Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate in Pittsburgh

I’m sure you’ve already picked up that I’m a little bit of a foodie. Sometimes I truly do live to eat, like the time I devoured soup dumplings in New York’s Chinatown, or the time I spent hours on the bus just to eat a burrito in Seoul or maybe that other time I digested mass amounts of cake while in Germany. If you’ve ever even glanced at my Instagram account, you’re fully aware that good food is one of my favorite things. Ever. (And I may or may not have even made an Instagram account solely out of a desire to post pictures of food. May or may not.)

Sometimes I get a little restless living in Pittsburgh. But there’s one thing that hasn’t disappointed me yet about being here: the incredible variety and quality of food, everywhere. And much to my delight, that includes lots of ethnic food.

Can you spell “nom?” I believe it goes like this: P-I-T-T-S-B-U-R-G-H.

I’ve been in town for five months now and eaten a lot of great food, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to food found outside of my house. Even though I’ve become quite the capable cook, lately. Fasten your bibs, folks.

Let’s start with the obvious:

So #Pittsburgh.

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I’d be the worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t flaunt our cultural pride and joy, the deli sammich with fries and ‘slaw in da sammich. (That’s “in the sandwich,” for those not fluent in Pittsburghese.)

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I’d also be the other worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t include Pamela’s AMAZING crepe-like pancakes with bananas and walnuts inside.

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Also burgers. Pittsburgh has some great burger joints that really go all out. Pictured above is an Angus beef patty with brie cheese from BRGR. I’ve also had an incredible burger at Legume/Butterjoint, in Oakland. Fatheads, formerly THE Pittsburgh burger restaurant, officially has serious competition all over town.

Yes, I am blessed by burgers.

Now that I’ve got my bases covered there, we can move on to the ethnic food.

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The color balance on this picture is THE WORST but the taste of this sushi was literally THE BEST. Thank you, Little Tokyo, for making my sushi dreams come true.

A new French pastry shop opened up in my suburban town. And much to my surprise, an actual French lady runs the place. And not surprising at all, all of the above was incredible. Apparently also healthy, because “butter isn’t bad for you,” according to this French woman. Right.

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Are these Pittsburgh or ethnic food? Both, really. Pierogi Fest was a little like taking a trip to heaven, and then eating little pieces of it. Over. And over. These two types of pierogis: hot sausage and pesto ricotta. Let me know when you’ve finished drooling and we can move on.

Maybe Mulled Wine is more of a thing you drink, but I’m going to throw it into the “nom” category anyways. A German friend of mine went all out recently, and made the real deal, Bacardi-and-sugar-fire and all. Authentic German Glühwein? It looks like I don’t even have to leave town. (And then this was accompanied by authentic, catered German sausage. Boom.)

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Indian food is my biggest weakness. Nobody try to bribe me into doing terrible things, because spicy dishes from Mintt would probably do the trick.

Yes, you can find authentic, incredible and high-quality Sicilian cannoli in suburban Pittsburgh. It’s weird. (Actually in two places!)

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Something, something, Venezuela and the Conflict Kitchen. Also incredible.

I might have occasional (…or frequent) longings to see new countries and spend more time abroad, but I certainly can’t complain about my stomach not getting an international experience it craves. Pittsburgh, you’re doing something right.

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For a more in-depth look at Pittsburgh’s food scene, my blogger friend Julie’s stomach gets around. Check her out.

What makes your mouth water? Does your hometown kill it when it comes to food, like Pittsburgh does?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

A Whole30 Experience

I’m one of those people that dives more or less headfirst into things I don’t actually know how to do. So when my friend asked me if I would do a “diet” with her called the Whole30, I said yes with very little hesitation or actual background research on what I’d just committed to. I use the word “diet” very loosely, since I was (technically) allowed to eat unlimited amounts of bacon and avocados. I call it a “food thing”.

So what exactly was this food thing?

  • No added sugar (of any kind).
  • No dairy.
  • No grains (even gluten-free ones).
  • No legumes (or peanuts, because they act like legumes).
  • No alcohol.

Woof. People looked at me like I was crazy. “So you just eat vegetables?” Um, also meat, fruit, fish, some oils and nuts. But yes, lots of vegetables. I’ve been a vegetable-lover for years, though, so I was on-board with upping my intake of green (and red and yellow and orange) things. The goal of Whole30 is to eat only those good foods for 30 days, detox your body of all the inflammation and bad-news-bears (insulin spikes, unhealthy gut bacteria) those foods cause, and then slowly reintroduce them later to see how each one feels in your system.

It was kind of brutal, at first. I learned of something very, very unfortunate.

Yes, you can be hungover from not eating sugar and grains. It was horrible. It was several days of horrible. It was constant headaches and an upset stomach and… some other things I won’t describe for you. (You’re welcome.) And then came the angry days… I was mad at everyone and everything. Thankfully I was also happy, because I’d started a new, awesome job which balanced it out a little. But also really pissed off by everything for a solid 36 hours straight, and then some. Somewhere in there, I also became lethargic.

My runs got shorter, slower and more painful. I felt like a big old blob of nothing. If my neighbor had been offering me a delicious muffin, I wouldn’t have had the energy to walk across the street and get it. Just living life was a pretty tall order, for a few days. I had vivid dreams, or maybe they were nightmares, that I’d accidentally broken the rules and slurped down an entire Diet Pepsi before realizing it wasn’t Whole30-approved. Every time I walked past a cupcake, experienced a short bit of that rage coming back. I kept on walking.

But there was so much awesome yet to come.

Like so, so, so many sweet potatoes.

My energy levels began to level out and I didn’t have that mid-day slump that’s always been a killer. I slept like a rock, consistently. I became significantly less bloated and lost some love handles I didn’t realize I had. I was able to run again and tackle those longer miles, and my knees didn’t bother me as much. I obsessively read every food label and for the first time ever, realized just how much added sugar is tucked into the simplest of foods. (Like breakfast sausage. Rage!) I saved a ton of money because eating in restaurants was a special kind of hell.

