Last year, I had the opportunity to explore Shanghai by night, with food tour company, UnTour.
We spent more than three hours gorging ourselves with noodles, soups, a variety of meats, root vegetables, crayfish, scallops, fruit puddings, and anything we could find, served on a stick. The guides took us through the history of Chinese street food, and led us through a labyrinth of vendors.
When I moved to Shanghai, I lived across the hall from a very superstitious man. Red cardboard cutouts of horses decorated his doorway, red underwear hung from his balcony, and it seemed he had enough fireworks to launch a full-scale pyrotechnics show for even the tiniest occasion. But I had no idea what any of it meant. That is, until Chinese New Year rolled around.
The weeks leading to the holiday, I was gifted oranges and tangerines, offered a giant, glittering cardboard sheep for my door, and advised to deep-clean my apartment (as he peered over my shoulder, through the newly decorated doorframe). I was also advised to settle any debts, not to wash my hair, and not to cry. This was all important, he said, in order to receive good fortune in the year to come.
But even more important, in order to be lucky in love and in my finances (he seemed very invested in my dating life—or lack thereof), I needed to watch what I ate. And thankfully this did not mean scaling back on calories.
Day three in Florida, and still surrounded by the heavy fog of jet lag. My head aches, my eyes are straining to stay open, and I’ve been up since 4am.
It’s been awhile since I’ve experienced this sensation, as I deliberately keep my vacations within a few hours of Shanghai time. Actually, the last time I had to make this 12-hour adjustment was when I moved to Shanghai last summer. And before that, when I moved back from Korea, in 2011. There’s a reason for this.
It’s said that it takes the body about one day per time zone to get over jet lag. This means that if you traveled from, say, New York to California, it would take you as much as three days to get on California’s schedule. If you traveled from, say, China to Florida, it could take up to 12 days. Twelve days, people! Now, I only predict it will take me half of this time (fingers crossed), but regardless, it’s not fun. Luckily, I have my family, the sun, and pancakes.
Whenever I travel to a non-English-speaking country, I learn several words before arriving: hello, goodbye, thank you, and delicious. To me, the last is the most important.
Food tells us a story—from the way it tastes to the people who prepare it. It’s a gateway to understanding a culture and its people. And when you tell someone you enjoy their cooking? Well, you’re not only making their day, but opening a window to a whole new world.
I love living in a big city. There’s no need to own a car, there’s always a new bar to try, or art exhibition to see. But most importantly, there’s the opportunity to participate in Restaurant Week.
Restaurant Week is a concept that originated in New York City by Zagat Guide founder, Tim Zagat, and late restauranteur, Joe Baum in 1992. In brief, it’s 1-3 weeks of prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus, offered for a fraction of the price. Not all restaurants participate, but many do, and it’s an opportunity to get a 3-course meal for as little as $20. It’s most well-known in New York, but the idea has caught on globally, and now takes place in many major cities around the world.
Growing up in Florida, the word “winter” was never in my vocabulary. Pools were never covered, flip-flops were worn year-round, and the closest thing anyone had resembling a coat was a thin cotton hoodie. Life was good.
Then I moved to Seoul a few years ago and everything changed. Initially, I thought winter lasted a couple of months. I imagined wearing cute boots and petticoats, sticking my tongue out to catch snow flakes. I pictured myself making snow angels with my students. But then I quickly realized: winter sucks. It takes a solid 5-10 more minutes to get dressed in the morning, you can’t feel the snow when it hits your tongue, and making snow angels ruins your hair. As a Floridian, my idea of winter was shattered in about a week.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing, boots and scarves are for sale. But now that I live in China, there’s another reason to look forward to the season: persimmons.
Starting a few weeks ago, the fruit began popping up all over the markets—showcased as the prized product by every vendor. They are being sold on street corners, in grocery stores. The woman I kindly refer to as “the fruit lady” behind my apartment complex has been shoving bags full of them into my hands, demanding that I buy them. I tell you, the Chinese have a certain charm.
For me, traveling and food go together like peanut butter and honey. It just makes sense. In one bite, we can discover a culture. We bond with its people.
My family shares the same sentiment. So when they came to visit a couple of weeks ago, I took them to my favorite place for a Saturday morning in Bogota: La Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao. Although not present in many of the guide books, nor listed as a top thing to do online, this bustling, chaotic flower and food market was the first thing to make me fall in love with the city.
Durian, durian, the magical fruit
People say you smell like a toot.
Spiky, pointy, hanging from trees,
The sight of you brings me to my knees.
People crack you open with a knife,
The first taste nearly changed my life.
A custard-like inside is a surprising treat,
Every day I want to eat.
I’ll never understand why your smell and taste offends,
I’ll forever be here to defend.
Durian, durian, I miss you so,
Back to Malaysia I must go.
The moment I returned to America I started receiving invites to parties and reunion requests. I responded by sending a mass email: “Let me sleep for five days, then the planning can commence.”
Exactly six days later, I had two of my best girlfriends over for dinner. And even though I wanted nothing to do with rice, noodles, or any other kind of Asian fare, I thought it’d be nice to cook some recipes I learned in Thailand.