Chili Time at Bangkok’s “Flavorful” Restaurant

thai food flavorful restaurant bangkokSpicy Seafood and Chicken with Cashews, Bangkok ‘Flavorful’ Restaurant, Thailand

How do you choose where to eat in Bangkok, a place where it sometimes feels as if there are more food sellers than anything else? To wit, shopping centers have multiple levels with restaurants, and sometimes across from those restaurants there’s a warren of food vendors with snacks. Streets are teeming with a range of stir-fry, stews, cut fruit, and grilled mysteries, and supermarkets are as diversely stocked as the city’s nightclubs and tuk-tuks.

With so many choices in the Thai capital, I finally gave up on rolling the dice, and searched recommendations for eating out.

A long walk down Sukhumvit, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Bangkok, took me to Flavorful restaurant, in the On Nut neighborhood.

Nondescript and standard issue the façade may be, Flavorful looks like the average casual Bangkok restaurant. But it’s never the superficialities that determine where I eat, it’s the food!

Tasting the Real Thing at Daio Wasabi Farm in Hotaka, Japan

wasabi statue hotaka japan
Wasabi Statue, Daio Wasabi Farm (大王わさび農場), Hotaka, Nagano Prefecture, Japan

The first recorded instance of wasabi in Japan dates back to the year 981, during the Heian period of Japanese history. Someone wading through the Japanese Alps had thought its leaves looked like those of the mallow plant (in Japanese, 葵/あおい/aoi), consequently wasabi was first written as 山葵, or “mountain mallow.”

Then, during the Muromachi period (roughly 1392-1573), pairing wasabi with sashimi became a thing. Typing that out, I feel somewhat stupid, but in my defense, A) it’s written on the sign below, and 2) I reckon it’s one of the most famous duos in any cuisine today.

wasabi history Japan
The earliest known record of wasabi was from 981!

I know, you’re not here to become an ethnobotanist. You want peak wasabi, right?~~~

As my friend and I were traveling between Kanazawa and Matsumoto (although we went by rail via Itoigawa), I was searching for points of interest along the way. Since neither of us had ever visited a wasabi farm, the Daio Wasabi Farm (English reference page) in HotakaNagano prefecture stood out among the list of recommendations. At around 30 minutes walk from JR Hotaka station, it was a pleasant — and sometimes delicious — diversion from the norm.

Daio wasabi farm map
Daio Wasabi Farm Map

The Daio Wasabi Farm (official Japanese site), which opened in 1915, is purportedly the largest of its kind in Japan. Interestingly, within Japan Nagano prefecture competes with Shizuoka prefecture, also known for its green tea production, for the title of largest producer of wasabi. (link in Japanese)

Maybe naively, I was expecting to be detained by the smell of the fresh wasabi plants, and to see farmers using goggles and masks when handling Japan’s most famous rhizome.

Whoops, wrong on both counts.

wasabi plantation Japan
Water means life for wasabi
wasabi growing conditions
Key to Growing Wasabi: 7 Days Shade, 3 Days Sun

Wasabi plants aren’t huge fans of direct sunlight, so that’s why dark breathable cloth is used to cover them much of the time (in the two photos above, you can see the cloth rolled up).

After walking around the beautifully kept farm, dipping my toes in the frigid spring water, and sampling some gimmicky snacks and drinks flavored with wasabi, my friend and I continued on to the castle city of Matsumoto, just under 30 minutes away by train from Hotaka.

You might be asking, “did you even try fresh wasabi?” But of course. We even bought a steel grater (おろし金/oroshigane) for it (traditionally, wasabi graters were made of sharkskin). Immediately thereafter, we thought, what a pointless idea … on what/at which point would we even grate the darn thing?

Then, I figured, let’s just take it to a random restaurant and see what happens:

Kitamon soba restaurant Matsumoto
Kitamon (北門) Soba Restaurant, Matsumoto, Japan

A simple explanation to the kind waitress at Kitamon soba restaurant in Matsumoto let us sample the true flavor and texture of nama wasabi, or fresh wasabi. Basically, it’s NOTHING like the neon green stuff you’ve been eating.

Go on, give Daio Wasabi Farm a shot.


Do you like wasabi? How about the fresh version?

Avocado Coffee (Da Nang, Vietnam)

It amuses me that one of the things I was most looking forward to having again in Vietnam was the coffee. I rarely drink the stuff outside of when trying to overcome jet lag, yet still have good memories of quotidian cups of cà phê (coffee, in Vietnamese) from having visited Hanoi and Ha Long Bay a few years ago.