But none of that really compared to the biggest benefit of all:

I learned how to cook so many things.

Spiced sweet potato "latkes" and bacon. I am in heaven.

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Together with my friend, we got together at least weekly in her fancy-schmancy kitchen (it’s beautiful) and planned meals for the week. We crock-potted. We sauteed. We baked. We chopped. We spiralized. We took recipes from the internet, altered them, and over and over again ended up with an incredible dish (or 6, we cooked in bulk). I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in a kitchen nor tried out so many new recipes in such a short amount of time. And I’ve definitely never had so much success doing it. By the end of the month, we could prepare and cook two separate family-style dishes in a matter of a few hours, plus a small dinner.

I learned how to cut butternut squash, sear different types of beef, that salt and baking soda react with each other, what thyme tastes like, that guacamole is delicious (refresher), how to poach an egg and how to cook the perfect sweet potato. I ate kale. I discovered cashew butter. I revoked my analysis of celery as a sub-par vegetable, because it’s actually the perfect vehicle for eating cashew butter, which redeems it entirely. I know just how much of a very tiny, very spicy red pepper will turn my face into fire and you might as well call me Queen Zucchini, because I can cook the shit out of that vegetable and you will like it.

You will.

Spoiler alert: it takes very little.
Spoiler alert: it takes very little.

It was a hard 30 days for me and an even tougher time for my friend, who dealt not just with a death in the family but a friend’s wedding. (Are you impressed? Because I’m impressed. I’d have stuffed my face with approximately 25 brownies if I were her.) But both of us pulled through the thirty days, successful, triumphant and seriously ready for some freaking pizza. (Which we both ate shortly thereafter and had horrible stomachaches from, but it was kind of worth it.)

The website says that a Whole30 will change your life. Did it?

Yeah, it kind of did.

I’ll never cook the same. I didn’t miss cheese, which shocked even myself, so I probably won’t eat cheese anymore. I’ve had my eyes opened to some incredible foods I didn’t even know existed, like cashew butter. (Mostly cashew butter.) And I’ll never pick up a package of food again without scoping out the ingredients and seeing if there’s any secretly-added sugar. That stuff is in literally everything, it’s absurd, and there’s no one you could ask who wouldn’t agree that excess sugar wreaks some havoc on your body.

I ain’t about that.

But will it change the way I eat when I travel? Doubtful. I’ll be in Germany over Christmas (travel plans!) and there’s no way I’ll be turning down delicious, German food because it’s not that good for me. Puh-lease. I ain’t about that, either.

So yeah, in the meantime, I’ll be perfecting my sauteed zucchini. And looking forward to that currywurst waiting for me across the ocean.

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Have you ever done a “food thing”? Did it change your life? How great are sweet potatoes? And how great is currywurst?

You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in your inbox, if that’s what you’d like.

Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate in Spain

Spain, Spain, Spain. I had a really hard time narrowing down what photos to put into the post for two reasons: there was a LOT of delicious food to choose between and I also abuse my camera and take way too many photos of my meals. (This second issue has recently been given an outlet; I finally caved and made an Instagram account so I can bombard everyone with pictures of my food, woohoo!) But after much deliberation, I’ve narrowed the list down to the best of the best, the most delicious of the delicious; I’ve carved it down to eleven photos. I could go no lower! Don’t ask such a thing of me. This edition of yummy noms from Spain is a little special, since it features two things that are totally not Spanish. But they were drool-licious, so they qualify in my book, which happens to be the book that counts on my blog. Muahaha.

Tapas Platter

Let’s start with the real Spanish stuff: this platter of mixed tapas. Going clockwise and starting at 1 o’clock, we’ve got sliced sausage, mixed olives, cheese, thinly sliced ham, toast with tomato smeared on top (how Spanish!) and lastly Spanish tortilla with a fork stuck in for good measure. These are the classic tapas that come with your drink, though usually just a small plate with one of the below.

These are several tapas. All on one plate.
Perfect in its simplicity. (Barcelona)

Something kind of crazy happened the day I ordered this platter. For the first time in my life, I kind of liked an olive. But only the green ones, sicko, not the disgusting black ones!

Rabbit (Conejo)

I ordered something random off of the menu of the day, and I was pleasantly surprised with a kind of meat that I’d never eaten before! The taste was great, but the effort required to find all of the meat on the bone was even greater. Maybe someone else can de-bone my rabbit next time and just feed it to me?

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The only hopping this guy did after landing on my plate was through different parts of my intestines. (Barcelona)

Crème Catalane

My sweet tooth is a little bit, sometimes quite a bit, out of control. So when this dish came out, created likely by piling different states of sugar together and making it hot, I was especially pleased. Om nom, nothing like creamy sugary-ness covered in a hard crust of more sugar! This is apparently also a regional dish, which means maybe I need to live in this region forever.

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To my dentist: I’M SORRY. (Barcelona)

Migas

The second best part of these Spanish migas was getting to watch the chef put this together, the best part was devouring it. I don’t know if any dish could get more unhealthy, seeing as this is basically just starch fried in the leftover fat and grease of different kinds of meat, but that didn’t stop me from embracing the incredible meal with a mouth wide open. The variety of foods that you could pair with your grease-soaked starch just made it even better.

Best. Meal. Ever. Maybe. (Almer'ia)
Best. Meal. Ever. Maybe. (Almería)

From the left, oranges covered in sugar (dessert), an olive oil and green onion liquid (for pairing with migas), fried chorizo/sausage, in the middle are actual pieces of pure fat grilled in grease, far right is grilled pork and the bowl in front is the migas themselves, or starch fried in grease, to perfection.

