Posts Tagged 'food'

along barcelona’s kebab trail

We arrived in Barcelona straight from the Veneto countryside and the winding streets of Venice. The city immediately hit me with its endless stretching avenues, crowded streets, chain fast food, cars, vespas. It felt like stepping back into reality after three weeks in some faraway land called Italy. We retreated into our hotel room that afternoon and napped a long nap.

Barcelona streching into the hills

Barcelona streching into the hills

By midnight, we woke up from hunger and began our journey through Barcelona following our stomachs.  We headed towards las Ramblas, a pedestrian strip bordered on both sides by one lane streets  and touristy shops. There we found empanadas, Estrella for one euro, hash, “anything you like” being sold by men of Middle Eastern or North African descent. I saw small clusters of girls standing together and only realized they were prostitutes when they slipped their arm around a man or whispered something in his ear as they walked by. In an American city, a street like this may be one to be avoided, but in Barcelona it made for a strange, but lively place to walk and hang out at night.

Eventually, we headed off las Ramblas, through an arcaded plaza, onto a side street, and straight into a kebab diner. Kebab, one of the three main food groups in Barcelona, is readily availabe especially late at night and consistently better than the other two food groups: ham sandwiches and tapas. (Expensive tapas though is another story and quite good). The kebabs were not overly greasy like the ones in New York and filled with  interesting ingredients that varied from diner to diner. That night we hungrily wolfed down our first kebab with some distinct looking hummus and slowly enjoyed our second at another diner serving kebab with red cabbage with a can of Estrella.

For lunch the next day, doner kebab with green olives on a less crowded side of las Ramblas

For lunch the next day, doner kebab with green olives on a less crowded side of las Ramblas

The next day, following, a lunch of doner kebab with green olives, we headed off in search of a place to sit and watch Barcelona. On our meandering path, we walked past a shop advertising vintage sunglasses which had just reopened after siesta . I had decided earlier in the trip that my only personal purchase would be a pair of good sunglasses, so we went in.  What we discovered was a small room filled with shelves of glamorous, flashy, intricate sunglasses. As I looked through the shelves, the owner brought out  boxes filled with even more sunglasses from which he picked out specific ones to try on .  The owner whose name I forget is a young guy in his twenties. He told me that he always loved sunglasses and began collecting them seriously around the age of 19. He was particularly loved those from the 60s, 70s, and 80s and now takes trips to find vintage sunglasses to sell in his store.

Everyone looks cool in sunglasses by Police from Wilde Vintage

Everyone looks cool in these sunglasses by Police from Wilde Vintage

I finally decided on some ridiculous, super glam 70s pair for 65 euro.  As I payed for the sunglasses with cash I borrowed because of debit card issues, I looked up and saw the top shelves lined with super chic vintage bags and the glass case by the door filled with large, bold earrings. The guy has impeccable taste. I took a few bags down from the shelf but restrained myself and swore to come back the next day with a full wallet. Unfortunately, I passed the store during siesta hours and no purchases were made.  When in Barcelona, Wilde Vintage is a must.

Leftover from doner kebabs with delicious fresh tomatoes. A dog came up and licked up the mess for us.

Leftover from doner kebabs with delicious fresh tomatoes. A dog came by and licked up the mess for us.

We finished our 6th and 7th kebab (within 36 hours) in George Orwell plaza. We sat and looked at two old shirtless men standing on their balconies with their stomachs hanging out.  It seemed like New York in many ways; dense, gritty, endless, diverse,  filled with people whose crazy past lives you cannot begin to imagine, but without New York’s ambitious upward drive. As we sat there, someone’s black dog came sniffing by and eagerly lapped up the grease from our kebabs and then trotted along on its way.

Europe is full of small balconies like these. It's less structurally demanding, more practical, and inhabitable than our standard balconies in America.

Europe is full of small balconies like these. It's less structurally demanding, more practical, and inhabitable than our standard balconies in America.

We skipped Gaudi and went to see Mies van der Rohe's famed Barcelona Pavilion which was surprisingly worth the all the talk. Afterwards, we saw Joan Miro Foundacion by Sert but were too hungry to venture further than the gift shop.

We skipped Gaudi and went to see Mies van der Rohe's famed Barcelona Pavilion which was surprisingly worth the all the talk. Afterwards, we saw Joan Miro Foundacion by Sert but were too hungry to venture further than the gift shop.

It's easy to forget that Barcelona has a beach. It's nice, but bring your own beer. Estrella costs 2 euros on the beach.

