Jodi Ettenberg, the author of the new ‘Food Traveler’s Handbook’, shares the most memorable street-side eats she’s had in her journeys from Turkey to Thailand.
I never used to focus on street food as I traveled. Meals were a necessity of course, but not the intense source of learning that they have become in my years of moving around the globe. I started my travels in South America, but it wasn’t until I made it to China that I began to plan my days around my taste buds. While each city has its higher-end restaurants, I prefer to focus on the cheaper places: the markets and street stalls and tiny restaurants tucked into someone’s living room. Not only are they a wonderful scene of chaos and color, but as a traveler you are afforded a chance to observe the movement and patterns of local culture while eating. My favorite spots to view the world are from the vantage point of a tiny plastic food-stall table at the side of the road.
Not only is street-side eating fascinating, but it’s cost effective, too. Here are some of my memorable cheap meals:
1. Chicken, Noodle, and Garlic Soup in Luang Prabang, Laos
This soup was my first meal in Laos after a hectic border crossing from Thailand, and consisted of a simple but rich broth, perfectly tender chicken, and curls of fried garlic. Soup might not be everyone’s breakfast of choice, but cooked with such complementary flavors it was hard to resist. I bought it at a tiny stand near the Nam Ou river, the blue tablecloths catching my eye as I wandered past the stall. Cost: $0.80
The dangling crane. A Chelsea building with its front ripped away. Sightseers in New York City are forsaking the Statue of Liberty and Central Park in favor of the effects of Frankenstorm.
Forget the Statue of Liberty or Central Park. New York’s new most photographed sights are the remnants of damage wrought by the Sandy superstorm Monday night. With traditional attractions closed and others difficult to get to without full subway service, tourists have turned remaining evidence of the notorious Frankenstorm into photo ops.
Double-decker tour buses resumed operations in New York City, Thursday. (Beth J. Harpaz / AP)
Floodwaters have receded, but fallen trees, shuttered stores and locals huddled around improvised cellphone charging stations can still be found as evidence of the storm’s destructive wake throughout lower Manhattan days afterwards. And there are even bigger draws—the true disaster sites like the crane precariously dangling above 57th Street, and the exposed apartment building in Chelsea missing its entire façade.
Steven Johnson, a tour guide for Gray Line, which resumed service Thursday, was loading passengers into the open-air bus in Times Square. Passengers had asked about the nearby dangling crane earlier in the day, so he tweaked the bus route to stop there for people to take pictures. “It happens to be right around the corner from our route anyway,” he said. “So that was a nice little interesting thing for people to see.”
Meet New York’s ‘royal attachés.’
When Rupert Murdoch wants a treadmill installed in his hotel suite, or when a body-conscious Bollywood star must have an egg-white omelet at 4 a.m., the Taj Hotel Group’s new cadre of “royal attachés” are the first responders, addressing every conceivable high-end emergency. They whipped up the eggs and the cardio equipment without batting an eyelid. But their guests’ particular demands raise questions about the current state of luxury hospitality: No yolk? Exercise? Are contemporary VIPs too puritanical for Indian-style indulgence? While the maharaja of Jaipur once traveled to London with immense urns forged from pure silver, filled with Ganges water for his ablutions, many of today’s elite travelers are democratic types, embarrassed by lavish displays. Those who can afford a suite at a Taj hotel are more likely to be workaholic executives than princes spoiled rotten.
Anupam Guha lays on an in-suite birthday party. (Courtesy of the Pierre-Taj Hotels)
The hotel chain’s American flagship, the Pierre in New York, has hit on a concept that manages both to enhance the maharaja factor and tone down the ostentation for the self-effacing rich. The attachés are a new breed of butler, providing invisible, intensely personalized service. Trained in India and selected from among thousands of highly skilled candidates there, they are prepared either to play up the pomp or to vanish into the impeccable woodwork in any of the Pierre’s most expensive suites.
Luxury service can too easily become a gaudy gimmick in hotels. What discerning guests really want are the perfectly executed basics: Niagara-like water pressure in the shower, exquisite coffee, snappy wireless, and a comfortable mattress—not heart-shaped rose-petal displays on the bed or intrusive visits from a phalanx of fawning servants. In many cases, what they want most is to be left alone—until they want something, at which point they want it yesterday. Anyone lucky enough to have been a guest in an Indian palace, where staff make life easy in a cheerful, dignified manner, knows that the human touch is what India does best. Service is woven into the fabric of the residence, into the rhythm of the day. Clothes tossed absentmindedly on the bed materialize clean and starched. A pot of Darjeeling is just what one wanted in the late afternoon, though the thought hadn’t occurred to one until it arrived.
A group tour is best for hiking the Amalfi Coast.
