A Brief Tour of Al Balad, the Historic Center of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Building with Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Although I was quite looking forward to visiting Al Balad, the historic section of Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, I was already slightly disappointed before my first visit.  Due to various reasons which I will not delve into here  (for starters, check out this link), much of Al Balad had been destroyed within the past century.  That said, although this part of Jeddah was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014- though, which place isn’t these days? – the methods by which numerous buildings are now being restored are highly dubious.

If you’re curious about a brief history of Jeddah/Al Balad, it was roughly in the mid-600s AD when this Red Sea port became prominent.  Around that time, it is believed that Islam‘s influence began to spread; indeed, as Jeddah was the closest port to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, traders, pilgrims, and merchants from all over Asia, Africa, and other regions began to settle in what is now Al Balad.

The fierce sun and heat, as well as rapidly growing populations caused buildings to be constructed very close together, as if to keep out as much sunlight as possible.  Unique windows called roshan, which provided both privacy and air circulation, were a typical design of the time.  Furthermore, as Jeddah’s Red Sea location incidentally played host to a vast coral reef, much of the masonry in Al Balad counts coral as its main ingredient.

You can also find remnants of city gates and walls, from when Jeddawis had to defend their city from potential attacks by the Mamluks and the Portuguese.

Al Balad Buildings with Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

As you may have guessed, during the day it’s hot year-round in Jeddah.  So, when I made it to Al Balad at around 14:30 on a Saturday afternoon (the weekend here is Friday-Saturday), it was quite empty.  In other words, excellent for photographing buildings, but yep, it’s a scorcher.  Come 17:00 or better yet, 21:00, and it’s zakhma, or packed with people and wares.

Al Balad Building (under construction) with Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Excavation Site, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Building, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Balad Buildings with Multicolored Roshan, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


Fancy a visit to Al Balad?  Try the visa-free version first.

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But Did You Know That I’d Lose My Wallet?: The Japan Edition

Coincidentally, I did lose my wallet during my first trip to Japan.  The details are rather fuzzy – it happened in 2000 – but it did shock me that it happened in a country known for actually having rather full lost-and-found bins.

Rather than sulk over that one incident from seventeen years ago, I bring to you today one of my stalwart coping mechanisms– Japanese signs.

Previously, I have opined that Japanese department stores are likely the greatest in the world.  The basements are usually full of food, the highest floors generally have restaurants, and there’s bound to be a vending machine lurking somewhere in between.  Then, you have the periodic food festivals happening on the top floors.  Clearly, I hate food.

Occasionally, there will be another fair, event or point of interest on the topmost floor.  If there’s no obvious signage on the ground floor, I’ll make my way upwards, if for nothing else than a view of the city.  During a visit two months ago to Zeze, Shiga prefecture, right along scenic Lake Biwa, I spotted a new one at the Seibu Otsu:

Language lesson time.  The word on the upper line reads レストラン (re-su-to-ran), or restaurant.  OK, nothing out of the ordinary there.

But the bottom two words were what made the visit worth it.

On the left, we have 占い (うらない・oo-ra-nigh), or “fortune-telling.”  Sometimes, that’s shortened to 占; you may have noticed these booths scattered about Ginza, Tokyo at night, or on random streets/at events throughout the country. 

On the right, it says 保険 (ほけん・ho-ken), or “insurance.”

Admittedly, I got a good chuckle out of this one.  Did the department store think about how amusing that combination was?  For instance, the fortune-teller warns that you there will be a flood next month, so you run to the insurance counter to pick up flood insurance.  Better yet, the fortune-teller predicts that your sushi (at one of the department store’s restaurants) will be mostly raw, so…what do you?

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Cinema Rossiya in Yerevan, Armenia

It’s quite obvious that I’m willing to travel out of my way – which amusingly puts things “in my way” – to observe (what I believe to be) unusual examples of architecture.

Though, how does one define “out of the way?”  No planes available?  No roads?  So remote they don’t even sell pancake juice?  No matter what your definition is, I’d say that specimens of the Brutalist architectural style are fortunately often found within capitals and major cities, thus going easy on those visitors pressed for time.  In today’s case, we have the Cinema Rossiya, which can be found in Yerevan, Glendale Armenia:

Constructed between 1968 and 1975 by Armenian architects Spartak Khachikyan, Hrachik Poghosyan, and Artur Tarkhanyan, Cinema Rossiya, later known as Soviets Rossiya and Aryarat, was built to resemble the lower and higher peaks of the revered Armenian symbol of Mt. Ararat…except that Mt. Ararat is geographically located in Turkey.  Ehh, read a bit about the regional history and you’ll understand.

Sadly, Cinema Rossiya has gone to the dogs, and most of it has become a knock-off clothing shopping mall.  If you’d like to pay this anachronistic canoe of a building a visit, it’s right above the Zoravar Andranik metro station, close to downtown Yerevan.

