You are what you Eataly

When I came home from my internship last June, I got a bit of a surprise.

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My sister is a naturally slim and healthy person, so I was surprised to see her dieting. I asked her what brought this on.

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Europe is a special place: there are a ton of distinct, unique cultures clustered on one continent. These cultures have had centuries to develop and refine their cuisine. My sister compiled a list of the must-try foods in every country we were visiting. The list looked kind of like this:

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This was the case for all of the countries: Too many foods, not enough time. It didn’t stop us from trying, though.

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Oliebollen: fried dough covered in powdered sugar!

Italian fried cheese and fried meat!

Italian fried cheese and fried meat!

Bitteballen: Dutch fried meat!

Bitteballen: Dutch fried meat!

You get the idea.

The bakeries were the most irresistible. Every corner of Europe seemed to have a cute, locally-owned bakery filled with tempting sweets. My sister could barely resist the allure.

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And my sister indeed tried everything she possibly could.

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As for myself? Well, I kept up with my sister at first.

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But right before going to Europe, I had been on Weight Watchers. I had trained for and completed a half-marathon. My body couldn’t take the transition from super-healthy to super-indulgent.

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I was stuffed to the brim.

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But I continued to eat.

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Yessir, my sister and I ate as much as we were physically capable of fitting into our bodies. We had to. There was too much deliciousness for us not to. By the end, even my sister agreed:

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Coming home and trying to exercise again for the first time after 5 weeks was… interesting.

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And I still don’t.

 

 

 

For the foodies: Here are some of my favorite foods that we ate during our trip!

Stroopwafels: a Dutch dessert consisting of two thin waffles with caramel in between them.

Stroopwafels: a Dutch dessert consisting of two thin waffles with caramel in between them.

Panna cotta in Rome!

Panna cotta in Rome!

Duck confit in Paris! And that side dish is aligot, mashed potatoes and melted cheese.

Duck confit in Paris! And that side dish is aligot, mashed potatoes and melted cheese.

Bratwurst and potatoes in Traben-Trarbach! German food will always have a special place in my heart.

Bratwurst and potatoes in Traben-Trarbach! German food will always have a special place in my heart.

Parisian creme brulee makes my mouth go YAY.

Parisian crème brûlée makes my mouth go YAY.

Italian gelato cafes are really popular in Germany!

Italian gelato cafes are really popular in Germany!

Just some simple penne in Rome. What you'd expect, yet somehow infinitely more delicious than any pasta I've had before!

Pasta in Rome. Looks simple, yet somehow it infinitely more delicious than any pasta I’ve had before!

 

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Aussie cuisine: American food, now with kangaroo meat

Hey y’all! I’m going to be in New Zealand for the next week sans internet and computer. But, I’ll be writing a travel journal along the way for one of my friends. With her permission, I’ll be scanning it into here for your viewing pleasure!

My friend messaged me on Facebook the other day.

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It’s true that I took a lot of food photos in Vietnam. However, I have not done the same in Australia. For one, I’m always eating dorm food every day, as the International House has a dining hall. Secondly, Australia doesn’t seem to have its own distinct cuisine. Like the USA, Australia is diverse. As a result, the restaurants around Sydney are a mash-up of all sorts of different foods and cultures.

That’s not to say that Australian food is exactly like the USA, however. Oz has its own little novelties to be enjoyed. Such as:

1. Vegemite

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Australia’s most notorious food. One day, some beer company looked at its leftover yeast extract and decided: Dang, I bet that would be tasty. The company then hired a food technologist to turn the yeast waste product into an edible spread. After a little autolysis, onions, and celery extract, he managed to make a sort of sticky black paste… thing.

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Australians lap this stuff up, but to me, it’s on the same level as Japanese natto. Wikipedia describes it as “salty, bitter, and malty.” I describe it as “an acquired taste.” When I’m being polite about it.

2. Lamingtons

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Unlike vegemite, this Australian creation is actually delicious. It’s simply a sponge cake cube covered in chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. Yet somehow it’s so light and fluffy and tasty and my dining hall occasionally serves them in huge trays.