It's easy to forget that Barcelona has a beach. It's nice, but bring your own beer. Estrella costs 2 euros on the beach.

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half truths about venice

There were warnings before I left for Venice: I hope you are good with maps, it’s impossible to navigate.  You’ll get hit on a lot.  The food is terrible there. It’s so hot, you don’t even need clothes.

The warnings, it turns out were true, but somewhat inaccurate.

It was blazing hot our first day in Italy as we dragged our luggage up the hill in Monselice, but cold enough for long pants and sweaters for the rest of the week. My only pair of jeans which were unfortunately white became increasingly colored as I sat at the end of streets eating pizza next to the rio or in the shade of a church in a large campo sketching (dirt, grease, graphite = irreversible stains).

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Jackets, scarves, long pants and warm cappacinos to shield against the cold. In Padova outside a surprisingly good illy cafe. Photo credit: Reem

The Venetian men, for the most part, greeted with a  “ciao bella”  and a genuine smile which felt complementary and unthreatening as they glided by on their boats. Far less questionable than anything that happens in Brooklyn or the Bronx.

Depending on your luck, a young handsome Italian with stylish sunglasses will call "ciao bella!" to you from his boat.

Depending on your luck, a young handsome Italian with stylish sunglasses might call "ciao bella!" to you from his boat.

As for navigation, Venice is quite impossible to navigate with a map but not impossible without one. We found that walking in the general direction of something with the sun as our guide was a far less frustrating and more colorful way to get around Venice given ample time, comfortable shoes, and willingness to enjoy ambling into dead ends. When time, shoes, or lack of patience was a factor,  a few  ‘Dove Campo ____?” set us back on the right track. But more often,  pride was in the way of asking, so we wandered through rhythmic changes of dark and light until we came up that bright open space we were looking for.

An attempt at an artistic map of the streets I wandered down off one of the biggest campos in Venice. The city is small streets some as wide as one person connected by small square and big plazas.

An attempt at an artistic map of the streets I wandered down off one of the biggest campos in Venice. The city is small streets some as wide as one person connected by small square and big plazas.

When it came to food, the best and worst of my trip were both in Venice. The worst:  pizza in  Campo S. Margarita at a cafe with orange chairs. It was undoubtedly on the same level of New York Public School lunch pizza – the thick and flavorless crust, bland cheese, sauce reminiscent of tomatoes only because it is red.  There were other terrible things in Venice like places that charge 4.50 euro for a cappacino or gnocchi with salmon that could have only come out of a can.

On our last night in Venice,  I was brought to a tight, cozy place called Osteria ai Quattro Ferri just off of Campo S. Barnaba. The menu was all italian, hand written which made it all the more impossible for the Californian couple next to us to decipher with their electornic dictionary (they were actually much more versed in the ways of Italian menus and explained a few things to us).

I have no pictures of food at Quattro Ferri sadly or a sign or anything! When we went back for lunch the next day, a waitress dog was there as the watch dog for the restaurant. He was my favorite dog of the trip: dignified and loyal. Here he is asking for a stomach rub.

I have no pictures of food at Quattro Ferri or a sign or anything! When we went back for lunch the next day, a waitress' dog was running around the restaurant looking dignified and alert. Here he is asking for a stomach rub.

We gave our order to a tough looking Italian hostess for mista verdura and a pasta that we pointed to at random. The grilled mixed vegetables were deliciously flavorful. The  pasta we choose was apparently spaghetti with tomato sauce and small-lobster like crustaceans (or were they large shrimps? I forget) In my memory, however exaggerated it may be, the tomato sauce was magical,  richly infused with full  seafood flavor, and good with the house red wine. Somehow the food, the atmosphere, the waitresses made me feel as if I had reached some small nook that existed there because it is Venice and Venice is wonderful and not because it is  good business to feed hungry travelers.

I went to Venice three times this summer. Once for the first time as a day visitor, another as a night-life partier, and for a third time as a passerby whizzing through Venice on my way somewhere else. Each time the city seemed to unfold and fold back in different ways reavling that what I had thought was truth to be untruth or at best, half-truth.

carolina one day, someday

This week in two chapters: Food and Television.

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I. Food
Food lasted from Saturday noon to Wednesday noon at Davidson College, a period of four days when I did not stop eating except to go out in a catamaran*, lay in hammocks, and read Outlander. I think the quality (and need) of snacking rises whenever I visit Liz or Sarah.

