Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Chilean food

Posted: April 8, 2015 in Food, Travel
Tags: ,

I like Chile but their food sucks. Lots of people ask me what Chilean food is like, and I have never had an accurate explanation really until it hit me today: It is the expert addition of so much bread into anything so as to obscure its initial flavor by 99% or more. And not even good bread at that. I don’t know if it’s because they use coarser flour or do not knead or leaven the bread enough but it’s a tough, heavy, gritty bread that lacks finesse and dries the mouth. Surprising considering the German influences here; the Germans know their bread. The Chileans, sadly, do not. And yet they still put it in EVERYTHING.

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Beautiful Barcelona

Posted: October 16, 2014 in Food, Travel
Tags: , , ,

It’s in a nice weather zone with very mild winters, it has beautiful architecture, beautiful people, great affordable food, nightlife, enough city infrastructure to support things like an aquarium and parks and arts. It’s surprisingly clean. It’s conveniently located. It’s got a coastal location on the Mediterranean. It’s a vibrant, bustling port city. It has affordable real estate. It has a population of about 1.5 million, which is “just right” in the ExpatBob Goldilocks Urban Population Count (TM).

It even has an excellent subway system that smells like OPM (Other Peoples’ Mierda), and several seedy old style districts with narrow streets that smell like OPM, both of which always get the ExpatBob Seal of Approval (TM). These seedy old areas are cleaner than anything in Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. Why, I don’t know. The South American stuff seems to have an old worn-out carnival/circus quality to it, like they are trying to put shine on a 100-year-old turd and make something out to be like it’s more valuable than it is (Viveza Criolla bigtime). Here it’s just kind of left to age gracefully, because it’s been around for several hundreds of years, and there’s plenty of Old Europe to go around.

And despite the mishmash of That’s-Not-Spanish (TM), a puree of Castellano+French+Portuguese (Catalan and Gallego), folks seem to revert to the standard Spanish Spanish or French, and, failing that, use English as an intermediary. They can understand my Rio Platense and Chilensis just fine.

Commerce is not met with derisive looks and unwelcome leering, as is common in South America. Folks here want your money and know they need to smile for it. There is the standard lazy Spanish service but it’s about 500 times faster and more efficient than what I am accustomed to. Even the lazy beach bum vendors will get more done in an hour than the average Uruguayo will get done in a lifetime.

There’s free wifi everywhere.

It took me all of 5 minutes and 10 Euros to buy a prepaid cel phone card with enough data to last me the week. Movistar was all out of sim cards, but the Vodafone place next door had plenty. Into the BobPhone (TM) it goes, and it works right away.

Ohh, and there just happens to be one of the best maritime museums in the EU here, and oh, look, there’s an international boat show going on this weekend at the port. This is all stuff that rates top marks on the Bob-O-Meter (TM). Maybe I actually made it to Heaven. I’m certainly not in Hell, because that will involve waiting in an endless line of grey-faced people in a dimly-lit government office in Uruguay, just so I can be told, “No, you can’t do that.”

BobPros (TM)

  • Port city (water exit for Zombie Apocalypse)
  • Mild winter weather
  • Beaches
  • Sunny most of the time
  • Friendly People
  • Beautiful People
  • Good public transit
  • Good airport
  • Tourist attractions
  • Good internet
  • Good mobile networks
  • Great food
  • English spoken here
  • Clean
  • Areas with old architecture

…So what’s the catch? There’s got to be a major buzzkill hiding here somewhere.

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The Chile “Ensalada Chilena” flavor was decidedly lame. Not Chile at all. Why not a Ceviche flavor? Or something more Chilean than SALAD?? Come on. Oh, I’ve got an idea… Tear Gas flavor!

The Peru flavor tasted for sure like Polla a la Brasa, but it wasn’t that great. It reminded me of the Chicken Curry crackers I had in Indonesia.

The Brasil flavor is the best of the three, but it’s not the best Feijoada I’ve had.

Uruguay, naturally, has no flavor. Ha!

If Argentina had a flavor, maybe it would be “knuckles” or “sole of Kristina’s shoe.”

In Chile, even the water is Late!

Posted: November 11, 2013 in Food, Humor
Tags: , , ,

Yes, it’s Late! The brand slogan is “The water that makes you good.”

Better late than never, right? Especially if it makes you good. Too bad it can’t be good now.