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3. Pavlova

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On July 25th, my residential college celebrated Christmas in July, where they served this yummy dessert!

Named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, this dessert consists of a light, meringue center surrounded by a crisp crust. It’s usually topped by fruit. Australia and New Zealand are actually fighting over which country invented this dessert (though, according to Wikipedia, the evidence points to New Zealand) but either way, this stuff is delish. It’s usually eaten only during holidays, though.

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4. Anzac cookies

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Yet another dessert? You bet! Anzac cookies taste a bit like the oatmeal raisin cookies I’ve had at home– probably because they’re made with rolled oats. But the recipe also includes coconut and golden syrup, making this cookie into something distinctly Aussie.

5. Beetroot

Beetroot is a thing in Australia. Australians like to shred and pickle their beets and then stick them into burgers. (They like to stick fried eggs into their burgers too– which, by the way, is the BEST IDEA EVER) The result is a surprisingly pleasant taste.

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They also stick pineapple into their ham sandwiches, too, much like the concept of the Hawaiian pizza.

6. Kangaroo

You read that right: Australians eat kangaroo. In fact, you can easily purchase kangaroo meat from any supermarket. Kangaroos are surprisingly common in Australia, in fact. They’re a pest to farmers. They overgraze Australia’s already-sparse plains. It’s come to the point where kangaroos are a huge road hazard. Think deer in the USA, but worse.

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Like deer, however, kangaroo isn’t an everyday meat. It’s very lean and gamey and very low in fat. In fact, there’s been a recent movement known as “kangatarianism,” where people restrict their diets to fruits, vegetables, and kangaroo meat. The argument is that kangaroos are not only naturally occurring (since they can live and thrive in the wild without human care or pastureland) but their methane emissions are much, much lower than that of cows.

When in Australia, do as the Australians do. A couple of friends and I ran over to Newtown and grabbed some kangaroo burgers.

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Roo burgers my friends and I got at Moo Gourmet Burgers, a burger joint in Newtown.

And how was it?

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7. The Flat White

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The “flat white” is a coffee beverage developed in the 1980’s. Think latte, only with less foamy and more velvety milk. There’s a whole technical debate on what exactly defines a flat white versus a latte, but I’m no barista. I just like to enjoy these at the many adorable cafes in Sydney. (Sydney, surprisingly, has a huge cafe scene!)

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Here’s one in Glebe that I happen to be charmed by– Sappho Books. The front is a bookstore, and tucked in the back is a little cafe and bar.

8. Tim Tams

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And, finally, my favorite: the Tim Tam. The Tim Tam consists of two chocolate malted biscuits, separated by some cream filling, all covered in chocolate. These very popular cookies come in all sorts of flavors.

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These things come in great big packs and are great for drowning your sorrows in at 2 in the morning. What do you do when you have 4 essays due and an exam tomorrow? Get a Tim Tam Slam.

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As far as I can remember, that’s all the novel Australian food I’ve encountered so far. Not to say that the rest of the Australian food landscape is exactly like America, though. Australia still exhibits some of that British influence in their foods, like with the popularity of the meat pie.

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Australia also lacks a lot of American chains. The Jamba Juices Chipotles, and Taco Bells that are so popular back in Boston are totally absent here. Instead– in the multicultural Sydney, at least– there are heaps of Asian restaurants on every corner. And not just take-out Chinese: there’s Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese… I thought I’d never see okonomiyaki again!

A cute okonomiyaki I nabbed from Kurakura!

A cute okonomiyaki I nabbed from Kurakura, an izekaya in Chinatown.

So, as with all my traveling adventures, the conclusion is the same:

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But, I think I’ll survive.

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Sayounara, Weight Watchers. Vietnam’s got you beat.

I’ve long since bid a temporary farewell to Weight Watchers. It just isn’t possible with my generous family here in Vietnam.

