More importantly, what does Shenzhen have to do with this?…
Once settled in there, in order to spice up my daily Chinese meals, I went looking for Japanese food. After stumbling upon a vertical “Japantown” in Luo Hu, the old commercial center of Shenzhen, I started to explore different floors of the building. Seedy stuff – with discounts for Japanese businessmen – was located on the top floors, whereas just below those were restaurants.
Hungry, I alighted to find something that had been making me chuckle since watching the sushi video above:
Just what am I pointing to?
Salt. Right outside of a Japanese restaurant.
The mound of salt is known in Japanese as 盛塩 (morishio). Why was it there? I asked the manager, and she didn’t know. Though, one theory says that it was placed out front by the door sill in the event that your meal wasn’t salty enough. Other possibilities include a nobleman being present in the restaurant, or that when you pass through the door you’ll be purified. Another two mention that salt is placed there for good luck for the owner, or to keep evil spirits away from one’s abode (in Japanese).
Imagine at your own discretion, but please, the next time you reach for a bit of salt, think of your kidneys.
Have you noticed this when you’ve gone out for Japanese food? Have you taken advantage?
Thankfully, there’s an amusing anecdote regarding how I learned of the Wazir Khan Mosque.
I was sitting in front of the Lahore Fort, one of the primary tourist spots of Lahore, Pakistan. To my surprise, an older man came to sit next to me, trying to preach about Jesus. After telling him where I was from, he decided to invite me to his apartment in the labyrinthine old city for some delicious raita, chapatti, and curry (curiously, only the men in the family were allowed to eat, but the women helped serve the food):
We chatted for a couple of hours, during which point he mentioned the Wazir Khan Masjid (Mosque) as worthy of a visit. By then it was nighttime, so I thanked him, and made my plan for the following day.
After an embarrassing attempt at playing cricket with some local youth, as well as an excellent glass of ginger, lime, and sugar cane juice, I finally located the Wazir Khan Mosque.
Construction of the Wazir Khan Mosque took place between 1634 and 1641, and was headed by Hakim Ilmud Din Ansari, a government physician upon whom the title Wazir (minister) Khan was bestowed. Though the structure is the best-preserved example of Mughal architecture at a mosque, it was built during the reign of Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who had the Taj Mahal mausoleum created for his wife.
Since the mosque was constructed for imperial Friday prayers for rulers taking the short walk from the Lahore Fort, its walls and minarets were ornately designed with frescoes, plaster, tile mosaics, and Persian calligraphy quoting the Quran. It also came with its own pay-to-enter hammam, or bathhouse, as well as a row of shops, called the Calligrapher’s Bazaar.
Indeed, the Wazir Khan Mosque is a must-see in Pakistan if architecture and design appeal to you. Since visiting the Great Mosque of Córdoba, Spain in 2003, I’ve been captivated by Islamic art. My number one travel goal is Iran, in large part due to its immense history.
Besides, I have another anecdote about being thought of as Iranian…
The first time I visited Hong Kong, I was in awe of the countless apartment complexes juxtaposed on the subtropical hills, the myriad roads that could easily double as parts of Manhattan’s Canal Street, and a health form asking me if I had a fever, cough, or other common ailments.
Although SARS did reach Ontario, Canada, it was mostly focused on China – where it originated, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. However, given that it was much less contagious, all I recall regarding plans to prevent its spread was a temperature check at Hong Kong’s airport, that flimsy health form, and some prescient leaflets at hotels and restaurants dotting the metropolis:
See anything familiar? What’s it like eating out – if that’s still possible – in your area?
I’ve trumpeted Mexico’s outstanding food before, but how about their drinks? Does their array of natural juices, Prehispanic concoctions, liquors, and Jarritos nicely complement Mexican cuisine? Yes, quite often, I must say!
On the topic of indigenous beverages, let’s look at a couple – tejate, and pozontle – which both originate in the present-day state of Oaxaca.
Fantasy: It’s a food market in Mexico, I am invincible!
Reality: It’s a food market (in Mexico), throw good hygiene to the wind.
Yes, tejate, the first of today’s two Pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus) drinks, is often seen in vats at markets and bazaars in Oaxaca. Centuries before the Aztecs, the Zapotec peoples of contemporary Oaxaca were enjoying tejate. Its ingredients include water, toasted corn, pixtle (ground roasted mamey pits; incidentally, pitztli means bone or seed in the Aztec language Nahuatl), fermented cacao beans, and cacao flowers. The cacao was most likely introduced to Oaxaca from Chiapas state in Mexico through early bartering.
Generally, it is served in a bowl made of jícara, an inedible fruit from the calabash tree:
I consider tejate a light and very frothy drink, a bit bitter and not too sweet. Though there are indeed, differences in flavors, I had a similar opinion regarding the less well-known Oaxacan beverage, pozontle.
Pozontle’s four more recognizable ingredients are water, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and ground specks of cacao and corn. The cacao and corn are rolled into little spheres, which are then dissolved in panela water. The fifth ingredient, called cocolmécatl, is a vine in the Smilax genus that when ground, causes the rest of the pozontle mixture to foam.
