What’s the right way to eat?

Despite having a wee kitchen, the size of a yacht galley, I love food. And, living alone, I whip up few culinary delights – even though I attended one of the first cooking schools in Thailand; managed a café in Athens for couple of months’ mid-season, and even worked as a sous chef in Wales – in an Italian restaurant, under a French Chef. I’m like the Guardian’s Jay Rayner, ‘a greedy’ eater, and like him, I love smelly foods like blue cheese and durian.

only 12% of westerners like durian – I am one of them

When I was a vegetarian it was difficult to be sure no chicken had sat in the soup water despite having learnt to say I don’t eat meat in a dozen different languages. “Vegetarian meal? No problem, here is chicken, fish or pork.” As long as it has no red meat some assumed it was vegetarian. “No – no meat, no chicken no pork. Rice please. No, no soup on it” I’d say as they carefully scooped some liquid and left the chicken pieces floating in the fatty cauldron.

Some countries are easier to travel in when you don’t eat meat however even some Buddhists eat meat. During those vegetarian days, the best place I found for vegetarian meals was a small suburb in Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia) If you are going there, write out these directions – I hope they’re still there as I’m going back in a few months.

Go to the reclining Buddha (walk or bus from town) then cross the road to visit the peaceful Buddhist temple and when you have finished looking, go out the front gate – turn left, walk a kilometre down the road to a T-intersection, turn left and stop at any food shop. I guarantee it will be fantastic.

food features large in our travels

I also know you will ask, as I did, “Are you sure this is vegetarian? No meat?” They were amused. Yes, no meat. They have developed creative and tasty ways of using tofu in its many forms – I forget what ethnicity they were.

After a few years, I gave up being vegetarian and would join locals and try their cultural delicacies such as crocodile, haggis, and in Cairo, pigeon stuffed with green rice. My stomach still continues its cast-iron behaviour of allowing me to eat everything put in front of me.

However, for many, apart from tummy problems there is a down side to travel: you’ll be destined to be rich in many ways but will be cash poor. You could be infected with a disease to which there is no known antidote; the travel bug.

Travel also gives you, a new way of thinking. Long held “truths” no longer seem true when viewed from a different culture, a different perspective.

A simple example is eating. Most New Zealanders are taught to eat with a knife and a fork. Knife, in the right hand, for cutting and the fork, in the left, for hold the food then placing it in our mouth – in other words the “right” way.

this crispy fish was delicious

Of course, in other countries this is not the ‘right’ way. In the USA, the fork is in the left hand; in Thailand food is cut to bite-sized pieces during the preparation process and a spoon is used to eat, other Asian cultures use chop sticks, another country, their right hand. To each culture their way of eating is the ‘truth’. But what about other ‘truths’.

Travel is intensified living, nothing can be taken for granted. It’s like having a new pair of glasses, we see often things, and ourselves, more clearly. Nothing is familiar, we are constantly aware of, or curious about, what is happening around us. We watch the interaction between people and try to decipher it. Body language is different from place to place and our previous knowledge of the rules of interaction no longer apply. And that’s one of the reasons why we travellers love travel.

‘Have a coffee with me’ an old man indicates – I do. Muscat fish market, Oman,

Why travel? Why not! Traveller or tourist, armchair or plane, life is richer not poorer, enriched not impoverished, colourful and, certainly never dull.

But, knowing all that, and knowing to always use a spoon in Thailand – and not to put a fork in my mouth while there – or lick a knife in New Zealand, why oh why do I get so uptight when I don’t get a soup spoon to eat soup?

teaspoon, dessert, soup, servin

Guess those old ‘rules’ that I was raised  on are right there, just waiting to be used. Nevertheless, however I’m eating, I assume that somewhere in the world it is the correct way to eat, the ‘proper’ etiquette – I may just be misplaced at times.

 

 

Pedal-powered, Amish, buggies on Florida’s streets

web3-wheeled-horse-and-buggy‘What happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft’.

You don’t expect to hear this about members of a religion which eschews electricity and bans driving. But in Florida, a state loved by the rich, the retirees, and the snowbirds, an unusual flock is living and holidaying there, and it’s there I hear the phrase.

Staying on the edge of Sarasota, alongside a nature reserve and golf course, I find I’m also beside an Amish and Mennonite neighbourhood: Pinecraft. ‘Plain people’ as they call themselves, have been on Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1920s and, over recent years, their friends and relatives have become snowbirds. It’s those snowbirds, escaping the northern winters, who use the phrase about Pinecraft – words usually attached to sports teams or friends off on a wild weekend, not conservative Christian folk.

The streets have traditional Amish and Mennonite names such as Yoder, Graber and Schrock and the local population have their roots in different Midwestern settlements, each with slightly different styles of clothing, religious beliefs, and customs.

One thing that stays the same are quilts which are something of a cultural icon. They are beautiful as well as functional and seem to create togetherness for the Amish women who stitch and talk as they make them.  I visit Alma Sue’s Quilts and talked with a woman working at a huge quilting frame. Her needle kept going in and out of the material as she talked: telling me she’s eighty-four, quilts daily from ten until four, was originally from Indiana, and has been making quilts since she was a child. When I comment about her long day she said the woman she shares a house with, picks her up at four, takes her home and ‘she tells me to put my feet up’. She continued, ‘she is older than me and cooks all our meals, so I’m very lucky.’

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No doubt her house is small – most of the Amish bungalows appear to be about fifty or sixty square metres while the neighbourhood seems to be about one square kilometre. The closest I got to visit a home was when my host bought material at the Sewing Nook, a little shop at the back of a home. The woman said her business was mostly only open during the ‘season’ and she was really busy then – we’d followed the directions at her letterbox to ‘knock on the front door’ and she’d open the shop. She tells us the snowbird visitors like her variety of material which ‘is different’ to choices they have in the mid-west.