The retired opera singer went ahead of us, singing of Ulysses, while the blue Mediterranean flashed sun from below. We were on a hiking trail along the Amalfi Coast, moving along steep cliff walls. The trail, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, is rightfully named the Pathway of the Gods. Later that same day, around a long outdoor lunch table, again with the ocean glinting and gorgeous below, we sat listening to a conversation between a doctor, a business-school professor, a lawyer, and a scientist about the ethics and practicalities of extending the human life span to a century and a half or more. Sitting at the lunch table was like taking part in a seminar at college.
Trails wind between chic towns along the steep cliff walls. (Katherine Kiviat / Redux)
Other people are not necessarily hell, but they are certainly challenging. In the case of the group walking tour that my wife and I went on, however, one of the great pleasures was the company of our fellow travelers. Among us were the opera singer, three college professors, a doctor, several scientists, health-care executives, lawyers, and two foreign-service officers.
The trip was organized by Country Walkers, a Vermont-based travel company known for setting the gold standard of walking tours. My wife and I had spoken for years about traveling with them, but we have always been shy about taking group tours. Perhaps out of vanity, when I am traveling, the last thing I want is to appear a tourist. The idea of following behind a guide who is holding up an umbrella makes me cringe. But the nature of the holiday my wife and I wanted, to walk the Amalfi Coast but to do so with guides who could keep us from getting lost and then becoming disheartened, appeared to require a group tour.
Is winter weather keeping you inside? From the Pacific Islands to the American West, these books will take your far, far away.
Among the Islands
by Tim Flannery
‘Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific’ by Tim Flannery. 288 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. $25.
In Tim Flannery’s chest beats the wayfaring heart of a discoverer, and in this book, which details his colorful adventures among the flora and fauna of the South Pacific islands, he reminds us that, even right here on earth, incredible things are waiting somewhere to be known. From exploring dark caves full of gigantic bats to getting drunk on kava-filled coconuts with tribal chieftains, the book blurs the line between biology and anthropology, and shows how it’s hard to explore one without exploring the other.
Anne Panning charts the evolution of an earnest Midwestern metropolis.
In 1984, when I left my corn-and-soybean hometown for college, the Minneapolis skyline glittered before me like an icy-blue crystalline mecca. The all-window IDS tower sparkled against the wide Midwestern sky; to its right, the squat white Metrodome sat staid and stalwart like a sad dumpling. I would eventually come to occupy what’s called the “West Bank” area of the city, or Cedar-Riverside, a hippie-bohemian neighborhood near the University of Minnesota and the Mississippi River. It became my go-to place for buying woven Guatemalan bags, dusty yellow cones of incense, and pins that said things like “Out the Door in ’84: Dump Reagan!” and “I Pity the Fool!”
More Somalis live in Minnesota than in any other U.S. state. (Jenn Ackerman / The New York Times-Redux)
In the 1960s and ’70s, the Cedar-Riverside area was so counterculture it was coined “the Haight-Ashbury of the Midwest.” When I arrived, it was still rippling with anti-nuclear student protesters and dreadlocked Amnesty International supporters trying to get innocents like me to climb aboard the ships of their causes. Coming from a tiny town where the biggest thing going was the annual Sibley County Fair, I was completely bedazzled by Minneapolis and the funky neighborhood I’d been plunked down into.
On a visit back recently, I found myself strolling the neighborhood again, reminiscing about all my old haunts like Global Village, a store where I used to buy Indian cotton tapestries (i.e., cheap curtains), and Blondie’s Tavern, where I’d once stood on the bar and competed in a best tie-dye T-shirt contest. What I found, though, was a complete and utter transformation of the place. Minnesota is now home to America’s largest population of Somalis, many of whom settled in this Minneapolis neighborhood because of the cheap, subsidized Riverside Plaza apartments. Though it was barely noon, the street bustled with burka-clad women toting market baskets and men in embroidered caps and flowing white tunics, since it was Friday, prayer day.
Egan’s new book tells the epic story of photographer Edward Curtis, and he celebrates the adventurer by picking his five favorite travel books.
By Mark Twain
Travel writing isn't what it used to be, but a young, smart-ass Mark Twain set a standard with his romp through the wacky West, published in 1872, that has rarely been surpassed. By horseback and hoof, Twain takes us from the Mormon Theocracy of Utah to the wide-open craziness in the Sierra mining fields. Twain and his brother get drunk, get skunked, and end up—and one point—naked, with nothing but their own laughter. He may have made up half the account, but it rings true, still.
Riding the Iron Rooster
By Paul Theroux
Patricia Hampl on a gray streetscape that one day burst into color.