Razor Clams (Navajas a la Plancha)

Sally sells seashells on the seashore. JUST KIDDING, I eat seafood, and everywhere, not just on the seashore. Like these incredible razor clams, lathered in butter, and eaten in a bar in Granada. (Grandma, close your ears!) They were incredibly phallic. The clam part looks like a penis. But don’t let that freak you out, because the taste is, I assure you, not like a penis. On the contrary, it’s pure seafood-y gold. And that’s all I can say, because how am I supposed to describe the taste of clam? In the warped words of Michael Jackson, just eat it.

Don't look too closely, now. (Granada)
Don’t look too closely, now. (Granada)

Sea Urchin Roe (Gónadas de los Erizos)

Not only am I already a baby killer, but I’ve officially also eaten the gonads of sea urchins too. It’s like I have it out for them or something. This food definitely goes on the list of some of the strangest things I’ve eaten, though, and I’m surprised by two things: one, that this wasn’t eaten in Korea, where all strange things are eaten and two, that I didn’t hate it, once I pulled out all the crunchy shell bits that fell inside. I would recommend you ask for a small portion and then share with a friend.

Don't these look appetizing? (Cádiz)
Not exactly what you’d expect gonads to look like, eh? Or maybe exactly what you’d expect… (Cádiz)

“Black Paella” or Arrós Negre

Some Spanish people might string me up for calling this black paella, even though it’s prepared in the same way, contains more or less the same ingredients and tastes pretty dang delicious, just like paella. But the big difference is that squid ink is added to the Arrós Negre, which brings out the seafood flavors better. Now I can’t be sure that I had real, authentic delicious paella in Spain, but I do know that this dish (and its seafood paella friend, in the background) were miles better than the disaster “paella” encountered in Granada. And I was hungry. So it was nom-tastic.

Give me more. (Cádiz)
Give me more. (Cádiz)

Egyptian Moussaka (Messa’aa)

Oh irony. Except when you’re couchsurfing, the strangest situations arise and you end up at a group dinner with people from Romania, England, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, the USA (me!) and Taiwan, eating a traditional Egyptian dish alongside typical Spanish food. This was my first ever taste of Egyptian food, and it really makes me want to hop continents and spend some time with someone’s Egyptian grandma who’s handy in the kitchen. I want to learn their ways. Onion, garlic, various vegetables and cheese are a beautiful, beautiful combination.

Oh dear, I want to eat this all over again and then another ten times. (Madrid)
Oh dear, I want to eat this all over again and then another ten times. (Madrid)

Paraguayan Cuisine

Walking into a random hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Madrid can only mean one thing: random food. This restaurant was literally packed with immigrants from Paraguay having a little taste of home, and we ordered pretty much a giant sampler of everything. The verdict? Kind of like Argentine food, but different. And also yum. But let’s be honest, fried pockets of meat are always my friend.

Also featured: grilled kabobs of beef marinated in something delicious.
Also featured: grilled kabobs of beef marinated in something delicious.

Calamari Sandwich

Yes, I did eat some famous Madrid-ian/Spanish food while in Madrid too, I swear. Well, thanks to Olivia of Halfway Somewhere, at least, who herded me to this shop as soon as we’d met up. If you like calamari, then imagine calamari in your hand, with bread. Best with a bit of lemon, though most locals add ketchup and mayonnaise, which, if you know me, was absolutely not an option. And then the day after meeting Olivia, I went right back to the same place and ate another sandwich; no regrets were had by me nor my stomach. (I can’t speak for my waistline, though.)

Seafood wins my heart, everytime. Fried seafood? Forget about it. (Madrid)
Seafood wins my heart, everytime. Fried seafood? Forget about it. (Madrid)

Churros con Chocolate

Fried things with chocolate can pretty much never go wrong. After eating these, I realized Taco Bell did churros so right (cinnamon is delish), yet so, so wrong. They were perfect. My fingers shined with pride and grease afterwards, and the “napkins” reminiscent of Buenos Aires did nothing to clean them. I solved that problem by licking every bit of my fingers clean.

CHOCOLATE AND FRIED THINGS, OH MY GOSHHHH. (Madrid)
CHOCOLATE AND FRIED THINGS. No elaboration needed. (Madrid)

Really, after this roundup, all I can say is that Spain was straight up nom-licious.

Have you ever been to Spain and eaten delicious food? What was your favorite? Did Taco Bell do it right or wrong?

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Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate on Jeju Island

I really loved seeing all the scenery on Jeju Island, but I’ll go ahead and admit that it was the weird food that won my heart. Being a Korean island, there are plenty of shops that serve the same old, same old; samgyeopsal, kimbap and noodles are all easy enough to find. But if you’re on Jeju Island, don’t do it. Find the specialties. They are awesome. I know they’re awesome, because I ate (some of) them.

Black Pig Barbeque (흑돼지)

Apparently, in old times, this used to be a shit-eating pig. I kid you not, people would poop in holes and the pigs would be underneath, eating it. GROSS. Anyways they don’t do that anymore, they feed the black pigs real food, so you should feel perfectly fine about sitting down for an order of this, since it tastes like (meat) heaven. (Waegook Tom agrees, he wrote an entire blog post about this deliciousness.) IMG_6301 ED R It also comes with a special Jeju-only dip called Myeolchiekjeot (멸치액젓) which tastes like liquid anchovies, and you’re supposed to drop hot pepper and garlic in the sauce while it cooks on the grill. I’ll chalk that one up to an acquired taste, because I was not a fan. Eek.