Most memorably, it consisted of brussel sprouts with garlic and sage, a salad of navel oranges, beets, candied walnuts, and goat cheese (which we made in 30 minutes to serve 16 people!), cherry tomatoes sweeter than any I’ve ever had in Boston, honey nut cream cheese, homemade bread, homemade grilled pizza, Cheerwine (southern cherry coke), drinks at Summit, lots of tea and grits. Grits are always the highlight whenever I go anywhere south of New Jersey. It is like the oatmeal of the South, but oatmeal doesn’t compare to how satisfying grits are. Perhaps I am partial to them because they tend to be salty and not sweet, but I think the texture of small fine grains is just more appealing than the large mass of mush that is oatmeal.

A thought as I left Davidson — three places I really wish I felt more comfortable and competent: in the kitchen, outdoors, and on a bike.

*our catamaran was not as intense as those in the wiki, but they were cooler. we had a pair of clipper canoes rigged with bamboos. and by we, i mean other people did most of the work and i helped.

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II. TV
Part deux of my trip took place in Charlotte where my aunt and uncle live. There was plenty of food involved here too, mainly Beijing duck and too many servings of fatty pork (I love Chinese food), but the television made it memorable. The first night was spent playing wii sports. I was most dominant in bowling and abysmal in boxing. While playing tennis, I am fairly certain I strained an arm muscle. I then realized that playing wii sports has nothing to do with form. It’s only about getting the most accerleration out of your remote which allows you to play most wii sports while sitting comfortably on the couch and flicking your wrist. Our second night was taken up by my first viewing (ever) of Star Wars – Episode 4 and 5. They were epic and I am in love. The plot is (I lack the word to describe the diviness and epicness of it), the characters are amazing, and Harrison Ford has never looked better. I completely believe in Star Wars.

iii. back north
The only disappointing thing about this spring break is that it was not at all captured in photos. I miss the days when we would document our afternoons/late nights with too many photos that took up enormous portions of our hard drive and could not bring ourselves to delete. But this is what blogs are for? Capturing in a pile of words rather than pictures? Also, i can’t tell if it’s obnoxious that I linked everything.My blog is in a constant state of identity crisis.

Where the free things are

is where the people are.
This is especially true in New York.
Evidence: Free Friday Nights at MoMA

A free MoMA ticket may be the most wanted museum pass in the city since the place charges $12/student and $20/adult (yikes!).  Not only do you get to enjoy incredibly vibrant architecture (more on that later) and decent art, you get to use that saved money to dine at The Terrace. $12 will get you three chunks of good cheese, 3 slices of very good bread, and 9 fresh berries at the classy, minimalist looking cafe on the 4th floor of the museum

But before all that, we had to wait in a line that wrapped around three corners of a Manhattan block;  we started somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd corner.

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We waited 25 minutes (not bad) during which the line got even longer and we twice had to ally with the people behind us to defend our spots from line-cutters. Here is a how you defend: you poke them very hard in the arm (which they ignore), then you must glare and rudely say “EXCUSE ME, but the END of the line is over THERE” and point dramatically at the other corner  (at which point the sneaky line cutter will avoid eye contact and pretend to be a confused foreigner).  It also helps to attract of a lot of attention so people nearby are looking suspiciously at them too. Eventually the line cutters slithered away and we got into the museum.

Being inside MoMA on a Friday night during the holiday season is probably like being in an overcroweded Asian city. Or it also looks something like the fish tanks in Chinese grocery stores in New York where all you can see fish and barely any of the water that’s supposedly in tank. Except that the tank is designed by a Yoshio Tanaguchi and it’s exciting getting through the tank and finding your way around people.

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The MoMA building is quite spectacular and actually gets better as you start piling people in. The building capitalizes on the fact that people like being around other people and that a space that feels filled with people feels more vibrant. Also, two reasons why people to New York in the first place.

cimg73101Slight congestion on the escalators.

cimg72941Overlooks galore

The most impressively used space was the central atrium (1st photo) that was exhibiting a video piece being projected on all three 30 ft high walls. In the center, there was a large round couch on a carpet where people were taking off their shoes, laying down, talking, chatting, enjoying. All around the atrium people scattered about sitting against the walls, lying on the ground and even falling asleep. It was a real urban living room.

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As for the actual artwork, I was not as inspired except for one of Van Gogh’s paintings and his pre-painting ink sketches, but maybe this will come later?


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