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Product Review: Honey Mama’s Cacao-Nectar Bars

When I’m looking to eat dessert, I’m not always looking to be deluged in sugar or something extremely sweet.  Sure, I’ve gone overboard on mango sticky rice, Skippy Peanut Butter and Chocolate, and at buffets, but these days, that craving has been slightly tamed.  That’s where PortlandOregon-based Honey Mama’s Cacao-Nectar bars come in.

So, what is it that helps keep the sugar-high at bay?  According to Honey Mama’s, raw honey, cacao powder, coconut oil, Himalayan pink salt, and either sprouted almonds or shredded coconut. Not to mention, all of the bars are organic, non-GMO, direct trade (straight from the supplier)-sourced, dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free, and soy-free.  Those latter words usually scare me off, but in this case, I was hooked.  Moreover, if you care about ratings/reviews/awards/pomp, Honey Mama’s recently earned a silver sofi award at the 2017 New York Summer Fancy Food Show.  Sweet!  Bad pun much intended.

Before we get into the flavors, there’s one particular phrase in the previous paragraph with which I had no understanding- “sprouted.”  (Well, “organic” is a tricky one, but I’ll let it pass for now.)  Basically, when you sprout something – almonds, in this case – you soak them to make them release their enzyme inhibitors.  Removing the inhibitors makes them much easier to digest, and also lets you make almond (or cashew, etc.) milk.

I chatted with Christy Goldsby, the amiable founder of Honey Mama’s, at the Fancy Food Show.  She founded the company in January 2012, and started selling her cacao-nectar bars in March 2012 in the Pacific Northwest. They must be refrigerated, otherwise they will quickly be eaten.  (in other news, I hope that hazelnut and peanut version will be introduced…)

To date, Honey Mama’s offers seven flavors:

  1. Dutch – the original, with Dutch cocoa, sprouted almonds, and a hint of vanilla.
  2. Peruvian Raw – A bit more delicate than Dutch.  It also contains raw cacao powder to add a boost of antioxidants. It’s still chocolate, but it’s chocolate with a feather in its cap.
  3. Mayan Spice – Cinnamon and cayenne join the fray.  I didn’t get enough of a kick from this one, but I could see melting it into hot chocolate to win some over.
  4. CocoNoNut – Coconut meat in a Dutch bar.  Yum.
  5. Lavender Red Rose – Surprisingly, I thought this to be the best of the lot.  Lavender sounds like a typical gimmick these days in chocolate, but its essential oil worked very well here.  Roses were a nice light touch, too, and serve to remind me that Portland, Oregon is nicknamed the “Rose City.”
  6. Oregon Peppermint – Infusing peppermint oil and shredded coconut sounded like it should’ve been my favorite, but I didn’t get enough of a hint of coconut.  That said, it was still quite good.
  7. Nibs and Coffee – Peruvian cacao nibs and Ethiopian coffee combine to make an unusually successful bar.  Wake yourself up (at any time of the day?) with this one.

Craving some Honey Mama’s?  Buy some either on their site, or hopefully at a store near you.

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Event Review: 2017 New York Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my review of the 2017 New York Summer Fancy Food Show (for part 1, please click here).  This time, I’ll be reviewing some of my favorites from the show.

Also, one of my buddies, Mark, helped out in determining one of the myriad food options that deserved a mention.  Mark is tech-savvy feller who just happens to dabble in the culinary arts.  Some of his personal favorite foods include plov, mantou with condensed milk, jerky, and peanut butter.

On with the show…

Canaan Fair Trade

Based in Jenin, Palestine, Canaan Fair Trade produced in my opinion, the best tasting olive oil of the Fancy Food Show this year.  Not only was their olive oil quality, but their tapenades, other spreads, and flavored oils were also tasty.  That said,  I am usually skeptical of olive oils being diluted with various flavors and essences; however, as thyme is native to Southwest Asia, I gave Canaan the benefit of the doubt.  Turns out, it was the right choice.

You might be interested to know that Palestinian Fair Trade Association, which was only established in 2004, is the world’s largest group of producers of fair-trade and organic olive oil.

Liuzzi Cheese

In 1981, Liuzzi Gourmet Food Market was founded in North Haven, Connecticut by immigrants from the Southern Adriatic region of Italy.  Today, the market specializes in imported cheeses, meats, preserves, and other delectable goods, but I’m good to go with a mere jar of olive oil-laden zucchini and a container of stracciatella cheese, which hails from the province of Foggia.

queens bucket

Though I’m accustomed to wrapping perilla, or beefsteak plant, leaves around sashimi, I’m none too familiar with perilla oil.  After tasting it on its own at the Seoul-based queens bucket booth, the first question on my mind was, can I have all of your samples?  Actually, no, it was “what’s the difference between expeller-pressed and cold-pressed?”  Duh, it’s temperature regulation.  Certain foods may not mesh well with higher temperature pressing, so cold-pressing is less likely to affect the more subtle notes in them.

