Even in the winter, or maybe especially in the winter (unclear on this distinction, frankly), Stockholm is a beautiful city.
It’s a wonderful walking city, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the snow. Everything’s actually pretty close, and worse case, you’re thirty minutes from the next thing. And there’s all this water and open sky. Reflections on ‘flections on ‘flections.
Look at this badass motherfucker. Courtesy of a gallery of old school portraits at the Fotografiska.Dropped by the Vasa Museum, where they have a reconstruction of an actual ship from a bunch of centuries ago when they made ships out of wood. Also, whoever made this particular ship fucked up real good because it sank after a few miles. By a few miles, I mean less than five miles. That’s about as good as those origami boats I used to make in third grade and put it in some sink water. But it does look like a pretty badass warship.
If it could only float.And of course, Stockholm has some cool shops. Check out this dope poster. City of champions indeed.
Another popular recreational draw in Chengdu is the ever-crowded Jinli Walking Street, which features a whole bunch of street food vendors selling mouth-watering and sweat-inducing snacks.
The most basic and popular item is the BBQ skewer, which frankly isn’t my favorite. I realize that’s somewhat blasphemous, the skewer being such an integral part of Chinese street food culture. The force of the chili powder and cumin is a bit much for me, although it depends on what’s on the skewer as well. I won’t say no to a bit of crisp chicken wings or some gizzards, but I’m not so motivated by most of the scant strands of nameless white meat.Pineapple rice, though, I can 100% get behind. Especially ones that are basically freshly steamed (one batch every twenty minutes or so), first come first served. While not as intense in acidic sweetness as the ones I had in Xishuangbanna, they were still pretty tasty, and a welcome diversion from the otherwise ubiquitous taste of chili.These mung bean jelly rolls were at once light, refreshing, and deceivingly spicy (partly because of the light and refreshing part, but also because of the vinegary, cilantro-tinged complexity of the spice). Sort of like a great, cold papaya salad at a good Thai restaurant, where even the intense heat won’t stop you from eating. Continue reading →
As we’re leaving Mengkuan, I stopped to browse the wares at the local market. The pictures below are actually a mix of the one in Mengkuan and a slightly larger one that we also visited on the trip back to Jinghong. But they felt similar in spirit, calm despite the crowds, full of supremely fresh produce and live animals and things that were mostly interesting to the outsider passers-by like me, but extremely so. And a few small, wonderful moments of levity.A steamed bun morning snack, with red bean paste brushed onto the rolled dough.This spread below is what the Dai locals usually eat with sticky rice for breakfast: mashed eggplant, mashed tomatoes, or chicken, with little baggies of fried pork skin.Continue reading →
Jinghong’s town market, just off a main corridor called Mengla Road running east-west, is a lively scene of vibrant colors. Sometimes tropical, sometimes earthy, and sometimes nothing more than a shock of blood red. So much closer to nature than most places. And oddly quiet, save for the thud of cleavers on animal bone, the squawk of caged birds, and the watery rustle of fish in their shallow tanks.A tableful of sausages and hams.Preserved eggs (thousand-year).Grilled pork belly.A little shopkeeper and his chili pepper bushels.Fresh chanterelles and wood ear mushrooms.Beautiful pink bamboo hearts.Bee larvae, a local delicacy.A tray of ingredients for cold-mix salad.Pickled things and an array of spices.
Shilin Night Market, which was the last one we visited, was also the largest market we went to. It took us a while to find the food stalls, after walking past row upon row of kitschy t-shirt and jewelry stores.There weren’t any big signs (that I remember, anyway) but somehow we made our way to the stalls where all the grilling and frying and searing and queuing and gawking and pointing and drooling and chewing was happening. Probably on the strength of my nose, frankly. I definitely lined up for the chicken cutlet, which has a uniquely sweet and peppery seasoning that seems to expand even more with the frying. The aroma is hard to distinguish from the oiliness, but you don’t really dwell on that when you’re inhaling the crunchy batter and juicy meat. I couldn’t get through a whole one.