Green Tea Ice Cream (녹차아이스크림)

Fittingly, this was consumed during a brief stop at the Tea Museum. I wish I’d gotten the “Twister” though, green tea and vanilla frozen yogurt together, because those first couple bites were like licking green tea powder. Once I got used to it however it was great. I mean, it’s ice cream, how could I not be happy? IMG_6412 ED R

Grilled Octopus (문어구이)

If you’ve never nommed on octopus before, then you should probably give it a shot for the experience. The stuff you get on Jeju, though, is all particularly fresh from those famous female divers pulling up seafood all day. IMG_6549 ED R

Abalone and Rice Porridge (전복죽)

Ear shells or abalones are one of Korea’s, particularly Jeju’s most prized health foods, but they’re pricy as a result. A popular way to eat them without blowing the budget is getting this porridge, which is what Koreans call a “boring food”. The best way to eat it is by putting pieces of kimchi on your spoon with it to add some flavor. I thought it was perfectly fine without kimchi, myself. IMG_6835 ED R

The Best Cup of Coffee I’ve Ever Had In My Entire Life Ever (조르바 커퓌)

Coffee with a spiced twist; it included cloves, cinnamon, other unidentified powders, and star anise, a thing I’d never heard of until they told me the name and I googled it (you’re welcome). I can’t get over how awesome this cup of coffee was, it was like a winter day’s dream, and it was a winter day, so it was a freaking dream, people! IMG_6846 ED R On the other side was a honey mandarin latte, which apparently was also quite heavenly. Details for this coffee shop can be found here, partway down the page. The baristas speak English, but their menu does not.

Spicy Noodles with Raw Fish (회국수)

When you’re on an island, you should probably eat some raw fish. Alright, so just fish in general, but I’m a big Hwae/sashimi fan, so I’d advocate for that. This was mixed in a variation of the spicy pepper paste you can find everywhere and included noodles and lettuce, which tasted pretty awesome together. Which was weird: noodles + lettuce?! But yes. Noodles and lettuce. IMG_6887 ED R

Sea Urchin Egg Noodle Soup (성게국수)

No, I don’t mean egg noodles, I mean sea urchin eggs in the noodles. Their flavor wasn’t particularly anything, but the soup as a whole was warm and made me happy and full. Plus, now you can officially call me a baby killer and it won’t even be a lie. IMG_6888 ED R Honorable mentions include a shrimp as large as my face, a cheese muffin that didn’t taste horrible or even remotely like cheese, and a breakfast the super-nice hostel lady made for me with cheese straight from Norway and mandarin orange jam. This was a horrible post to write in between meal times. See you later, guys, I need a snack.

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Have you ever been to Jeju Island? Could you eat sea urchin eggs? Did reading about sea urchin eggs make you more or less hungry?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina

First of all, I want to start with a moment of gratitude. This morning, I finished my morning run and had not accidentally adopted any dogs by the end of it. Pfew, a sigh of relief.

This blog began back in 2011, when I wanted to document my semester abroad in Argentina. Since then, I haven’t written a whole lot of meaty posts about the experience. The writing I was doing back then (on Tumblr) was mostly short, anecdotal or quick story-based with a photograph or two. I’ll have to remedy that, in due time, but for this post I’d like to reminisce on delicious Argentinian food. Because I’m hungry, and looking at a bunch of juicy steak is going to make that better, right? Right.

24 Jul 2011 1 Ovieda Apple Pancakes

Ordering in restaurants did not start out on the right foot, in Argentina. This was “pancake”. It was literally sugar, baked onto a metal plate with a little breading in it. Way too sweet!

27 Jul 2011 2 Alfajor y Cafe

A traditional alfajor, or sandwich cookie biscuit thing, usually covered in powdered sugar. For some reason, I just couldn’t get into alfajors, unless they lacked the outer covering and were straight dulce de leche. Then I was totally into alfajors.

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Speaking of dulce de leche, it was a key culprit of my horrible eating habits during this semester. I could never say no!

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STEAK! This was the first steak I ordered in Argentina, three months in, believe it or not, because I was actually a vegetarian before studying here. Needless to say, that didn’t survive my trip.

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The best part of studying abroad might be the melting pot of cultures all coming together in one place. His face hiding behind a camera, pictured is a friend from Argentina who studied in Germany. The cook, not pictured, is a German who was also studying abroad in Argentina and decided to make us a German meal.

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The panaderia’s, or bakeries were both my best friend and my worst enemy. I wanted to try all of the different pastries available, ever, so I made it my mission.

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This sandwich was literally as big as both of our heads combined. So we each ate half, and died finishing it. Gotta love absurd portion sizes.

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My attempt at “healthy” by eating a whole grain medialuna. or butter croissant. It was unsuccessful, but deliciously so.

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My apartment was directly above one of the most incredible empanada shops. They made them open faced, with little bread bowls and I ordered take out several times a month. So. Good.

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Oh look at that, more pastries. More dulce de leche. More drizzled chocolate, powdered sugar and other creamy white sugar concoctions stuffed into a butter-saturated pastry from heaven.

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I lived 20 minutes away from “Chinatown” (actually Asia-town), which meant I could go into the grocery and get an uncut giant roll of sushi, unwrap the plastic and just eat it while walking or sitting or on the train. It was awesome.

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Okay, so I didn’t consume all of this, but it was consumable. Bariloche in Argentina, or the little Switzerland of Argentina, makes their own chocolate and it’s SO GOOD.

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Sometimes you order a meal, and it’s just three different kinds of potatoes. Argentina has a LOT of different potatoes that you can buy, though, so that’s pretty awesome. Did you know there are 5,000 different species of potatoes? Now you know!

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THIS PIECE OF CAKE WAS DELICIOUS and I’ll never forget it. Ever. As you can see, Argentina is pretty talented in the cake/pastry/fattening sweets area.

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Argentina and wine go together, and tasting wine at a winery while in Mendoza, a wine producing capital? That’s just a must-do. Not tipsy scraping and destroying your knees while falling off of a bicycle on the way back, though. You don’t need to do that. Trust me on this one.