Optional marketing strategies for this product in Uruguay: “Never” “Mañana” “Semana que Viene” “My aunt is sick so I can’t work today” “It was raining”

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Ohhhh, and the humor doesn’t stop there!

On the back label, loosely translated, it reads, “What is Late? Late is the first commercial company that is 100% “Solidaria” (community shared). Every bit we generate from the sale of our products, is delivered to social foundations of great prestige, in order to realize concrete works in the rescue of at-risk children.”

No wonder it’s Late. It’s socialist. Que sorpresa!

The other night was a late one and I was craving some greasy spoon. As I had not yet experienced the new Denny’s in Santiago, I drove by around 2am to get my Lumberjack Slam. Closed. On a Saturday night. With ads all over the place about it being open 24 hours. Open 24 hours, except when it makes the most sense.

No bacon for you!

Fuck you, Denny’s.

 

I stopped in Fukuoka on the way back towards Tokyo, since it’s here, it’s cheap ($40/night for a hotel right in the best part of downtown), it has reputed good food, and it has reputedly the most beautiful women in Japan. Fukuoka is the largest city in Kyushu, and is called “the gateway to Asia” due to its proximity to ports in China and Korea. The food is OK, not as good as Osaka, or perhaps not as “everywhere” as Osaka, but the beautiful women part seems to be at least partially correct. Maybe I am just partial to Asians. OK fine, I think Asian chicks are hot.

It’s a shame I don’t have more time; I’d like to stay here another few days and check it out more. It’s not so crowded as giant metropolitan areas, more elbow room, but all the sort of good stuff and infrastructure you want in a town. Fukuoka has that Goldilocks “just right” vibe to it.

I had recently read the news about Hayao Miyazaki’s announced retirement, on Sept 1, when it occurred. It was a source of discussion between myself and the English-speaking girls assigned to me at the ryokan in Kurokawa; it came up in conversation that I used to work in animation, and inevitably Miyazaki and his films come up, and then his retirement, as well as the recent release of his latest film, Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises). One of the girls had seen it and enjoyed it.

So, by chance, in my wanderings through Fukuoka, I found a branch of the same gyoza restaurant from Osaka, so I had to stop there and eat. Then a few minutes after leaving, I came upon a theater which was playing Miyazaki’s movie. Sure enough, it starts soon… the chance to see one of my favorite artist’s work, his last work in fact, in his home country, in its original Japanese… well, that’s a chance occurrence that I cannot pass up!

Kaze_Tachinu_poster

I was introduced to Miyazaki’s work in high school, through AnimeBob, who ran the local Japanese Animation club. At that time, there was very little material coming into the states from Japan, and any bits and pieces we could get our hands on were devoured quickly. Really bad-quality subtitled recordings on VHS were the norm, copied from a copy from a copy from a copy from a copy that originated with some basement-dwelling Otaku enthusiast who had translated the whole movie and put the subtitles in. The first one that went into my VCR was Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and I was hooked.

I ran into AnimeBob many, many years later, in Portland, Maine, of all places, during a hole-in-the-wall showing of Howl’s Moving Castle. He was there by chance as well, on a short assignment to Portland for work, saw the ad for the movie showing in the local arts paper, and dropped in. I spotted him in the lobby and the likeness was far too familiar, so I had to ask him, “Hey, did you go to (crappy high school in Chicagoland)?” and sure enough it was him. What are the chances of that?

Kaze Tachinu is a movie about chance encounters as well. The story revolves around Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M airplane, the next incarnation of which, the A6, was the famed “Zero.” It is not only a story about his inspiration, success, and deep nostalgic moral questioning of technological advancement (as is all so common in Japanese storytelling), it’s also a love story about Jiro and his wife Naoko, who met several times by bizarre chance encounters.

As a conoisseur of Miyazaki films, it’s evident that the past couple of them have been deeper and more nostalgic, telling of an old man looking back at his life and wondering, “what if?” and “have I done right?” Mr. Miyazaki has nothing to worry about; everything he has produced is nothing short of excellent, and the latest is no exception.

So I was wondering just who the hell I would run into at this movie theater, but nothing weird happened. Yet. But I still have 12 hours or so left in Fukuoka. The cosmos is chomping at the bit trying to align my path with some long-lost fragment of my past.

“Yooproresrah!” exclaimed BusTicketBob.

“Huh?”

