Delightful Seafood at Marajillo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

pulpo zarandeado / octopus nayarit-style mexico
Pulpo Zarandeado, Restaurante Marajillo, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I’ve got to show a hint of appreciation to a lackluster Airbnb for having introduced me to one of the best octopus dishes I’ve ever tried.

Marajillo, a small, noisy restaurant and bar in the middle of nowhere touristy Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was mostly a bright spot during my brief stay in that tourism hub. Although I cannot recommend the comparatively bland and insipid ceviche Vallarta, the pulpo zarandeado, chicharrón de pescado (fried fish resembling pork rinds), and aguachile were excellent.

Although the verb zarandear generally refers to shaking and jostling something, in cooking, it refers to a style from the central western Mexican state of Nayarit. In this case, it means to split something — usually fish — from head to tail, and grilling it on a rack over hot coals. My dish at Marajillo was pulpo, or octopus, one of my favorites from the wide world of mariscos mexicanos, or Mexican seafood:

Tetetlán, an Architectural Gem of a Restaurant in Mexico City

Avocado Pizza Tetetlán Mexico City
Avocado Pizza at Tetetlán

Originally the location of horse stables for a client of Luis Barragán, Mexico’s most well-known modern architect, Tetetlán, a Mexico City restaurant specializing in local ingredients, is the result of an extensive remodeling effort by an art collector.

Although a bit snobbish, I was quite taken by the combination of the emphasis on local ingredients — for instance, some of the greens on the avocado pizza were grown at Xochimilco, an ancient irrigation system — as well as Tetetlán’s architecture.

Tetetlán main dining room Mexico City
Tetetlán Restaurant Main Dining Room, Mexico City, Mexico
Tetetlán small dining room Mexico City
Tetetlán Restaurant Secondary Dining Room, Mexico City, Mexico

If you’d like to experience it before you experience, watch my quick review of Tetetlán:

Is this the Best Japanese-Style Food Hall Outside of Japan?

As that stubborn country in the East Sea continues to only roll out a departure mat to its own citizens, those of us who are glad to liberate our wallets of yen continue to seek alternatives. Let’s take Southeast Asia as an example.

While in Singapore last month, I visited my two favorite places in the city: Singapore Botanic Gardens, and Takashimaya Ngee Ann City, on the busy Orchard Road shopping street.

Since my first visit to the city-state in 2004, I had been a fan of the Takashimaya department store. It had become my choice ersatz Japanese food hall — called デパ地下 (depachika) — when in town, with many of the seasonal and regional food festivals, bakeries, and liquor you’d expect to see in Japan.

For a very small, ehem, taste of the Takashimaya depachika, please have a look at my YouTube video:

Two Local Dishes in Antalya, Turkey

In order to attend the Dubai Expo 2020 right before it ended on March 31st, I was looking at creative routings from Amsterdam. Flying direct was expensive, so perhaps there was an intermediate point that would be both a new place to a visit, and a way to lessen the cost of the trip.

SunExpress, the joint Turkish-German airline transporting frozen Europeans to warmer resorts in Turkey, came through; they not only flew from Amsterdam to Antalya, one of the most popular tourist cities on the Mediterranean, but also had a convenient (albeit seasonal) flight to Dubai. Done deal!

Now that a short weekend stay was arranged, it was time to start searching for Antalya famous foods. I asked the flight attendants about what to eat, and they all mentioned two particular dishes, piyaz and kabak tatlısı. Antalya hotel staff concurred.

I’m a bit familiar by now with Turkish food, but I had no idea what either of those things were. Even better!

Let’s start with piyaz.

piyaz turkish meal antalya

Piyaz refers to a (white) beans salad, although it stems from a Persian word meaning onion. In Antalya, piyaz receives the red-carpet treatment, getting served with tahin (tahini/sesame paste), tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, and olive oil. The tahini makes it very rich, and the vinegar adds an unusual flavor profile not commonly seen in Turkey, save for some pickle recipes.

Oddly, as much as I repeatedly praise Turkish cuisine, the vinegar threw me off. That said, it’s an excellent dish to scoop up with local bread, then topping it with köfte (minced meatballs/skewers).

On the other hand, there was the dessert.

pumpkin dessert antalya turkey
Kabak Tatlısı (Pumpkin Dessert) in Antalya, Turkey

Kabak tatlısı translates as pumpkin dessert, and wow did that hit the spot. Pieces of pumpkin are candied in sugar syrup, then are topped with tahini and crushed walnuts. Some recipes use kaymak, or water buffalo clotted cream. Given that pumpkin is the star, it’s a colder weather dessert; indeed, when you’re eating out in Turkey, you might want to ask the waitstaff about what’s in season.


Have you been to Antalya?

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!)

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:

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!

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