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Argentina is famous for its asado, or barbequed / outdoor grilled meat. This asado was a king of asados, I’ve never seen a layout quite so big.

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Bondiola, or grilled, huge pieces of pork put on a nice bun, covered in weird sauce and stuffed into your face as quickly as possible, before it gets cold or drips on you. I miss bondiolas.

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Instead of just plain ketchup, you should probably also opt for the mini fries on your hotdog. I don’t know why, but you should just do it.

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I wandered around Bahia Blanca for a long time, unable to find anything I wanted to see. This cupcake shop and peanut butter cupcake literally saved the day, and made sure I wasn’t a grumpy grumpy monster when I got back to my accommodation.

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Thanksgiving in Argentina: though I missed my family, I didn’t miss out on great food and company. Or eating bird.

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More asado, because it’s delicious. This time in someone’s backyard. Sausages and huge slabs of beef are the usual.

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And to round this little photoessay off, only more pastries would be fitting.

Did I mention I gained 15-20 pounds in those five months? Well, I’m sure you can figure out why. How is anyone supposed to say “no” to food this delicious? Or even stop at reasonable amounts? It’s just not possible. If you can stay skinny without upping your exercise in Argentina, I’m assuming your taste buds don’t work.

Good thing my next stop was Asia, or I’d have been in real big trouble. (Hehe punny me!)

-~-

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Mini iPhone Photoessay: A Week of School Lunches

[See also: Rebe’s Week of School Lunch
& An Entire Blog Dedicated to Korean School Lunch (Eat Your Lunch-ee)]

Ah, school lunch. Growing up, it was the time of day almost everyone looked forward to. Worry free, Mom or Dad would hand me either a bag lunch or money to buy something in the cafeteria. Once I began living on my own, I realized that cooking food for myself was much less easy. Mostly just time consuming. Dislike!

And when I came to Korea for my first big-girl job, I was thrilled to find that lunch was provided. During the week, even if I failed completely during breakfast and dinner time, I’d at least have one balanced, good meal to keep me going. Well, they are usually good; though there are moments when I wonder who thought cooking pickles with spicy sauce was a good idea. Or who would think spaghetti and rice and a soup with deokk (rice cake) in it was a balanced lunch. Anyways, I digress.

My goal was to photograph a week’s worth of lunches. The plan failed quickly and completely when forgot about it on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thankfully, I found some backup photos of school lunch from earlier in the year, so the project was salvaged! Please pretend that this was a consecutive week, you know, for congruency’s sake.

Monday

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See the upper left hand corner? That’s what I’m talking about. Pickles in spicy something is just gross; thankfully this side dish doesn’t come around too often. Top middle was deokk (rice cake) and mini hotdogs also covered in spicy pepper paste (gochujang). The rice is just rice, and the soup was pretty much the best soup I’ve had all month. Beef and assorted root-y vegetables. Soup saved the day on Monday.

Tuesday

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In the top left, we have Korean “pancakes”, which are kind of scrambled egg circles. Vegetables and seafood are mixed in. The top middle is one of my favorite side dishes, beef and hard-boiled quail eggs. The top right, you’ll notice I was still trying to pretend that I liked kimchi (this was a back-up photo from February), which by now I’ve given up on. Rice, as usual, and a light soup with fried tofu balls and some white things. Honestly, it’s been 16 months and I still don’t know what those are slices of… embarrassing.

Wednesday

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PURPLE THINGS IN MY LUNCH! Actually, the cabbage is purple (mixed with corn and apple) and it’s just covered in yogurt. So it looks like the whole thing is purple. Then in the top middle, we have spicy chicken and potatoes, which by now I’ve finally learned how to consume with chopsticks. Missing kimchi, this backup photo is from last month, some plain rice. The soup is a Korean favorite; seaweed and tofu soup. I kind of love it.

Thursday

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Ah Korea, always full of surprises. The top left is a mix of bean sprouts and other stringy vegetables. Yes, those are fish that were literally deep fried, as is. I’ve never seen this in my lunch, before, but maybe the lunch ladies knew I was planning to write this post and wanted to freak all my readers out. You just pull all the bits of fish out with your chopsticks. Plain, old, boring rice and kimchi chigae, or spicy kimchi and pork soup.

Friday

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In the upper left hand corner is a soy sauce mixed with green onion and sesame seeds (and probably some other unknown ingredients). No, it’s not meant for eating as is; you either dip those cheese sticks in it or mix it with the rice situation. Those cheesesticks were a surprise, I’ve also never seen the lunch ladies make those. It was a special treat, since I’m always mourning over a lack of cheese. The rice was mixed with pieces of beef and bean sprouts. The soup, a tofu and cabbage soup, was surprisingly tasty.

Bonus!

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I’m sorry for tricking you into thinking this was going to be a congruent week, the post title is a big fat lie, so I’ll make up for it by including a bonus lunch. Sometimes fate intervenes and the lunch ladies serve us something incredibly yummy. Apple juice, a weird sweet bread thing and a single piece of kimchi sit in that top row. (This was about the time I gave up on kimchi altogether, this past July.) The rice is mixed with purple sticky rice (hence the color!) and the beautiful bowl of noodles is graced with egg, seaweed, carrot, cucumber, and spring onion. Mix and nom!

Your Turn

For the other ESL/EFL/any other kinds of teachers in Korea, listen up. For once in your life, I want to know what you had for lunch. You can do an entire week (or piece together a week’s worth, like I did) or you can do just a day; however many or few you’d like. Take a picture of your delicious cafeteria food and post it to your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, personal blog or wherever. Just use the hashtag #KoreanSchoolLunch, with a link to the lunch in question. (And if possible, send me a link to your lunch by Tweet or private message so I don’t miss it!) Those with blog posts, I’ll link to them here. Show me your noms, people!

