Supermarket Specialties, Part 1: Turkey’s Migros

Every time I’m traveling somewhere, I will visit a local supermarket. Part of the reason is to check out food souvenirs, then there’s also forgetting — or misplacing — a toiletry (without hyperbole, I have about 11 nail clippers), staff preparing food for you while you shop, and the best part, making a picnic out of a bunch of local eats.

I believe some countries do supermarkets miles better than others, having found that Belgium, Spain, Thailand, and Turkey steal the show for their variety, local foods, and overall quality of what’s available. Belgium has the sweets and butter, Spain tomatoes and cheeses, Thailand a mix of Thai and international eats, and for our first part in the supermarket series, Turkish supermarket chain Migros

If the Word Salad Sounds Too Healthy, Try Indonesia’s Gado Gado

Gado gado (gado means “mixture” in Indonesian) is a blend of peanut sauce with morning glory (aka water spinach), lontong (sticky rice), boiled potatoes, eggs, fried tofu, and bean sprouts, among other ingredients. And yes, it’s a carbohydrate dream or nightmare, depending on how you view them.

It’s a staple at Indonesian restaurants throughout the world, although according to the Wall Street Journal, was only invented in the 16th century in Batavia (present-day Jakarta), once Portuguese and Spanish traders brought over peanuts and chili peppers from South America.

Gado gado, a mixture of peanut sauce, vegetables and carbs, Bali, Indonesia

For a look at the traditional way to prepare this Indonesian food classic, check out my video below. I enjoyed this version of gado gado in Bali, and introduce a few other Indonesian specialties, too.

Selamat makan! (Bon Appétit!)

My First Podcast Interview: Malcolm Teasdale’s “The Travel Addict”

Sweet, my first podcast interview!

After selling his business years ago, Malcolm Teasdale, the affable host of the podcast series “The Travel Addict,” ramped up his travels beyond that of just client meetings. A fellow member of the traveler’s century club, Malcolm invited me to chat last week about expat life, as well as working in Saudi Arabia and East Asia.

If you’d like to give that episode a listen, please check it out here. Let me know what you think!

A Quintessentially British Lunch

A “quintessential British lunch” is quite open to interpretation; indeed, replace the word British with any other — let alone Welsh, Scottish, or Manx — and there’s just as likely to be a debate.

Of the handful of times that I’ve visited the United Kingdom, save for a couple of trips to Belfast and Edinburgh, I’m mostly stayed in England. I know, I know, it shouldn’t be that way, but I’ve had to go for work, too.

Nevertheless, I’ve gotten a bit familiar with eating in the UK, e.g. finding new flavors of potato crisps, and where to find the nearest Marks & Spencer to see if they have my favorite chocolate tortilla chips in stock (obviously, they taste better than they sound; I suppose that’s why they’re never in stock).

It has become quite clear to me that, while British food, say Yorkshire pudding, shepherd’s pie, and a ploughman’s lunch, are good, the country seems to excel in the unhealthy. After all, it’s the home of Cadbury, the place where I first discovered Kit Kat peanut butter, flapjacks, and …

fish and chips.

fish and chips English lunch
Fish and Chips, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Mushy Peas, Malt Vinegar, York, England, United Kingdom

Although I rarely eat fried foods, there’s something about the combo with the malt vinegar that really sells fish and chips to me. My first experience with that popular food was at a London restaurant called Geale’s, back in 1993.

If you’re curious about a brief backstory of fish and chips, Sephardic Jews from Portugal and Spain fled persecution in the 1500s, taking with them the tradition of preserving fish in flour the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) so that it could be cooked Saturday after sundown (cooking was prohibited on the Sabbath). Only in the mid-1800s did the meal start to grow mass appeal, when it began to be sold in Lancashire and London.

I only thought to order it with mushy peas after discovering how good they were at a Nando’s Peri Peri restaurant, only to be let down because Nando’s didn’t prepare these.

For me, however, the pièce de résistance was the sticky toffee pudding. If that were as easy to get in the U.S. as it is in England, I’d be in <<huge>> trouble.

Javanese Buffet at Bali’s Warung Kolega Restaurant

Spicy fish, braised eggplant, pandan pancakes stuffed with sweetened coconut … if you’re looking for a primer in Javanese food with a hint of Balinese flavor, look no further than my video from Warung Kolega restaurant in Legian, Bali:

Food Travel Hacks

At the end of the day, it’s all about problem solving.