Many of us might be quite familiar with Mexican dishes. But when it comes to Prehispanic drinks, that’s an entirely different world worth discovering.
In April 2016, the 下水報道プラットホーム, or Sewer PR Platform, decided to capitalize on Japan’s increasingly popular マンホールの蓋/ふた, or manhole cover designs, and introduced the first set of limited edition trading cards. Although April Fool’s Day is not Japanese holiday – nor is it a holiday in any country, for that matter – the first edition was issued on April 1st. And collectors are called manholers.
There’s got to be a joke somewhere in there.
Roughly every quarter since then, a new batch has been introduced, showcasing manhole cover art from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. To get them, it might be as simple as going to a visitor information center next to a train station, or more awkwardly by paying a visit to a city/town hall or sewage treatment information center. Whatever it is, the cards are free, and you’re limited to one per visit. As far as I know, English versions of the cards also exist.
Having first noticed these sewer covers a number of years back, I just wish that these were printed way back then, if for no other reason than to learn the background story to the designs. The front of a card shows a colorized manhole cover and city coordinates (and some type of manhole card collection legend in the lower right), and the back, a description of the art, as well as when the design was first executed:
After checking the invaluable Sewer PR Platform website, I decided to check out one of these sewer cards with my own eyes, this time in Fukui, the prefectural capital of Fukui…prefecture.
Although it’s best known for dinosaur fossils, according to the above, with Fukui suffering from the calamities of earthquakes and air raids, the city government adopted the 不死鳥 (ふしちょう・fushichou), or phoenix, as its symbol, and as the design on its manhole covers. Though plenty of other Japanese cities could join them in choosing the phoenix for the same reasons, the backgrounder goes on to note that the phoenix was selected in 1989, to celebrate the centennial of the establishment of Fukui as a city. Huzzah!
Coins are obnoxious. It’s not their fault…no, no, it’s because governments ’round the world can’t resist weighing down our jeans or handbags – or not, as you’ll see shortly – with coinage. Is it in deference to those of us easily distracted folk, eager to make music out of the clanging currency? Or, are they still produced so that cuprolaminophobics – look it up! – can amble over to the nearest train track to have their way with coins?
Getting back on track, I guess I used to be something of a numismatist, or coin collector. The majority of my collection consists of coins more useful these days as paper weights than legal tender – for instance, pre-euro, and something from Zimbabwe in the ’80s – but that’s part of the point of it being a hobby, no? What follows is a sampling of some of the less welcome members to pockets worldwide (and yes, I realize that they’re still money)…
The left column, with examples (top to bottom) from Hong Kong, the Maldives, Zimbabwe, and the UK, are ones that have not been eluded by the American diet. However, if one of those ever fell from your hand or pocket, you’d definitely notice it.
At the same time, are those any more obnoxious by their extremely light opposites in the right column? We have the Japanese one (y)en, the Indonesian 500 rupiah, and the bane of my consumerist existence while in China, the fen. If a cashier gives you a fen, it’s a euphemism for the country laughing at you. Bad advice: try spending it in Taiwan.
With the US quarter as a guide, the left column, with Costa Rica and the UK again, as well as the right column with Hong Kong, Belize, and the same 50p from the UK, display coins that are too darn big. Though we’re nowhere near the scale of the monolithic currency of some Pacific Islands, what’s the reason for this? Save for Costa Rica, it seems as if imperialism isn’t the only category in which the British got carried away…
The right column also shows some of the funkier shapes of coins. Someone was asleep at the switch one day, and now his/her handy work gets the attention of bloggers.
Starting from the left, we have the Japanese five (y)en, the US dime, 50 cents from South Africa, 5 sentimo from the Philippines, one tetri from Georgia, 5 koruna from the Czech Republic, and 20 colones from Costa Rica.
The first time I noticed a perforated coin was in Japan. Curious about why some coins have a hole in them? Necklaces are one reason, sewing coins into clothing, another. Thinking about it another way, the Japanese 5 en coin isn’t worth much – particularly outside of Japan – but string it onto some jewelry, and watch your coffers grow.
As for the middle column, that coinage is ridiculous small; the US penny – for its size and its denomination – and the 20 colones, were placed in the photo for comparison. I’d feel sheepish (particularly outside of their home countries) trying to pay for something with tetri, or the colones for that matter. Can you imagine a coin-only checkout line?
I hope that you enjoyed this brief tour of coins around the world. Are there any standouts in your book?
As a child, I used to think that the Manhattan Chinatown was one of the coolest neighborhoods to wander around, be puzzled by the Chinese characters written all over the place, and to visit a vastly different culture without needing to hop on a plane. Later on, I learned that you could get ersatz versions of Western desserts for low prices, but the standout for me was always the (Portuguese-inspired) egg tart.
In any event, after starting to travel, I realized that New York City’s Chinatowns were missing something prominent that other 华埠 (huábù) / 唐人街 (tángrén jiē) proudly displayed– a paifang (牌坊 páifāng).
Breaking down the word paifang, the pai refers to any number of communities in a fang, or precinct. Originally, they served as markers to designate individual fang, but eventually became more ornamental in purpose.