The perilla oil had a nutty, buttery odor, and the flavor was much the same, almost akin to unsalted cancha.  It wasn’t as filling as olive oil, and I’d offer it a place atop my salad greens – or below roasted vegetables – any day.

What would one of my food show favorites reviews be without mention of Korean food?  We may never know.

santa barbara BAR

Every year at the Fancy Food Show, I try to find another “travel bar” to add to the backpack.  Though, it’s not always a success; these santa barbara bars might be a case-in-point.  I thought that the textures and heartiness were present in both the dark chocolate almond and mango lemon varieties, but the advertised flavors were dubious.  The mango lemon lacked lemon, and the dark chocolate almond was mono-chromatically chocolate.  Still, I’m open to their other options, because the other aspects of the bars worked.

Joray Fruit Rolls

The Shalhoub family of Brooklyn, NY first capitalized on individually-packed fruit roll-ups in 1953, and have been hand-making them since then.  Each fruit roll is roughly one ounce, among the largest in the business, and Joray offers a number of flavors, including sour cherry, plum, apricot, and fruit punch.  Although some of Joray’s products have added cane sugar, I have only tried those without added sugars.  That added-sugar free version exist is why I tip my hat to them.

Mimi’s Homemade Ajvar

Though I am currently unable to find a link for their product, Mimi’s Homemade Hot Ajvar was a gentle (though not spicy enough) and nasty-ingredient free take on the Macedonian/pan-Balkan red pepper spread.

Clarity Juice

Non-GMO and Organic, Clarity Juice also wins my seal of approval for their blends, and for adding nothing else to the fruit and vegetable juices.  Want a kick?  Craving the sweet stuff?  Neither?  Clarity Juice has you covered.

Morton & Bassett Spices

Morton & Bassett Spices is one of the few brands at the show that I’ve known about since childhood.  The founder, Morton Gothelf, was in attendance, and was very friendly and knowledgeable about his products.  He founded the company near San Francisco, California in 1986, in large part because he had trouble locating specific spices and herbs when cooking for friends.

What stood out to me in the supermarket way back in time was that Morton & Bassett containers had nothing to hide.  The products were transparent, and the quality was high.

In this case, I’m now on a peppercorn-kick, so I was offered a package of whole green peppercorns.

Mediterranean Seawater

Zumo gazpacho has become my go-to ready-to-drink gazpacho; I felt that it was well-rounded, had a balanced flavor profile in the vegetables and olive oil, and wasn’t overpoweringly salty.  That last bit might be a surprise, for the company, Mediterranean Seawater, prides itself on bring us consumers certifiable seawater in all of its mineral-heavy and pH-friendly glory.  But, don’t grab the nearest straw and run to the shore just yet– let these folks do some explaining for you.

Obrigado Coconut Water

Straight from Bahia, Brazil, I introduce to you Obrigado Coconut Water.  It’s non-GMO, naturally low in sodium, and contains no added sugar.

More importantly, Obrigado Coconut Water is committed to ecological conservation efforts and sustainable agriculture.  They have employed a system called mosaic farming, in which they aim to best match their crops with the local terroir.  Furthermore, they utilize the husks of brown coconuts for fiber erosion control, wherein fiber rolls are placed on slopes to catch falling sediment, but also let water pass.

Finally, let’s hear what Mark has to say about Ayoba-yo’s biltong and droëwors, or dried wurst.

Ayoba-yo

Last week, for the first time I tried Ayoba-yo’s biltong, a South African version of beef jerky. It has been around for about 400 years and incorporates spices such as salt, vinegar, and coriander, which were abundant in the Cape Colony.

Spicy Biltong.

Very unique and substantial taste. Not overly spicy, but enough to give it a kick. Very moist despite being cut so thin.

Traditional Biltong:

Far more complex and nuanced taste. Very peppery. I prefer this to the Spicy Biltong.

Droëwors, or air-dried beef sticks:

The most striking ingredient is probably…the air. Unlike the other two varieties, the air-dried beef sticks are decidedly on the dry side. It tastes very natural and makes for a substantial snack, and unlike slim jims does not have a taxing effect on my physical comfort.


Let us know if you have tried/are planning to try any of these foods!

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Restaurant Review: andpizza, Manhattan, New York, USA

Disclaimer: In exchange for this restaurant review, I received one pizza.

A fair question would be, why would I review a pizza chain based in Washington D.C.?  Not only that, but New York, New York is the land of (good) pizza, and D.C. throws crab rangoon feta on every possible slice…until 2010, when &pizza opened their first outlet on H Street NE.