You see, in my quest to find food fluency, sometimes hiccups manifest out of nowhere. The hotel room refrigerator is broken. There’s no mini-fridge. I forgot a mouse pad. I just got back from the supermarket, and it’s freezing outside, but boiling hot inside.

Short-term issues as they might be, I still try as hard possible to find a solution for them. Let’s call these curious solutions food travel hacks.

Need an example? Always on the lookout for local food brands, I bought a hefty lot of smoked salmon, milk, and produce the first night I was in York, England on business. However, my bed & breakfast understandably didn’t have a fridge in the room.

Fortunately, however it was early December, and fortunately, both the bedroom and bathroom windows had exterior sills. Having forgotten about the lack of refrigerator while at the supermarket, I wasn’t about to let the perishables go to waste (and this particular bed & breakfast didn’t have a shared fridge). Consequently, I placed all of the refrigerable items on the sills, where they remained properly chilled during my stay. And yes, I checked to see if there was any likelihood that the items would fall on an unsuspecting passer-by, but each window overlooked swathes of shrubbery.

Note: you probably wouldn’t want to do that in a famously windy location.

But it’s not always a problem with the food. Maybe there’s something else in the room that could be adjusted with the assistance of some creativity, without having to inform hotel staff.

For a few of my tips, check out my food travel hacks YouTube video:

Mexican Tequesquite, aka Slack Lime

Last week, I took a trip to Roosevelt Ave. on the eastern frontier of Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City.  The mission expressly revolved around eating food from Mexico.  Continue walking east on Roosevelt Ave. towards Corona, and finding a taco will be as easy as finding a plastic surgeon in Seoul.

I walked into a Mexican supermarket called Bravo and strolled right up to the wall of spices, herbs and who-knows-what.  Sometimes, I-know-what, with a fair amount of culinary travel experience in Mexico under my belt; but even if I didn’t know Spanish, some foodstuffs like albahaca (basil), perejil seco (dried parsley) and tomillo (thyme) might still be familiar.

But then we have this one …

tequesquite slack lime mexican product
Los Compadres-brand Tequesquite (or Slack Lime) Mexican Cooking Product

Known as such.  What am I supposed to make of that? Did someone royally screw up spelling mesquite?  At first glance, it looks like clay, or stale psyllium husks.

Tequesquite, what are you? Similar to salt but composed of various minerals, it originates from the depths of various lakes in what is now Distrito Federal (Mexico City) and the state of MichoacánTrivia time: Name two more Mexican states (if you say Texas, I’d like to see your globe).  The word stems from the Náhuatl language, whereas tetl means rock and quixquitl signifies gushing or sprouting.  During the dry seasons, the beds of salt lakes such as Texcoco would be exposed, thus giving rise to the practical uses of tequesquite.

Aztecs and their descendants predominantly used tequesquite to leaven corn dough, but it was also used to soften corn kernels, as well as preserve the green color of nopales, or cacti.  On your next trip to Mexico, when you order a tamale or a corunda, its triangular cousin from the state of Michoacán, you might have tequesquite to thank.

From the Wayback Machine re: mexconnect.com

Oh, and as for assigning it an English name, there’s a possibility that builder’s or slack lime are contenders.  Slightly off-putting for use on supermarket shelves, but I can hear an avant-garde Home Depot calling its name.


Have you ever made tamales or corundas?  Are you able to find tequesquite?

Exploring Turkish Antakyan (Antioch) Cuisine at Hatay Sultan Sofrası

In one of my favorite countries for eating, is Antakya the BEST region to eat?

In the southern tip of Turkey that juts into Syria lies Hatay province, well-known for its ancient Roman mosaics, playing host to the sole remaining Armenian village in the country, and the city of Antakya, formerly known as Antioch. For a bit of history, Antioch was founded in ~300 B.C. by Seleucus I Nicator, a comrade of Alexander the Great. Due to its geographic position by the Mediterranean, it was a major center of trade, at one point even rivaling Constantinople and Rome for its wealth and architectural  grandeur.

