert.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (1)The plane that took us across Southern California.

5JUN 2016 Mokulele Airlines Los Angeles (LAX) to Imperial County-El Centro (IPL) (7)Welcome to Imperial.  The most popular food in this drought-stricken place?  Shaved ice, aka raspados.

Thanks again, Mokulele Airlines for the enjoyable flight, quality service and in helping me explore a part of the US I never expected to visit!

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Travel Photography Tip: Look Both Ways

I’ve gotten yelled at by my fair share of security guards for either inadvertently – or purposely – trespassing, and/or taking photos where signs specifically say not to do so.  WhoopsQuanzhou, Fujian, China - Qingjing Mosque

For instance, at the above Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou, China – which was completely roughly in 1009 – a Japanese tour group thought that I was praying in one of the halls, and started taking photos of me…whereas in fact, I was trying to position my camera on the ground to capture a certain angle of the room.  Upon telling the tour guide and group this, the guide admonished me, and noted that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures.  Double standard much?

The point of today’s post, as you’ll soon see, is about letting your imagination as travel photographer roam free.  Heh, didn’t mean for that to rhyme.  Also, I guess this will be prohibited reading in a few countries.

Though it sounds like I’m condoning illegal activity, as long as it isn’t illegal – and that no one’s around hounding you for baksheesh – don’t simply settle for the hackneyed slideshow.  Have another example:

Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) - Buddhist Statue with Cobra (1)Here, we have Buddhist statue located in Mandalay, Burma (or Myanmar, depending on your loyalties).  Oftentimes, a deity in the form of a cobra, called Mucalinda, is depicted in Buddhist works, as if to be shielding Buddha from looming storms soon after he gained enlightenment.

What’s going on in the back?

Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) - Buddhist Statue with Cobra (2)For which of the two creatures is this less comfortable?

Guess I have unquenchable intrigue in more just the most famous aspects of points of interest.  There could have been a plaque…in the back.  Or, other more recently added designs.  Or nuanced graffiti.  Or someone charging to take photos of said back.

Basically, don’t restrict yourself to the usual.

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