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My family here in Vietnam has been set on feeding me pretty much all of Saigon. This is no easy task, as this place is teeming with all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine. I’m Vietnamese, but there’s stuff I’ve rarely seen or never even heard of. My family here likes to eat at the various vendors that line the roads. Food carts will often offer seating:

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Or, if you’d like to be a bit more comfortable, you can enter a street restaurant:

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The plastic stools may be flimsy, and the tables may be simple steel or plastic, and you may have to wipe down the chopsticks before using them, but man. So far, I’ve been able to ignore all the cons for two huge pros: first, the cheapness–

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–and second, the deliciousness. Honestly, I’ve found that the cheaper the food, the tastier it is!

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Of course, I’ve also been quite lucky. Street food, while delicious, is treated with caution even by native Vietnamese. I’ve been warned not to eat any uncooked vegetables and to check any produce before purchasing it.

But that hasn’t held us back. My family here doesn’t cook much– since it’s so easy, for every meal, to go out and grab some cheap grub. Typical breakfasts have included:

I believe this is called... "hu tieu"?

I believe this is called… “hủ tiếu”?

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And this one was ” bò kho mì.”

Bún bò Huế.

And finally, bún bò Huế.

Street food is often fatty or oily, but never fear! Just make up for it by picking up some of the various exotic fruits, sold cheaper and fresher than in the United States! Interestingly enough,the apples and oranges and pears that are so commonplace in America are “exotic” in Vietnam.

Rambutan.

Rambutan.

Dragonfruit.

Dragonfruit.

Mangosteen.

Mangosteen.

Vietnam is pretty hot, though, so sometimes all you want is a cold beverage. Hey, no problem! You can find various types of chè, a sweet dessert drink typically made from mung beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, tapioca, and fruit, all over the city. There are a million different varieties to try!

This type just happens to be green.

This type just happens to be green.

My cousins here really like getting nước mía, or sugarcane juice. Vendors will squeeze fresh sugarcane right on the streets.

A lady working the sugarcane press.

A lady working the sugarcane press.

The resultant juice.

The resultant juice is sweet and citrusy.

My favorite will always be cà phê sữa đá, or Vietnamese iced coffee. It’s made by brewing finely-ground, dark-roast Vietnamese coffee in a drip filter and then mixing it with a bunch of condensed milk. Then, add ice and you’re golden!

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Before…

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…and after!

I admit, not everything’s to my taste. A lot of our dried fruits and candied spices are often a bit tangy for me.

Mystery dried stuff.

Mystery dried stuff.

Though most of the time I find the food impossible to resist. The seafood here! It’s so fresh!

Grilling some scallops.

Grilling some scallops.

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Crab.

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I honestly forget the Vietnamese name for this, but just know that it is delicious.

So, in all this food-tasting, I may have put on a kilo or two. Which is unfortunate, since I’m already a size XXL in Vietnam and all the clothes here is so darn cute.

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Shh. Don’t tell my doctor.

If I ever tried eating mucus, I imagine it’d be something like this.

One of the cooler things I got to experience in Japan was 回転寿司 (kaiten-zushi, also known as conveyor belt sushi). There is conveyor belt sushi in America (and, recently, Boston!) but I never had the chance to try it before.

Conveyor belt sushi is exactly what it sounds like: sushi on, well, a conveyor belt. Basically, the restaurant has a giant circular conveyor belt that is constantly moving. On the inside of the circle, sushi chefs are constantly making new maki and sashimi and placing their completed plates on the belt. Patrons sit on the outside, watching the plates go by and nabbing the ones that they want. It’s a strange combo between a fast-food and a sit-down restaurant.

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You can get whatever and however many plates you’d like (each plate only had two pieces of sushi) but in the end, you will have to pay for them. At our restaurant, the plates were color-coded according to price like so:

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So I had to be careful not to eat too much. And given the number of strange and enticing sushi rolling by, this was hard to do.

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If you’re not careful, the cost can add up quickly! My group, comprised of only poor college kids, was cautious. We were pretty amazed by our fellow Japanese diners, though.

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At the end of your meal, you call over one of the servers to tally up your plates. I’m not sure how this worked, but our servers has some awesome scanning device that did this automatically!