Horses and buggies, thought of as essentially Amish transport, don’t travel these Floridian streets; here they use three-wheeled bikes, pedal-powered buggies. I saw church members in traditional, plain clothing, the men with long beards and the women with their hair covered with caps, all pedalling their substitute buggies along the road and footpaths. Letterboxes often have biblical messages or homilies on them and many yards have bird boxes, although I didn’t see any doves, or other birds, in residence.

Walking to the Pinecraft Post Office, we pass their popular shuffleboard courts, complete with stands for watching the players from, and arrive at the world’s only Amish-operated post office.  Some years ago, when it was under threat of closure, and valuing letters, the Amish purchased the small building and postal contract. With no computers or debit card machine the office woman uses a calculator, and receipts are hand-written and stamped. Outside, a well-used notice board advertises jobs and community events and I overhear a couple of ‘English’ (as the Amish call us others) say how much they valued having the post office close by.

Big Olaf’s provides us a huge ice cream, then after walking past a diorama of traditional Amish country and the only horse and buggy in town, I visit Yoder’s Fresh Market to browse the shelves with its great variety of foods, including many interesting homemade pickles.

I’m taken out for dinner, five minutes’ walk away, at one of the Amish restaurants in the area. These Pennsylvania-Dutch style restaurants are popular among Sarasota’s 50,000 locals, Amish snowbird tourists, as well as the local Plain population.  This is a Sarasota ‘must-do’ for your bucket-list – take an empty stomach for favourites such as fried mush, butter noodles, meatloaf, fried okra, and shoofly pie – their mashed potato was the creamiest I’ve ever eaten, and the oven-fried buttermilk chicken, divine.

This area was first settled by an Amish man, who tried, unsuccessfully, to farm celery. He was followed by other Amish who also grew produce and, as homes multiplied, Pinecraft developed into this fully-fledged neighbourhood. The Pinecraft tourist season runs from November to April and sees the Amish population swell with older snowbirds, youth there for seasonal work, and newlyweds on their honeymoon, who all stay in their own holiday home, a rented house, or at one of the trailer-parks.

Although not there during ‘the season’ the Amish folk added an unexpected and interesting dimension to my travels – an Amish area in the midst of a lovely city, in what can be a hedonistic holiday state, and a reminder there’s more than beaches and amusement parks in Florida. See more photos here  and a short interview about my experiences in Florida on Radio NZ National

Xiamen: tea ceremonies in Wellington’s sister city

Wikipedia, that oracle of facts, tells me that we Kiwi are not big tea drinkers: seems we are 45th in the world – way behind Turkey, the Irish and British. The Chinese put it on our culinary world map in the 10th C when they began drying, then steeping, the leaves of the Camellia sinensis.

International Tea Day is December 15 and it seems tea is the most widely used drink  – after water.

On my recent trip to Xiamen, China, (as part of a cultural group from its sister city Wellington, New Zealand) we drank tea daily, often many time daily – many times at tea ceremonies.

Here are just a  few of those tea drinking events.

Note: I travelled to Xiamen as part of a cultural delegation from its sister city Wellington, New Zealand. Thank you for the help for me to take part in this trip.

See more here –www.wellingtonxiamen.com and check #Xiamen for WXA photos on Instagram.

 

Black flesh chicken and peanut soup

Huasheng Tang, otherwise known as peanut soup, is really popular in Xiamen, as is hailijian, oyster omelette – this is made with sweet potato web 20160530_224150 (1)20160530_224150 (1)flour as well as oysters. This was popular among the group I was travelling with but it was not a taste I acquired.

web 20160530_23163520160530_231635I also tried the sand worm jelly (tusundong), a local delicacy, and although it was not unpleasant I don’t like many jellied dishes, and after reading the article (see link above) about them I’m not sure I would eat them again.

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One of the most interesting dishes (see main photo) was one of black chicken. I thought it had been dyed with perhaps squid ink, but in fact these chickens which apparently originate in Indonesia actually have black flesh, and actually tasted like any other chicken. It was not until my last morning in Xiamen, exploring some local streets near the hotel that I actually saw a black chicken for sale.

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Put Oman on your bucket-list

‘Oman is one of the cleanest and most beautiful countries in the world’ a local business man tells. He put it down to the thousand street cleaners, in their green uniforms,’who work daily from 6 AM to 11 AM and then again from 3 to 530′. I agree, it needs to be on your bucket-list.

The Sultanate of Oman, the third largest country of the Arabian peninsula is certainly beautiful: with low rise buildings which must be painted white or cream. And, unlike its neighbour Dubai, this country has not traded its heritage for shopping malls, high-rise hotels, and imported workers.

In this delightful country it was easy to meet locals and today’s photos are from the fish market Muscat, the country’s capital.

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I loved Oman . . . and the food

I have a silver fern painted on my cast before travelling

Despite travelling with a fractured arm I loved Oman and would certainly return. Because of that broken arm I haven’t written the blogs I intended to, however, they will happen and while you’re waiting here are a few photos of some of my meals.

The food of Oman is a mixture of several staples of Asian foods and are often based on chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as the staple of rice and a mixture of spices. Smoked eggplant (aubergine) is popular as are curries and soups. The main meal is usually eaten in the middle of the day with a lighter meal in the evening.

 

 

Oysters & scallops in Crystal River, Florida

Scallops from Crystal River (tiny compared to NZ ones!)

 

 

 

tasty meal … I forget its name but it’s a local favourite
Not an easy job – cleaning oyster trays before the next season!

 


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