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Think you would enjoy eating school lunch in Korea? What terrifies you? What makes your mouth water? What’s just straight up weird?

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iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Istanbul

Today is quite a busy day and I’ve little time for writing, so I thought it would be perfect for a little photoessay blast from the past. I’m not going to claim that I ate all the correct, culture-y foods in Istanbul, because I definitely didn’t. But my pallet still had a field day, rebounding off all of those Korean rice dishes and becoming wowed with interesting flavors and… bread. Oh, bread.

Before we get started, I’d like to apologize to my mother for putting one embarrassing photograph on the internet of her. I tried to make up for it by putting an embarrassing one up of me as well! That evens it out, right? Right?

[Related Post: Snapshots of Istanbul]

Anyways, here we go!

IMG_1199This obviously MUST be the first picture in a photoessay about food from Istanbul. Baklava is delicious, and we did our best to eat as much as possible and then a little extra. And that there is even more than one kind of baklava to try was mind-blowing to me. YUM!

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This photo is awkward, but there are two important aspects to it. One, I was drinking Turkish tea. Second, it’s inside the Grand Bazaar!

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This photograph, as far as photography goes, is a terrible picture and deserves to become corrupted and die. But it is a photo of two of my favorite food/drink things from Istanbul, and the lighting really was red, so I’ll allow it to see the face of the internet. This was out first evening in Istanbul, we were tired from flights but dragged ourselves out for food and, as you can see, dessert.

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The hotel breakfast was incredible, and it wasn’t even that incredible. Cheese, deli meat, bread, cheese, figs?! Apricot? CHEESE? BREAD?!!

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Straight out of the pomegranate, pomegranate juice. No sweeteners, no nothing. Super healthy, kind of (okay, realllllly) bitter, and for integrity’s sake we finished it anyways.

[Unrelated Post: iPhone Photoessay: Cats of Istanbul]

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During our first tour with Salih, he took us to this authentic Southern Turkish cuisine restaurant. We pointed to giant cauldrons and pots filled with food and they dished us out a large portion. The food was so strange, interesting and oddly, kind of healthy.

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The full spread. Look at all those colors! And weird shapes! And… BREAD.

 

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Street bagel/pretzel combos are a big thing in Istanbul, and if you want, they’ll even smear it with cream cheese or nutella.

[Unrelated Post: Featured Snapshot: One More Mosque]

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I’m so sorry, Mom, but this sandwich doner was too important to leave out of the photoessay. It was our first taste of the infamous Turkish food that’s now made its way to Germany (and then morphed a little). Junk food, but delicious junk food and I’m so glad I tried it.

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BREAD! This was on our second tour with Salih, and he took us to this family bakery in a neighborhood outside of the center. The bread was fresh baked and we got to check out the oven, too. Later we shared some bread and I can assure you it was better than the picture. It was also dirt cheap, my eyes bugged out at the (lack of) price.

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This juice was some kind of pickled radish/carrot situation and that face, right there, is exactly how it tasted. (Feeling better now, Mom?)

[Slightly Related Post: An Accidental Visit To The Princes’ Islands]

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We ended up at this restaurant three times in seven days of Istanbul. The servers were beyond kind, the food was quality and delicious, and it was close to our hotel. Sold! (Website for Fuego Cafe)

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Cheese! French fries! Grilled veggies! It wasn’t that spectacular of a lunch, taste-wise or creativity-wise, but it sure did look pretty.

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Toasting off our goodbye with some wine. And by some, I mean the largest glass of wine I’ve ever had delivered to me in a restaurant and tried to hold up in a picture.

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The classic “Starbucks with Mom” picture. Yeah, we went halfway across the world to look at stuff and then buy Starbucks coffee, try and stop us! Muahaha.

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What Istanbul food did I totally miss? What do you wish you were eating or drinking right now? Have you seen enough photographs of my face, now?

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Weird Noms: Salt & Seaweed Flavored Pringles

This past year, my friend Haley moved to Thailand to teach English. About six months ago, she posted this photo to Instagram. I was jealous, really jealous. Because I freaking love seaweed. And Pringles. A combination? I wanna try those!

Then this week, I was cruising slowly around my local grocery store, as I often do in both curiosity and indecision. Something caught my eye and low and behold, it was nothing other than Salt & Seaweed Pringles! My wishes come true. The price, 2,750 Korean won, or about $2.50, was not one of my wishes. Regardless, immediately following my return home, I sat down and cracked open the can of Pringles, stopping only long enough to take pictures before inhaling the entire can. Thankfully, I can do that on occasion, because my little rescue puppy drags my butt out of bed to go running six days a week. Jerk. But also thanks, Mary.

Shopping success.
Shopping success.

They don’t smell very potent, for lack of a better word. Faintly salty, faintly like dried seaweed. Actual dried seaweed has a much stronger smell, I would know because I’m snacking on some as we speak. I told you, it’s delicious.

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The Pringles, right before I sniffed them.

As for taste, I was a little disappointed. Part of the issue is that the Pringles were imported and had lost some of their crunch and pizazz during the trip, somehow. So the original Pringle taste wasn’t quite up to par. The other issue is that the seaweed taste was too soft and subtle. Go big or go home, Pringles! I want to taste my dried, green, dead ocean plant, not kind of, but full on, potent and in my face mouth.

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Pre-demolition.

Then why did I stuff my face with all of them, in such a short amount of time, all at once, you ask? Because I’m just like that. Because I love junk food. And because while they weren’t the most delicious chips I’ve ever had, I still like chips and seaweed and I was hungry after work. So they were consumed, in mass, quickly.

The final recommendation: if I’m willing to eat slightly stale original Pringles (the only kind available in my little town), then I’ll be going for the seaweed flavor. Yeah, it’s not that seaweed-y, but I like the extra kick. So tentative, if you think your Pringles won’t be stale, then thumbs up on these.