Thus, in the world’s second-largest producer of coffee — after Brazil — it was difficult to narrow-down the first café to visit in Da Nang (or Danang), in central Vietnam. Indeed, coffee culture is very strong in this part of Southeast Asia, with numerous cafes trying to outcompete each other with comfortable chairs, small gardens, koi ponds, and plenty of outdoor seating.

In spite of the fierce competition, I went with a place called H Coffee, not far from the beach and boardwalk hugging the East Vietnam Sea.

How did I choose it? Simple … avocado coffee.

As some of you might know, I’m a big fan of avocados. Frequent travels to Mexico in the past few years might have help my case. However, I’ve never seen avocado and coffee combined in Mexico.

Owing to the French introduction of trái bơ (avocado, in Vietnamese) to Vietnam in 1940, fellow aguacate fanatics can rejoice in this recent addition to the Vietnamese drinks scene:

avocado coffee espresso vietnam
Avocado Coffee, H Coffee, Da Nang, Vietnam

Hold up, that doesn’t look like avocado coffee. I see avocado ice cream (with condensed milk inside), and an espresso. It’s more like an avocado affogato; try to say that three times fast.
For those unfamiliar with an affogato, you take the espresso and slowly pour it over the ice cream. Done! In!

Was it delicious? Of course. Should I have ordered again the next day? If it weren’t for the flooded streets, I would have!


Might you be interested in an avocado coffee mash-up?

A Real Oyster Cracker

Some call them water crackers, Philadelphia crackers, or Trenton crackers, but they’re most commonly called oyster crackers.

Although Westminster Bakers Co. claims to have invented them as early as 1828, officially that record is from an 1847 listing for the Adam Exton Cracker Bakery. No matter what the correct answer is, they’re ever-so-slightly modeled after oysters, and started off as a popular topping for oyster stews.

American oyster crackers
Westminster Baking Co. Oyster Crackers, Santa Barbara, California, United States

To me, oyster crackers have always been reminiscent of being slightly less salty versions of Saltines.

But what if I told you that there’s a “leveled up” version of these so-called oyster crackers that actually contain the aphrodisiacal mollusk?

For a sample of those, you might have to go — or these days, find an awfully generous local — to grab you these snacks. Why?

Because they’re in Japan.

A random stop in Kurashiki, a pleasant little canal town known for its centuries-old rice warehouses, helped lead me to bicchu kurashiki Setouchian (in Japanese, 備中倉敷 瀬戸内庵). This particular store specialized in local gastronomy, and I must say they had some delicious offerings that you may never have expected to see; for instance, I remember going back for sample after sample of their orange butter and (famous in the region) peach butter.

I did end up buying a jar of the peach butter, but what struck my attention for a bit of Japanese food fusion was the oyster senbei:

oyster senbei cracker kurashiki japan
Bicchu Kurashiki Setouchian (牡蠣薄焼き煎餅 – 倉敷市、備中倉敷 瀬戸内庵), Oyster Senbei/Cracker, Kurashiki, Japan

Senbei (煎餅・せんべい) are rice crackers, local snack staples throughout much of the country. Many are flavored with sesame seeds, seaweed, and/or soy sauce. This one, however, had oysters BAKED IN, ostensibly from the nearby Setouchi Inlet.

It was an umami feast, but after a few of those, I needed something sweet.

So that’s where the peach butter came into play ….

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:

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:

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!

Gardening at Istanbul’s Ancient Belgrade Gate

For this particular lengthy city walk, I was in Istanbul, Turkey, making my way from the tourist hotspot of Taksim, all the way to the unofficial Uyghur capital of Zeytinburnu. As is typical with my city walks, I rarely have a desired route in mind, instead letting the five senses take me down a given street. This constitutional took around 2.5 hours, with a couple of stops in between for dessert, and spinach.

Spinach?! Why???

istanbul belgrade gate gardening
Gardening at Belgrade Gate, Istanbul Ancient City Wall, Turkey

Named in honor of Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent’s conquest of Belgrade in 1521, the Belgrade Gate (in Turkish,  Belgradkapı) forms part of Istanbul’s ancient city wall. I only chanced upon it at random, yet it proved to be a unique spot, even in a city full of impressive locales.

In fact, I discovered some farmers who happened to be tending to crops right beside it.

Locavore produce mixed with local history?

This right here is why I travel.

By the way, I’ve never tasted spinach more delicious than that.