We stopped by a small sitdown shop selling crab soup (螃蟹羹), and though you can’t really see the crab pieces in the picture (they were plentiful), the soup was a wonderful, thickened blend of crunch (bamboo shoots), umami (shiitake mushrooms), and sliminess (black fungus shreds of some sort).
On our second night in Taipei, we headed to Ningxia night market, recommended by our friends Winston and Jessica. This one was much smaller than Raohe and Shilin, the latter of which we went to the next night, and was almost exclusively food. Which meant it was perfectly up my alley.We hadn’t stopped into any of the sit-down places the previous night so we decided to start with a little restaurant making fried oyster omelettes (蚵仔煎) on this streetside griddle. The griddle is then covered with a potato starch batter, eggs, and some lettuce.After a good amount of additional griddlin’, the end result (for us) is a gravy-slathered plate of charred stickiness (from the potato starch) and funky oyster flavor. I’ve never been huge on cooked oysters, but this version (particularly the gravy and the omelette parts) were pretty tasty – and it also helped that these oysters were plump and fresh and didn’t have a weird aftertaste (trust me on oysters sometimes having weird aftertastes).Anyway, so Ningxia has a relatively short (one block length’s worth of) runway of food stalls, but they are delicious (from both visual and gustatory points of view). Our first stop was a 烧烤 stall, where my sister went to town on some squid:I went across the way to this roasted meat skewer stand and grabbed a few helpings of chicken skin, gizzard, and fatty pork.A tray of fried chicken bites (I went with the breaded ones): A view of the crowds:Our last stop of the night was a collection of folding chairs and tables near the night market entrance that served up some mian xian (oyster-and-intestine flour-rice noodle soup), similar to what we had at Ay Chung (but soupier, and less potent in flavor), along with a bowl of offal and blood pudding soup and an order of fried stinky tofu (臭豆腐), a Taiwanese food stall classic. The mian xian and soup were quite tasty and moderately spicy – I’m a big fan of stewed intestine so long as they still have that chewiness to them. Stinky tofu is somewhat of an acquired taste. I did not find it to be addictingly delicious, but it’s definitely worth a try. Surprisingly, the stinkiness seemed to be mostly in the aroma (maybe it’s the frying oil), because the tofu inside was succulent and only slightly sour. This was almost a disappointment for me, since I was hoping for something more along the lines of fermented bean curd, especially the spicy version, which sometimes accompanied morning bowls of congee.
But anyway, I digress. A second night of Taipei’s night markets, and I still felt like there were a million undiscovered things, both within Ningxia and without, in the city’s myriad neighborhood markets. The beauty of street food.
Ningxia Night Market (宁夏夜市)
Taipei City, Taiwan 103
We opted for sit-down restaurants for all of our meals (not on principal or anything, it just happened that way), but Lamai boasts two excellent collections of food stalls. One is behind one of the many 7-Elevens sprinkled along Road 4169 (there’s a Google Map location at “Lamai Food Center”).
The other is a night market on a side street adjacent to Had Lamai, the main road of shops. I wish I had smuggled some of that crispy pork back home with me.
Kyoto’s Nishiki Market runs along a four- or five-block length of pedestrian street fitted with stalls and little shops selling an eye-popping smorgasbord of food and food-related things, from kombu to artisanal knives to mochi to Japanese spices to skewers to seafood. So much sensory overload from just a thirty-minute stroll down this narrow corridor of heaven.
Another recommendation courtesy of our Shanghai friend Winston, L’Usine is a hip shop and restaurant/coffeeshop in District 1, tucked away in the second-floor of an otherwise unmemorable collection of galleries, boutiques, and scooter parking. Up a narrow turn of stairs is L’Usine’s corridor, its tiling, color scheme, and signage very reminiscent of a nostalgic French bistro.
Inside, the space opens up, complementing the murmur and voices and laughter from the late morning flock of coffee-drinkers, brunch-gatherers, and the welcoming expat vibe. Behind the restaurant sits the retail portion of the space, sporting aged wood and industrial chic, tinged with elements of curious and quirky, like stuffed elephants and billowing ceiling drapery: Continue reading →