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I admit that I’m not the bravest sushi eater. I’ll eat my raw salmon, my raw tuna, my eel and shrimp. But I’ve never found sea urchin or roe or squid to be particularly tasty. This time, however, I was feeling adventurous. I decided to grab this plate:

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In case you’re unfamiliar with it, that’s natto– a popular and traditional Japanese food. It’s really just fermented soybeans. Looks harmless, right?

Now look at this picture of natto.

And this one.

And– uh, I don’t know what Google Images is trying to tell me, but you can look at this one too.

Explanation: There is none.

So now you somewhat have a sense of the texture of natto: half slimy, half sticky, viscous enough to form strings when it is mixed. I can’t really demonstrate natto’s flavor, but I can give you a description from Wikipedia: “nutty, savory, and slightly salty,” with a smell “somewhat akin to a pungent cheese.”

Japanese natives enjoy asking foreigners if they’re able to eat natto or not, since it has a very strong scent and flavor. It’s like a test. A test of… Japanese-ness. Natto is an acquired taste, they say, obtained only by the Japanese natives who grew up with it. Well, I was determined to take this test. As an exchange student, I had to try ALL the foods!post 113 image 7

That’s one taste I was never meant to acquire.

I’mma tantalize your tastebuds, Japan style

I have no free time here. It’s past one in the morning already, and I have class tomorrow.  Between class and touring and hanging out with our Japanese friends and homework and my god… everything, I have not been able to blog. I feel awful about it, and I have to apologize– I don’t think I’ll be able to blog about to Japan until, well, I return from Japan on the 20th. I have so many stories to tell, and I want them to be good– is that okay?

Until then, please enjoy these photos of food I’ve been eating here. Hopefully they last until I can write about my experiences in full!

Donuts at a Mr. Donut in Tokyo.

Eel (unagi) at a sushi shop next to Tsukiji Fish Market.

Chankonabe, a traditional dish associated with sumo wrestling.

A green tea bagel.

Okonomiyaki, a type of savory cabbage pancake, in Kyoto.

A cake at a bakery in Sapporo Staion.

SAPPORO RAMEN IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD

Pancakes at an adorable cafe near our host university.

Takoyaki from a truck by our host university.

Sushi at a conveyor belt sushi shop in Otaru.

A hamburger steak in Furano.

So it might not be soon– but I will blog about the crazy places and things and people I’ve been able to experience here in Japan! For now– I hope this is enough.

 

Makudonarudo (McDonald’s, Japan-style)

For those who are interested, there are more photos from my trip on my tumblr! I haven’t been able to blog about everything I’ve done, so it shows several places I visited but haven’t mentioned.

After going to a McDonald’s in Germany, and being shocked at how good it was, I was super determined to go to a McDonald’s in Japan.

Call me weird for wanting to eat American fast food while in Japan, but I wanted to know! One day, on my own, then, I visited a マクドナルド (McDonald’s, pronounced Makudonarudo—or Makudo for short) and ordered some food.

The first thing I noticed was the familiar plastic chairs and tables. It lacked the class of German McDonald’s.

But I ordered food anyway. First was a teriyaki burger…

And then I got, of course, some fries.

It was saddening. But, 大丈夫だよ!Here in Japan, there are plenty of other foods to keep me occupied. During this trip, we get a 1500 yen allowance (about $12) a day to buy food. Mostly (as cheap college students) we’ve been going to cheap restaurants and convenience stores in order to keep within budget (though I’ve definitely been overspending, as I am perpetually hungry.) It may sound bad to you—but to me, I find it delicious:

Chankonabe, a hotpot dish traditionally eaten after watching a sumo match. (Which we did!)

Ramen shops were abundant and cheap in Tokyo.

Fresh sushi at a restaurant near the Tsukiji fish market.

A 280 yen beef bowl at Yoshinoya, a very cheap restaurant.

A bento purchased at a 7-11, which happens to be a very common convenience store around here.