I was at the bus/train station in Aso, Japan, on the northern side of the volcano bearing the same name. Inquiring as to the proper schedule of the bus to Kurokawa Onsen, a resort of multiple Ryokan-style inns up in the mountains, each with their own unique hot springs. I had asked BusTicketBob about the time table just to make sure I would be on the bus I had reserved, since all the Ryokans were booked full for the weekend and I had (unfounded) fears that I would be riding in the luggage compartment. Siezing a moment to practice his Engrish, and quiz me on my ogre features, he popped out of his office to follow me around.

View from Aso bus station. Aso-san (volcano) in far background.

View from Aso bus station. Aso-san (volcano) in far background.

“Proresrah,” he continued, “Ressu-ring.”

“Ohhhh, you mean am I a pro wrestler? No.”

Pro wrestling is big in Asia right now; there are posters all over Osaka for it, the kids are eating it up, and it also explains the Indonesians’ nicknaming me Boxer and Smackdown.

“How you get so big?” he asked.

“Ah, this? This is just lucky genetics. Really, if I stopped eating crap and took care of myself, I’d be in better shape than Adonis. What you see here is the flabby leftovers from my weightlifting days.”

“Ahh, weirifting. Hai. You body very big, strong. Beautiful,” he commented.

“Wow, uh… I haven’t heard that since I was in art school. Thanks. Perhaps not the appropriate word, though the problem back then was an exit-only issue, and here and now it’s just a simple matter of vocabulary. But I appreciate your comment nonetheless.”

So then was all the polite bowing and arigatogozaimas and whatnot, and he left me alone to wait for the bus. I was one of maybe 5 people on it. So much for those reservations.

Kurokawa Onsen is about an hour’s drive from Aso, along a beautiful winding road up through the mountains. And once you get there, you are treated to real Japanese country hospitality. The spa hosts are surprised to have a foreigner here, and wonder how I ever heard of the place. It’s reputed to be some of the best onsen in Japan, and I’m staying in the ryokan reputed to be the best here, among the best onsen in Japan. It does not disappoint.

Checking in, I was offered a pair of slippers but none of them fit. Source of many giggles from the spa hostesses. Then my surname, which, when said in a proper Japanese accent, can be directly translated to mean alcohol-induced unconsciousness. Many more giggles. So DrunkenStuporSan, the beautiful ogre, wanders the halls in bare feet.

I wish I could take photos of the outdoor pool, but the naked people lounging around in it would not appreciate it, and I don’t think that the spa management would either. So, I’ll rip one of their website photos off and repost it here:

yamamizukiSo basically, you can sit in a shallow pool of steaming mineral water, which trickles down over the rocks into the rushing river below, which is sourced from a waterfall which you can watch and listen to, about 20 meters upstream, while you gaze at the stars above and contemplate your Zen. The waterfall is tastefully lit at night, too.

Then you show up to dinner spreads where they bring you tea and various neat little dishes, and your eat and eat and eat…

Needless to say, it’s an awesome all-around experience.

Appetizer course

Appetizer course

Sashimi course

Sashimi course

Fish and snail...

Fish and snail…

All of these photos were from dinner last night, and they don’t even cover half of it; because I was so excited to be eating all this crazy stuff, I forgot to take photos. There was also soup, and a sabu-sabu (where you cook your own stuff in hot broth), and other miscellanious little things. It seemed like there were 50 dishes left over just for my meal. But the presentation was superb and the flavors and care in each little dish amazing.

For $11, you can purchase a pass (actually a slice of wood) at the visitor center, which gives you access to 3 onsen springs of your choosing in town. Each place you visit removes a sticker from the pass and stamps it with their unique seal. Having visited other reputedly good and recommended springs, I am glad I am staying at Yamamizuki, because it really is the best. It requires a free bus ride from near the visitor center but it’s worth the time it takes to get here.

First place: Yamamizuki. The outdoor spring pool, awesome staff, and quiet natural environment away from the crowd makes it the winner.

Second place: Noshiyu. Right across the street from the visitor center. It’s got smaller pools but it is surrounded by thick vegetation and the temperatures are perfect for long, relaxing soaks.

Third place: Kurokawa-so. Nice facilities, large pools, several pools to choose from, and a cooldown pool as well. However the water was uncomfortably hot at times, its proximity to the highway (traffic noise), and the blocked-off view to the river (which was paved in that portion anyways) bring it down a notch.