The weather those two weeks couldn’t have been as relentlessly dismal, as sunless as I remember. May 1975, my first Prague visit, my train rattled in from Cheb, a border town out of a B spy movie outfitted with guard tower, barbed-wire fence, and a border-patrol officer who looked impassively from my blue American passport to my let’s-be-friends American face. I was an earnest young traveler, seeking my roots, as they say. My grandparents, pre–World War I immigrants to the Czech enclave in St. Paul, Minnesota, had been to my eye colorful, cheerfully exotic. But in Prague, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain—those bleak 20th-century metaphors—leached the city, or perhaps the mind, of color.
A multihued moment on Prague's Charles Bridge last year. (Michal Cizek / AFP-Getty Images)
Zlata Praha, golden Prague, so called for its gleaming domes and winking charms, presented itself to me then as a cityscape of sooty pewter. Scaffolds surrounded baroque churches for decades, awaiting restorations that rarely came. The double-spired Tyn church was cloaked for a generation under this abandoned carapace, construction nets flapping from it. Still, I fell in love with it all, especially the dilapidated buildings festooned with grimy art nouveau bas-reliefs, vines, and coal-dust-stained flowers twirling around chipped plaster.
In the following years, I made several return trips—always, it seemed, in gray weather. Then, in the fall of 1989, the political sun broke through. In bustled the market economy. KFC and McDonald’s set up shop along the narrow streets of Josefov, the old Jewish quarter, where Kafka had walked from his father’s house across the Charles Bridge to Malá Strana, stalking a decent vegetarian restaurant in meaty Mitteleuropa.
A second life for cemeteries.
A Gravediggers’ Ball in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. Pumpkin carving in the Sleepy Hollow graveyard. Open-air movies in a Los Angeles cemetery. Is this any way to honor the dead? If you’re one of the dozens of executives who oversee the nation’s most storied bone orchards, the answer is a resounding yes.
Illustration by Gluekit (Source: Paul Johnson / Getty Images, Eric Felton / Getty Images)
In August 1999, Richard J. Moylan, president of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, had an epiphany. In Baltimore on business, he took the afternoon off to visit that city’s Green Mount Cemetery. “It was a Saturday, a bright, sunny day,” he recalls. But despite the excellent weather and the well-tended grounds, “there was no one around.” Then and there he resolved, “This must never happen in Brooklyn.” He kept his promise.
Until the mid-’90s, Green-Wood often turned visitors away if they had no kin buried there. Now thousands pour through the cemetery’s gates each year to take tours, check out the graves of long-gone celebrities (Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed), and even hear live music: Green-Wood recently scheduled a concert complete with grand piano at the grave site of 19th-century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
Elif Shafak discovers creativity just off Authoritarian Street.
“The best thing about Ankara is returning to Istanbul.” Harsh as it may sound, that expression, attributed in one form or another to prominent Turkish poet Yahya Kemal, resonates with many Turkish artists and writers. It also suggests the discrepancy, if not the conflict, between the country’s two major urban settlements. Turkey’s contemporary history, including its transition from the multiethnic Ottoman Empire to a modern, secularist nation-state, is, in its core, a tale of two cities.
Ataturk’s mausoleum in a nationalistic city. (Rengim Mutevellioglu / Getty Images)
Ankara was proclaimed the capital in 1923, the same year the Republic was born. It was Atatürk’s first choice as the center of the new nation not because it was more developed and civilized, but precisely because it was a small, sleepy town in the heart of Anatolia and could therefore be created from scratch. Between 1919 and 1927 Turkey’s founder did not once visit Istanbul, the kernel of the Ottoman Empire. Right from the beginning Ankara was planned in sharp contrast to the capital it replaced. Istanbul was cosmopolitan; Ankara would be monocultural. Istanbul was empire; Ankara, nation-state. Istanbul was the past; Ankara, the future.
In truth, Ankara is an ancient settlement that goes back to the Bronze Age under the Hittites. It was a hub of civilization for the Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, and Galatians, a Celtic race to whom we owe the name Ancyra. But the city had few Ottoman-Islamic elements and was, in the eyes of the Turkish Republican elite, a tabula rasa, a clean slate to write upon the story of the new state.
He’s a photographer who was lucky to grow up during Australia’s surf revolution. The pioneer talks to Josh Dzieza about his new book.
Kara Cutruzzula combs the beaches—and blackjack tables—of Puerto Rico for the meaning of ‘vacation.’
In ‘Mapping Manhattan,’ explore the city via 75 New Yorkers’ personal geographies. By Allison McNearney.
Travel writer Sara Wheeler, famous for her stories of polar expeditions, returns home to her city: Bristol.
Need to plan your next grand adventure? From Burma to Cuba, 12 places to see this year. By Nina Strochlic.