Semolina Halva/İrmik Helvası (Turkey)

My first trip to Turkey was in 2006; I went with my family to Istanbul, Kayseri, and Göreme, the epicenter of Cappadocia and its unusual fairy chimneys:

Cappadocia fairy chimneys
Göreme, Turkey, Home of Cappadocia’s Fairy Chimneys

Now, even 16 years ago, I realized that Turkish food was excellent; the kebabs, baklava, dried fruit … just about everything was delicious. But those were already well-known foods before visiting Turkey. How about something new?

While on a tour of Cappadocia, we were invited to eat with a local Turkish family. Although I recall the entire meal being good, only the dessert is still memorable to this day. Why? Perhaps because it was the only dish that I was trying for the first time– the main ingredients were some sort of grain, mixed with copious amounts of butter, sugar, and pine nuts.

I didn’t know the name of the meal until a chance encounter last year in Skopje, North Macedonia:

pistachio halva with peanuts
Helvacı Ali, Skopje, North Macedonia- Semolina Halva (İrmik Helvası)

I couldn’t believe it. After 16 years, I had finally rediscovered the very same dessert, and perhaps more importantly, found out its name– irmik helvası, in English, semolina halva.

Of course! Semolina, the milled wheat product also commonly used in pasta and couscous, was the grain. More embarrassingly, I’ve had nearly identical semolina-based desserts — similarly called halwah — in India.

But this version, found at a Turkish dessert chain called Helvacı Ali, was a dolled-up one, flavored with pistachios and topped with peanuts.

Last month, I popped by the same chain in Istanbul, for an even more ridiculous exemplar– pistachio and chocolate halva topped with tahini and crushed pistachios:

pistachio chocolate semolina halva
Helvacı Ali, Istanbul, Turkey – Semolina Halva (İrmik Helvası)

It’s customary to have semolina halva with black tea during the winter, and Turkish ice cream, called dondurma, during the summer.

Recipe!

Which Airports Have On-Site Supermarkets?

As much as I personally love finding new foods to eat, I feel that much better when I can share some of the findings with family and friends. Though, it would be fair to say I don’t always remember to get to a city supermarket for some last-minute local food souvenir shopping.

That’s a big part of where airport supermarkets shine. Besides being good places to buy snacks and sandwiches at downtown prices — $6.99 Chex Mix at Hudson News, I’ll see you in hell — they’re typically found before security checkpoints (so that anyone could get their shopping done), and if you can’t donate them, are good places to use up those coins weighing down your pockets.

Although they are most commonly found in European airports, Asia sports a handful, too. The * next to each listing means I can personally vouch for the supermarket’s existence; this list will be updated as I discover more.

Airport Supermarkets

Amsterdam Schiphol, airport code: AMS*
Albert Heijn: there’s a shopping center in the airport Arrivals Hall, where the buses/cars enter the terminal, and one level up from the train station. Drinks, snacks, prepared foods such as Indonesian rice dishes.

Brussels, airport code: BRU
Louis Delhaize: In the Arrivals Hall. This one not only has typical supermarket products, but also a small post office.

Dubai, airport code: DXB*
Carrefour: Terminal 3, Arrivals Hall. Unlike most of the other listings, this one is 24 hours.

zaatar manakish and kamaruddin drink
Manakish bil Zaatar and Kamaruddin Ramadan Drink, Carrefour, Dubai Airport Terminal 3

Frankfurt, airport code: FRA:
REWE: Terminal 1, by The Square at the airport rail station.

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen, airport code: SAW*
Airport Market: if you have just arrived, it’s all the way to the right in the Arrivals Hall. Drinks, snacks, and a sandwich/meze (appetizer) counter.

London Heathrow, airport code: LHR
Marks & Spencer: In the Arrivals Halls of Terminals 2, 3, and 5.

Munich, airport code: MUC*
Edeka: Terminal 2, Level 3.

Munich Airport Edeka Supermarket Food
Lunch at Edeka Supermarket, Munich Airport, Terminal 2

Paris Charles de Gaulle, airport code: CDG
Marks & Spencer: Terminal 2, section E.

Singapore Changi, airport code: SIN*
FairPrice Finest: Terminal 3, Basement 2. Also, in the Jewel shopping complex, Basement 2.

Vienna Schwechat, airport code: VIE*
Billa: Terminal 1, Arrivals Hall.

Zurich Kloten, airport code: ZRH
Migros: Ground floor, between the railway station and car rental desks.

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