Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Five Foot Traveler :: Ooooooh, Blue Savannah Song

This right here, this is America. The 3rd leg of our Winter Vacation was a 3 day stop in Savannah, Georgia - the first real Southern city I've ever visited. 

Classic Pralines - So sweet. So good. 

There are many different sides to Savannah. There is of course, historic Savannah. The downtown area is comprised of 22 historic squares. Downtown Savannah is one of America's largest National Historic Landmark areas (thank wikipedia!) and much of the city revolves around maintaining that good 'ol Southern charm. 

Then there's Savannah College of Art and Design, which plays a major role in the city landscape and attitude. It seems as though every building was owned by the school or part of the school. There are lots of adorable college-y cafes and boutiques and if you want to pick up some student-made art, you can do so at the SCAD Shop. There are, admittedly, many annoying young folk walking around with their canvases taking advantage of the city's no open container law. 

Some girly breakfast at the SCAD owned cafe, Gryphen Tea Room 

Right now, it seems like there's a good balance between maintaining the traditional charms and welcoming young, innovative ideas but I could see SCAD trying to overstep their bounds. Let's hope that doesn't happen. 

Super find of the day on Tybee Island

If art and history don't interest you (you plebeian!), there's the beach and everyone loves the beach! Tybee Island is I guess, not technically Savannah, but it's a very short drive from downtown. I found both a live and dead sand dollar hanging out in the sand which was beyond super way exciting for this tide pool loving gal. To the left is a live sand dollar - left this lil guy at the beach. On the right, my lucky find (well, I guess not so much for the sand dollar) a pristine dried up test, which is the confusing name for a dead sand dollar. 

And of course, you can't talk about Savannah without talking about the queen of the town - Ms. Paula Deen. Her original restaurant, Lady & Sons, is one of the biggest attractions in Savannah. To get reservations, you have to line up at 9am to put down your name. Kind of obnoxious, but whatever - I need my hoe-cakes! Upon arrival for your reservation, you are made to wait in her merchandise store (which is genius from a business perspective) filled with XL tee-shirts emblazoned with her face, "Hey ya'll!" and "Put some south in your mouth" (genius in other ways) 

There is a full menu available but apparently you're supposed to get the world famous all-you-can-eat fried chicken buffet. And we did. And it was amazing. For the first 10 minutes. Then it just got sad because there's no way you could ever eat that much food in one sitting even though it is so delicious. And then you just get even sadder looking around all the American tourists that are packing down their second helping of fried chicken and collard greens (which were, really really amazing.) Of course, you should still go if you have a chance but don't say you haven't been warned. 

And lastly, if you're not a huge Erasure fan (which you should be) then the title of this post probably makes no sense. To help clarify, please press play and let this soothe your soul.  (I don't think this song is about Savannah, Georgia but do we really need an excuse for Erasure?) (The answer is no.) 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Five Foot Traveler :: Chile and Argentina, es muy rico

2011 has proven to be pretty exciting so far. Exciting in both a "yay this is fun!" way and also "holy $&#% this is scary" kind of way. I have to admit, I wouldn't mind if it were completely boring for the rest of the year. Last month's earthquake distracted me from writing about our epic trip to Chile and Argentina. This post is long overdue, but here we go...

It basically all comes down to this photo. This is a lomito from La Fuente Alemana in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago. It is epic, iconic and delicious. I learned about this masterpiece from the Chile episode of No Reservations and it's all Blammo and I could think about before our trip. Actually, it's all we thought about during our trip and it's all we think about after our trip. Paired with a schopp of beer, nothing gets more Chilean than the lomito. Composed of a large pile of pork topped with tomatoes, a generous slather of avocado and homemade mayonaise, needless to say, this is one messy sandwich. Did I mention that the white stuff oozing out isn't cheese? It's mayo. Creamy, yummy, handmade mayo. 

Just like every other South American country, Chileans love their meat and potatoes. This is a plate of chorillana - steak on top of fries topped with a fried egg. Chileans are very proud of their potato heritage. Much to the chagrin of their Peruvian neighbors, Chile claims to have been the first to ever harvest potatoes. Not entirely sure if that is true, but they do grow very different varieties of the spud and opt for potatoes over rice in just about every single dish. 

Another Chilean classic - pastel de choclo. A corn casserole filled with ground beef, onions, chicken, raisins, hardboiled egg, olives, and topped with sugar and butter. Very very delicious, but also very very rich. If I had to choose one word to describe our entire trip, it would be rico, the Spanish word for "rich". If you want to compliment a Chilean chef on their food, just tell them it's "muy rico". 

Moving on to some sweets. Chile has incredible ice cream. Why? I have no idea, but you'll get no complaints from me. Super creamy with lots of interesting fruit flavors. 

This might be my favorite discovery during our trip. Mote con huesillo is a summertime drink made up of cooked dried peaches and stewed corn. This is essentially, a really sweet cold peach tea with corn and the perfect way to cool down in the summer heat. I wouldn't mind finding a recipe for this for the coming air conditioning free/power saving Summer in Japan. 