So, yeah. Many exchange students who go to Japan report losing weight during the trip—probably because of the healthier Asian diet and all the walking—but me? Not gonna happen. Not when I have all this food to consume!

The Asian test of courage

My sister’s boyfriend came over.

My sister and I are finally finished finals and at home, so her boyfriend from Pittsburgh came over for three days. That’s three days in an Asian household. With Asian food. I should mention that my sister’s boyfriend is predominantly German and Polish.

So my family.

Does this to him.

As crazy as we get, however, eggrolls taste good. But my dad decided to pull some other fun foods out of his hat.

And finally, the kicker: durian. If you don’t know what durian is, it’s a large, spiky, tropical fruit typically grown in Southeastern Asia. Its odor is very… distinct. Quote Wikipedia, “Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive.” As kids, my sister and I fell more onto the “offensive” side. (Though now, we both find it perfectly edible.)

And my sister’s poor boyfriend had this thrust upon him.

But hey, he tried it! And thus my sister’s boyfriend passed our little test of courage. Props to him! Though we’ve barely branched into some of the weirder Vietnamese dishes. Some Viet foods even I’m unable to handle.

Fetal chicken, straight from the egg. My parents like it, but it's an area I haven't ventured into yet.

I gain the freshman fifteen during Thanksgiving

Who said college gives you the freshman fifteen?

I finally got to go home to the Philly ‘burbs this weekend. NU’s Thanksgiving break, granted, isn’t that long. We only get Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off, not the whole week like some schools. And I was a good student and didn’t skip any classes (I totally should have) so I returned home on Wednesday.

Traveling is expensive. A train ticket from Boston to Philly is anywhere from $60 to over $100, one way. Want to fly? That’s at least $100. The service on Greyhound is not worth their prices. Yeah. I’m a poor college kid. I prefer to take the Megabus, which, if you book tickets early enough, can be as low as $1.50 one way. Thanksgiving is a time when everyone travels, though, so my tickets cost $84.50—but my tickets to for winter break cost $12.00 total, both ways. Not bad.

So my high school friend and I got to enjoy an excruciatingly long journey from Boston to Philly! It was a wonderfully delayed, traffic-stuck ride.

So, two hours late, our bus pulled into 30th street station. From there, I took the regional rail home for another hour to reach my family after a good 9-hour trip.

I could finally start my break! And it ended up looking a little like this:

And at home, I don’t have access to a gym, so instead of exercising I passed my time like this:

So my break was, really, quite nice! Seeing my family and friends is always a delight. But now it is back to school, and I must deal with upcoming finals. Terrifying. Can’t it just be winter break yet?

You know you’re in Chinatown when…

Boston is often called the “Walking City,” due to its relatively small size, workable transportation system, and the fact that driving in Boston is a nightmare. Northeastern promotes the idea that students should walk places when possible so that we can see more of the city on the way. And the fact that Boston’s winters are terrible– so we should be outside, I quote, “while we still can.”

I haven’t been to Chinatown Boston since I moved in. I had a few hours in between classes today. I decided to walk to Chinatown.

Chinatown is a two-mile stroll from Northeastern. I don’t have a smartphone with a GPS, and I haven’t walked to Chinatown before, so I was a little afraid of getting lost. I have the worst sense of direction ever.

The whole time, then, as I was walking, I was looking desperately for a sign. Just one sign of Chinatown.

And I finally received it, in the form of this:

Chinatown Boston isn’t all that big. Compared to the likes of New York City or Toronto (two of my favorite Chinatowns) it’s pretty tiny. (Philadelphia’s Chinatown, on the other hand, is just as petite.) Still, I had a… satisfactory time.

Boston Chinatown is pretty standard: some bakeries, some restaurants, a couple of cheap souvenir stores, a smattering of grocery stores. I did note a lack of anime stores, though. Hey. I’m a dork. That would have made my day.

In the end, I spent more time walking to Chinatown than I actually spent in Chinatown. I even managed to get slightly lost on the way back. But I say the trip was entirely worth it. It’s definitely a good place for my Asian dining needs.