But I’m in this teeny rural area, and it’s just safer to go with the tried and true sheets of dried seaweed when I need a snack. With the added bonus of having less saturated fat and costing almost a third less, it’s hard to imagine not snacking on dried seaweed. Delicious, cheap, not stale, a little healthy?

Sorry seaweed Pringles, in this case, you lose.

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7 Ways South Korea Has Changed Me

I’ve been a little retrospective lately, as my contract comes to a close this Christmas. A year and a half isn’t really a long time and the time has certainly flown by, but when sit down and really think about my earlier self, I realize that I have changed a lot. Some of these changes are surprising and others simply hilarious. (I also suspect that landing in the USA will reveal an entirely new host of transitions that I didn’t even realize I’d gone through.) For those hoping that my weird, not that funny sense of humor would be one of the things vanquished during my time in Asia, I have some sad news for you: my jokes are still horrible. Get over it.

I Stopped (Binge) Drinking

I mentioned this shortly in my earlier reflections after a year post, but this is a huge contrast to my college years. Grandma plug your ears, but oh my gosh did I drink a lot and do some really, really dumb shit. I guess everyone does, but my senior year most people had cleaned up their act and I was still drunkenly stubbing toes and getting rides in police cars. Anyways, those days are over. Either it was my overwhelming and new-found maturity, the $25 price tag on a taxi home (living in the countryside does that) or perhaps the uncomfortable reality of Korean-made beer that tastes like water, but it isn’t actually refreshing. By some strange combination of elements, I stopped drinking anything but occasionally and now actually enjoy my sobriety. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I may have stopped binge drinking, but Koreans did not.
I may have stopped binge drinking, but Koreans did not.

Road Rage

I’ve always been a patient driver in the USA, allowing people to be stupid, slow down in the middle of the freeway and calmly maneuvering around them. I used to let strangers merge ahead of me during rush hour, and condescendingly reprimand my cousin when she screamed at cars on the way to Denny’s. Those days are also over. Driving in Korea has made me an angry, angry, unforgiving and ruthless driver. My mouth is about as clean as my bathroom floor 95% of the year and thank goodness my windows are tinted because I have flicked a lot of birds. As soon as I step out of my vehicle, though, all is well and I’m a content, zen-like human being again. Still to be determined: if my road rage will diminish in the USA or if it’s here to stay.

Nothing Sudden Phases Me

I’m not talking about ghosts popping out from behind a tree here. I’m talking about life’s little surprises, also known as the tendency of fellow Koreans to not tell you what’s going on until immediately before it happens. Like when I have several extra classes and I’m told at 9:15am that morning. Like when my coworkers are missing, I go to find them and discover it’s picture day, my turn to sit and I haven’t showered. Like when all of my classes are cancelled for unexplained reasons, then rescheduled, then cancelled again, all within a three hour time span. I’ve become a strange life-events Gumby and sometimes it weirds me out. Today, some martial art competition was happening next to the building where my class was and some strange competitor decided to show me his abs. I calmly shut the classroom door and continued with teaching. Sometimes I walk around a corner and see the building that was there yesterday has now burned to the ground. Interesting. Next week it’s two new restaurants. Korea’s taught me to just roll with it.

So you went camping on the sidewalk... interesting.
So you went camping on the sidewalk… interesting.

I Understand How Studying Works

Yes, this was the skill set that I was supposed to learn in high school so that I could use it in college. In reality, I was too smart for my own good and somehow just remembered enough from class to get by with A’s and B’s. I honestly graduated university without knowing how to really, hardcore study. Insane, right? That’s not to say I’ve never studied in my life, I have, but not for long periods of time and never on a schedule. Korea, land of kimchi and student suicides because they study too much, made me realize that I totally didn’t even know what real studying was. Learning Korean to the less-than-stellar level that I’m at now required me to really sit down, study and then repeat. Regularly.

Honestly, I still really suck at studying. But at least I understand now how the whole thing works, and how to do it successfully, even if I’m not always able to execute it well.

I’m a Modest Dresser

The USA and South Korea have a complete opposite view of modesty. Arms and shoulders and chest are scandalous when they’re shown off too much in Korea, but in the USA, a v-neck shirt is pretty standard and certainly nothing to look twice at. Tank tops are everywhere. Hell, belly shirts are totally in fashion now. But none of that flies in South Korea, particularly in a professional setting, even more particularly in a rural professional setting where you work with a bunch of middle school kids. Even outside of work, I live in a building full of single, middle aged laborers and a town equally as populated with grandmothers. I just don’t feel comfortable going anywhere in a shirt without sleeves. Or shorts that look sexy. Or a shirt that is v-necked and wide shouldered. Yeah, that tube top I packed has definitely not been put to good use, and I honestly don’t even feel comfortable in it anymore. I don’t see us having a very promising future, that tube top and I.

I Like Spicy Food (or at least can always tolerate it)

My older brother was always the one with sixteen different hot sauces from Arizona sitting in the family kitchen. At least one of them had a skull and crossbones on it. I always, always ordered mild salsa with my burrito and did not participate in the extended family Quaker, Steak and Lube atomic wings challenge. (Yes, this really happened.) Well, in Korea I’ve had no choice but to eat spicy food all the time. Spicy chili paste is a staple ingredient in, well, everything. Ever. To enjoy my time and food in Korea, I’ve had no choice but to go in with an optimistic, “Yes! Spicy! I’LL EAT THE SPICIEST THING YOU HAVE AND LIKE IT, MUAHAHA!” attitude. Somehow it worked and now I kind of like spicy food. Some of it. Anyhow, I’ll be trying that medium Mexican salsa from now on.

Chili peppers, kimchi and other unidentified red specks? Alrighty.
Chili peppers, kimchi and other unidentified red specks? Alrighty.