We did more than eat, I swear! My favorite mural in Valparaiso; a must see if you go to Chile. 

Let's talk condiments. Who puts ketchup in a green bottle?! People who like spicy sauce is who. 

Drinks. At the top, cafe tres leches (condensed milk, milk and...foam? I'm not exactly sure what the third milk is but it was sweet and delicious). Next is pisco sour and draft beer, the national alcoholic drinks of Chile. Lastly, fresh raspberry juice. Chile has a lot of great fruit and you can get fresh juice on the street that will make you rethink your juice from concentrate. 

Sweets! So, I didn't know before going to Chile, that there was a heavy German influence in both their architecture and cuisine. The Germans introduced beer, cakes and streudel to Chile and Chileans have really embraced the cultural exchange. Actually, one thing people say about Chile is that it has no culture of its own. They sort of allow other cultures to come in and influence their own society. I have to say, after walking away from Chile, I have to agree. Aside from native mapuche culture, Chilean culture is hard to describe. 

Again, we did do more than eat. This is proof of it. If you go to southern Chile, definitely go to Puerto Varas and explore the many volcanoes and lakes in the area. We took an awesome boat/bus trip from Puerto Varas to Bariloche, Argentina that I'll never forget. Just make sure you have a return plan. Trust me, getting stuck in Argentina is not that fun. This is a photo of Volcan Osorno, which looks a lot like Mt. Fuji to me. Actually, Chile and Japan have quite a lot in common. More on that later. 

View from a helicopter - glaciers galore!

View from a helicopter II: turquoise lakes of wonder!

Would you like to spend 7 hours in this taxi? Probably not, but I can tell you from experience, it's not the most comfortable or economical way to cross the border. Again, be sure you have a return ticket to Chile before entering Argentina!

One of the coolest parts of our trip was renting a car in Santiago and driving around aimlessly. We found this empanada stand on the side of the road. This is the proprietor and he bakes a mean twig fueled oven bread. 

Simplicity is best - fresh baked bread, ham, cheese and butter. Muy delicioso!

The NY Times picked Santiago as one of the places you must travel to in 2011. After visiting, I totally understand their reasoning. It is a completely livable city, which is rare in South America. It has great transportation and an old European feel to it. If you ever have a chance to visit - DO IT. 

Final thoughts on Chile: Chileans may not be overly friendly, but they are kind and mind their own business. When I went to Europe for the first time, I was really taken aback at how people treated me. What I mean is, I was really offended that people would walk past me and say "ching chong" or "nee how!" while pulling back their eyes. (I'm looking at your Brits and Spaniards!) I've come to realize over the years that maybe they're not trying to be offensive, but it's still jarring. I sort of prepared myself for this kind of behavior in Chile but not once was I made to feel like a total outsider-Asian-weirdo (even though, let's face it, I am one). Honestly, people just didn't care and I appreciated that. 

One of our awesome tour guides in Puerto Varas said that Chile has 112 active volcanoes and is prone to earthquakes. He joked that he didn't know why we would want to travel to such a dangerous place. The dangers Chile faces are the same as in Japan and throughout our trip, I couldn't help but draw parallels between the two countries. Earthquakes, beautiful mountains, active volcanoes, reserved but friendly people and an intense love of mayonaise. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Holy Trinity of Japanese Cooking :: Soy Sauce, Mirin + Sake

I've been cooking a lot of Japanese dishes lately. Somewhere deep down, I feel cooking Japanese dishes at home is my own tiny way of showing solidarity with the rest of the country. I dusted off my Harumi Kurihara books and also picked up a few Japanese food magazines.  They have (relatively) simple instructions and those have been a lot of fun to tackle. Both in cooking and trying to translate the recipes properly. 

One thing you'll see over and over again in Japanese recipe is the prolific use of soy sauce, mirin and sake. Used in varying ratios, these 3 ingredients tenderize and flavor meat and fish in a distinctly Japanese way. These days, you can get all three in the Asian food aisle and if you want to have an under 10 minute dinner during the week, these are staples in your kitchen. Used either as a marinade or sauce, this mix is essentially what we Americans know as teriyaki sauce. The flavor is strong and sweet, so it goes perfectly with plain rice and veggies like shredded cabbage, boiled green beans or bok choy. Here's a really basic and super easy recipe for teriyaki chicken that I've come to crave weekly. 

Basic Teriyaki Chicken

1 boneless chicken leg (with skin)
sake ... 2 TB
soy sauce ... 2 TB
grated ginger ... 1/2 TB

oil ... 1 TB 
sugar ... 1 TB
soy sauce ... 4 TB 
mirin ... 4 TB 

1. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and season with pepper (no salt). Marinate for 10 minutes in the ingredients in red. Mix the sugar, soy sauce and mirin and set aside. 

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Add the chicken, skin side down and brown both sides. 

3. Once the meat has browned, add the rest of the ingredients to the pan. Once the sauce bubbles, turn the heat down to medium low and let it reduce until the sauce is thick and shiny. Careful not to burn the sauce. 

Serve with simple rice and vegetables. Serves 2.