Consequently, merchants from all over the Middle East, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean would trade in Antioch, often bringing ingredients from their homelands with them. Thus, dishes that you would see in today’s Antakya stand out amongst other regional Turkish foods, not simply because of its geography, but also due to its erstwhile bustling centers of commerce.

hatay sultan sofrasi restaurant antakya turkey
Enjoying a Variety of Antakyan (Antioch) Dishes at Hatay Sultan Sofrası, Antakya, Turkey

For example, you might notice more cumin, walnuts, and chickpeas on the menu in Antakya than elsewhere in the country. In fact, one of the principle dishes in that area is called aşur, a surprisingly chewy yet undeniably decadent mix of chickpeas, walnuts, cumin, onions, peppers, and bulgur wheat (used in tabbouleh and its Turkish cousin kısır). Indeed, considering its location in the Levant (comprising Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well as Hatay province), many dishes are more emblematic of that part of the world than of Turkey.

Henüz aç mı? (Hungry yet?) Check out my video below from the restaurant Hatay Sultan Sofrası, located in downtown Antakya.

Gaziantep, Turkey: City of Baklava and Pistachios

It’s not so easy to determine which place can call itself the true inventor of baklava, since it’s existence isn’t well-documented prior to the 19th century. It may come from present-day Iran, Turkey, Syria, Greece, or Armenia, although its popularity certainly spread throughout the Balkans and beyond because of the Ottoman Empire.

Years ago, the European Union (EU) did Turkish cuisine a solid by considering Turkey to be the creator of baklava, placing it on its list of items protected designation of origin, as well as protected geographical indication. However, one joy of eating is to appreciate food without getting caught up in a geopolitical kerfuffle.

Koçak Baklava Gaziantep Turkey
Sampler Platter of Baklava and a Turkish Coffee at Koçak Baklava, Gaziantep, Turkey

Forming part of a hub of Turkish food in southern central Anatolia, if you want to eat like a local, the city of Gaziantep is known for two things– baklava, and pistachios. There’s also baklava’s cousin, katmer, but it’s not nearly as well-known overseas.

Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted my video of Karagöz Caddesi, or what I consider to be Gaziantep’s “baklava street,” but there are plenty of other sweets shops around to reel you in. However, I did prepare a brief baklava tour of the city; given the deliciousness of the country, more videos of Turkish gastronomy will undoubtedly follow!

Kvint Brandy, Transnistria’s Most Popular Culinary Export

Sadly, Transnistria has been in the news lately vis-a-vis the heart-wrenching conflict in Ukraine. I’ve written this post simply to introduce to you Transnistria’s chief export, Kvint brandy, which is so popular that it even makes an appearance on their currency.

While traveling through Eastern Europe a few years ago, I ended up in Chisinau (or Kishinev), the capital of Moldova.  It’s a small but busy city in the former Soviet republic, in which Romanian and Russian are the principal languages– Romanian due to its ethnic and historical ties to the region of Bessarabia, and Russian for its annexation by the Soviet Union.

Using Chisinau as my base, I looked in to possible day trips; after a brief search, one particularly unique locale popped up: Transnistria.

It was an anachronistic trip to Transnistria’s capital, Tiraspol, given the Soviet-era monuments and buildings, but this is a blog about food and drink, right?  Indeed…and it’s time to introduce Transnistria’s most famous culinary export, Kvint brandy.

KVINT -an acronym which translates to “divins, wines, and beverages of Tiraspol” – was founded in 1897 as Moldovan producer of wine and vodka.  Divin is an abbreviated way of saying brandy (from the Romanian phrase “distilat de vin), with a pun taken from the Romanian word divin signifying “divine” or “marvelous.”

KVINT introduced brandy to its collection in 1938, and has since formed quite the formidable presence in Transnistria, accounting for 4-5% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP)!

The company is now owned by a local conglomerate called Sheriff, which runs everything from supermarkets to the recently successful football club Sheriff Tiraspol.

To show its national appreciation to KVINT, I guess, the central Transnistrian bank added its headquarters to the back of its 5-ruble banknote:

To add a personal anecdote to the backgrounder, when I first made it to Tiraspol, I went to a Sheriff market looking for a bottle, having been tipped off to the brandy from a nice hotel worker in Chisinau.

Long story short, a few older women chuckled at me as I wandered the streets of the Transnistrian capital, brandy in one hand, camera in the other.

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