I Don’t Care About Beauty

Korea is a really superficial culture sometimes and rocks their plastic surgery capital of the world title with no shame. Even more uncomfortable, the only compliment I get when I meet someone is that I’m pretty. The people I least expect sometimes surprise me by whipping out their new Dior brand foundation with a big smile. To add to it all, South Korean women are straight up tiny. I’m officially an extra large size in pants when I go shopping, as opposed to my usual single digit pants size in the USA. Instead of worrying about being up to snuff, I’ve found myself completely rejecting this obsession with image. I haven’t touched my high heels in months and partially in an effort to be an example for my students, mostly because I stopped caring, I haven’t worn make up more than three times in the last six months. I don’t even know how much I weigh, because I can’t justify spending money on a scale. My style has now become the style of being clean, wearing clothes and brushing my hair regularly. I just can’t be bothered to care about looking more “beautiful”, because it simply doesn’t matter to me anymore.

I’m a free spirit, ya’ll! Who wants free eye shadow? Because there’s no way I’m making space for something so useless in my suitcase, this time around.

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Not Falling in Love with Munich

When I mentioned to friends that I’d be going to Germany for vacation, there was an overwhelming cry of “Go to Munich! Go see Southern Germany!” I’d technically already been to Munich twice when I was 17. One trip was spent entirely in my bed, sick with a throat infection that would eventually land me in the hospital for 5 days. The second trip was with my Austrian Gymnasium (high school). I don’t remember much about Munich from that second trip, not because I was black out drunk the entire time, but because my teenage self was simply fixated on my friends and the available alcohol for consumption. So this time around, I vowed to do Munich right.

First things first, I Facebook messaged an old, old friend who lives nearby and asked if she would be free to meet up. I also decided on one of the free walking tours with Sandman’s New Europe, since I’d only be in Munich for a short time, less than two days. Before I knew it, it was July and I was on a train headed for Munich, excited. I found my hostel without issue, checked in and then headed out to meet Jess.

I got off the street car about 5 minutes away from our meeting place and enjoyed a slow meander through a wooded sidewalk. To my left, through the trees, I could see the Isar River and plenty of Germans enjoying the cold water on an otherwise hot day. It was a classic German scene; people from an otherwise busy city finding a quiet place to go swimming and relax outside. To my right zipped cycler after cycler on the bike path, another typically German thing to see. Germans love their bicycles.

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Jess and I found each other, exclaimed how crazy it was to see one another again after more than five years, and started out with a beer while we waited for her boyfriend to meet us. We talked over her life since moving to Germany, my life

since moving to South Korea, work, family and all of the in betweens. It was really wonderful to catch up with yet another old friend and I had a great time. Her boyfriend arrived, we had some lively conversation and enjoyed the weather outside. I tried a typical summer drink that’s called the Hugo, which according to the Internet actually stems from Italy.

We went for dinner in a traditional Bavarian restaurant, a beer garden. Sitting outside, awash with the laughter of Munich residents and the clinking of their glasses was beautiful. The walls covered in ivy, the ground paved with stone, we were in a tiny oasis of nature in the middle of a big, bustling city. And I was eating one of the most delicious Sauerbraten I’ve ever eaten with my favorite drink, a wheat beer. I was in heaven.

Afterwards, we took a stroll and grabbed a beer to go, so we could relax in one of the central parks in Munich. It was beyond crowded: groups of friends took up nearly every available inch of grass in the small, round park and their laughter filled the air. I was inside of Munich, I was in the heartbeat of young Germans and taking part in their outdoor, evening drinking with friends. Exactly how I seek to see every city I visit.

The next day, I began by seeking out the traditional white sausage and a pretzel breakfast.

Yes, I ate this in the morning and enjoyed it.
Yes, I ate this in the morning and enjoyed it.

Later I enjoyed a morning stroll along a different, more historic part of the Isar River and took pictures of towering buildings the the statues keeping them company. For lunch, I bought some fruit from one of the market stalls in one of the busy city market areas and sat myself down with a big beer in a public beer garden. I ended up having a fun conversation with some country Bavarians in town for a work trip. I didn’t have nearly as difficult a time understanding their accent as I’d anticipated; it must be my Austrian upbringing. They even used one of my favorite Austrian dialect words: Mädls.

The walking tour began with breathtaking buildings in Marienplatz. The New City Hall, an old cannonball left in a church wall, a short history lesson and the most expensive shopping street in Munich were on the list. The Hofbräuhaus and its history and a great tour guide named Severin who wasn’t afraid to get a little crazy. I learned a lot, I saw a lot. I took a lot of photographs.

Our tour guide, Severin, getting a little weird. He was awesome.
Our tour guide, Severin, getting a little weird. He was awesome.

But when I boarded my train later in the day to meet Claudia in Berlin, I wasn’t sad. For some reason, despite doing only amazing things, seeing so much beauty and life and drinking my favorite beer multiple times, I wasn’t upset leaving Munich behind. Maybe it was the general unfriendliness of Munich city people, but I’d met very friendly country Bavarians and spent time with friends while I was there. Maybe it was my wallet crying every time I bought something for twice the price in the rest of Germany, but I’d hardly been a big spender while I was there, buying market fruit for lunch and taking a free walking tour. Maybe Munich is just one of those cities that has to grow on you, maybe two days was too short, maybe you can’t fall in love with Munich, but slowly learn to love it. I don’t know the answers. I only know that I did everything that should have made me love Munich, had nothing but fun and good experiences, and yet I still didn’t feel like I needed to come back. Maybe Munich just isn’t my place.

Unless, of course, I think about eating Sauerbraten again. For Sauerbraten, I would cross oceans and hike mountains and steal candy from children. For Sauerbraten, I could learn to love Munich someday.

I will never, ever not want to eat this. Source.
I will never, ever not want to eat this. Source.

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