&pizza recently opened their first Manhattan outlet in NoMad, at 15 West 28th St. (between 5th Avenue and Broadway).  They have more than 20 branches to date, mostly around the DC area, but are also expanding their presence throughout other regions.

The concept however, is unlike your usual pizzeria.  &pizza takes a bit of Potbelly and a hint of Chipotle – the kind without the bad press – and melds them into a casual, relaxed conveyor belt-style pizza eatery.  Furthermore, where possible, local/non-GMO/organic/non-HFCS ingredients are used.

There’s a smattering of toppings, sauces, and “finishes” – figure, egg, shrimp, spicy chickpea, fig balsamic, and pickled red onion – not commonly found at pizza place (oh, lookey here, feta’s available too).  Surprise: most toppings don’t cost extra, but the base price of the pie is around $10, so quite a bit more (and less surface area) than a couple of NY slices.

Create your own huarache-shaped pizza (ok, it’s Mexican Spanish for sandal, but it’s also a delicious and filling street snack), or choose from a bunch of tempting pies.  That day, I went with “Farmer’s Daughter,” heh, which has spicy tomato, spinach, mozzarella, Italian sausage, egg, parmesan, and red pepper chili oil.  Upon seeing shrimp while on line, they were promptly added to my order.

As &pizza NoMad only opened last month, I’ll give the muddled prep/cashier service the benefit of the doubt. In spite of that, the flavors – the mix of textures of the egg and shrimp, along with the soothing basil and peppery sausage – made me think that I had chosen the right pie- perhaps I’ve spent too much time in Japan?  Heck, the quality combination and flavor of toppings and surprisingly pleasant crust quickly made me forget about the slow-moving line…until I discovered an egg shell resting on one of the pieces.  Whoops.


In addition to pizza, &pizza also offers a handful of different drinks, as well as a couple of  minuscule cookies produced in tandem with milk bar‘s Christina Tosi.    Though I’d sooner go to a local pizzeria for a couple of slices, when I crave random ingredients again (and trust me, it’ll be soon), &pizza will indeed be revisited.

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Event Review: 2017 New York Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 1

The Specialty Food Association’s 2017 New York Summer Fancy Food Show took place at New York‘s Javits Center from 25-27 June.  The membership-based Specialty Food Association was established in 1952 to promote and cultivate intrigue in specialty foods companies in the US.  The Fancy Food Show has been an annual event since 1954; furthermore, in the winter, San Francisco has hosted a smaller version of the convention for a number of years.

This year, in addition to the incubator alley, which spotlights start-up food companies in their initial stages, the sofi awards, and the What’s New, What’s Hot celebrating innovative culinary ideas, a new theme area called Level Up was introduced.  At Level Up, one could listen to various discussions on the future of food, try alternative proteins, snacks, and drinks, and learn about current trends in retail technology.

I went a bit overboard at the New York Summer Fancy Food Show this year. Which is to say, I always overdo it at that particular event, so…cue the crocodile tears.

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I’ll get to the brief reviews of specific products in Part 2 of the review, but for now we’ll take a look at some of the unusual notes and unexpected themes of this year:

Xocolata Jolonch offered hot chocolate, which was easily the best drink of the show.  Best dessert though?  One of them…good for the taste buds, bad for the belt loops.

Olive oil, for men???  If department stores had a whole floor devoted to olive oil, I’d be fine with that.

Olive oil “caviar.”  Pointless, but most welcome.

Noticed more waffles than usual.  Also noticed lots of maple syrup.  I like where this is going.

Olives.  This display would be on the second floor of my aforementioned department store.

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Hailing from Romania, and imported by Michigan-based Max’s Imports, Livada plum butter not only tastes excellent, but can also boast that its sole ingredient is…the humble plum.  By now, I’ve become accustomed to Max’s Imports expertise in sourcing quality Eastern European products; Livada is no different.

At the China section this year, I saw approximately two non-Chinese vendors…but there was a mirror in one of the booths, so it may just have been one.  Though, I have to give credit to the Tangshan chestnut company for not adding sugar to all of their merch.

One of the more nuanced items at the Fancy Food Show was bakkwa (肉干 rou4gan1), or air-dried, salty-sweet meat.  Though it hails from Fujian province in China, I’ve come across it a lot more in Singapore and Malaysia, where it’s typically sweeter.  Although there are a number of (beef) jerky vendors at the show every year, jerky has more of an umami/smoky flavor.

Fish chicharron…but from Latvia?!  Chicharrón generally refers to fried pork rinds (skin); the name may originate in Spain, but fried pork rinds are eaten throughout the world.

Latvia decided to go nuanced, and avail of its location on the Baltic Sea to create a product which I could see (but not crave) topping new-age sushi rolls.

We’re heading into dangerous territory now.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of my 2017 New York Fancy Food Show review, in which I cover some of my favorite selections.

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