Paifang were historically inscribed with specific moral principles to obey, and/or praise the government for recent accomplishments. Thereafter, icons such as plants and animals whose sounds were homophones with auspicious words – e.g. fruit bat, which also sounds like “blessing.” Though, modern ones take a more…hospitable approach to phraseology. For example, a number of paifang have carved into them the idiom 天下为公 (天下 tiānxià “everywhere below heaven,” “the whole world/China;” 为 wèi “for;”公 gōng “the public,” collectively owned”)– this roughly translates as the world is for everyone.
With that background exposited, let’s dive into some Chinatown paifang photos from around the world…with a couple of surprises added to the mix.
What?! A paifang in China? Of course! This one leads the way to the Ge’an community (隔岸村), in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen. If you’re a tourist and you ended up here, you’ve got quite the wanderlust.
You may not think of Russia these days as a soda powerhouse, and that’s possibly because you didn’t grow up in the Soviet Union, or in a Russian-speaking neighborhood. They’ve got quite a loyal following for some drinks – if I can find the picture, I will also write about the neon green tarragon-flavored soda – and the flavors from decades ago sound equally tantalizing.
Does pine-flavored soda intrigue you? Or, have you given up on sodas all together and go straight for the sugar packets?
Forget I said that, but stay on the same wavelength for a moment.
Tokyo might be my favorite city in the world (thus far), and part of the reason is due to the randomness that can be found on just about every block. It could be a sampling of dyed tapestries in the middle of an unlit alley (can’t recall where exactly, but it was near Nihombashi), a Statue of Liberty near Odaiba, a bowl of coffee-flavored ramen, or that Balinese-themed love hotel in Kabukicho.
Yes, that last one is a Japanese mainstay, and although the Tokyo area has plenty to choose from, I might have to give Osaka the point for its collection of zanier architectural styles. Come to think of it, “love hotelism” should be a neologism in an architect’s vocabulary.
However, today’s emphasis is not on the exterior of the hotel. We’re going to have a brief look at the meaning of the word on the sign; Warning– this language lesson might be slightly off-color.
The two characters that make up 醍醐 (だいご “dye-go”) refer to cream in its purest form. Thank you, you’ve been a great audience.
If you’ve heard of the Indian staple food ghee, – which may also be known as the greatest flavor of all – that’s one definition. Staying in the same region of the world, 醍醐 has adopted another, more transcendent meaning- nirvana.
Never thought Buddhism would pay a visit to LearningFeelsGood, but here we are. Though, if nirvana is supposed to be the point where one’s sufferings and desires are extinguished, what kind of name is that for an Osaka love hotel?
Then again, if the owner was going for the unattainable goal definition, perhaps it’s surrounded by a moat?
While in the Marshallese commercial, cultural, and political hub, being in a new country and region, I just had to try some of the local Marshallese food. And if you’re thinking it’s simply coconuts and fish… partial credit.
The first local meal I recall trying was at The Tide Table restaurant of the Hotel Robert Reimers. Being jet-lagged but peckish, I chatted with the waitress about Marshallese eats; surprise, surprise, coconuts and fish came up, in addition to the Hawaiian dish known as “loco moco.”
Loco moco consists of boiled white rice, a hamburger, scrambled eggs, and some mysterious brown gravy. It’s not local, but then again, it was the most regional dish on their menu (take that, Caesar salad). I kinda liked it, but perhaps the drinks menu could offer something nuanced?
Eureka! Pandanus juice– that’s the orange liquid in the mysteriously unlabeled bottle. It was delicious! But describing the flavor of pandan(us) – an ingredient common to Southeast Asian desserts, too – is a bit difficult. Quite sweet, and probably a better name for something that people eat than its synonym, screw pine.
Now, if we take pandanus and put it on the delicious side of the Marshallese spectrum, what’s at the other end? Easy peasy: the noni fruit.
The noni fruit – native to Southeast Asia and Polynesian islands – might be known to some of you in pill or extract form to treat various maladies. I know it better as a disgusting, vile food that might even put some durian to shame.
For background, I went to a beach party, and found one of these pock-marked fruits lying around on a table. Ever the adventurous if naïve eater, I took a bite. Yuck! It tasted of rotten bleu cheese. One of my peers saw my reaction, and brought a fresh coconut over to drink. If a friend invites you to some noni and shirako, you might want to start interviewing for new amigos.
Eventually, I was able to explore Majuro, primarily to investigate local bites. The Marshall Islands accepts US dollars, so I was free to spend the wad without forex fees…but the question is, what to spend it on?
Coupled with one of the most random newspaper ads I have ever seen, I sat down at a casual place for a very filling meal. To start, I ordered a predictable coconut water, some pumpkin porridge, and grilled red snapper. Simple fare, both fresh and welcoming.
Note the condiments on the left: tabasco sauce, soy sauce, and ketchup.
Since the porridge and snapper tasted nice, I wanted to give them more business. Above, we have mashed sweetened sweet potatoes, and on the left, a staple starch of the Marshall Islands, the breadfruit. Having never tried a slice of breadfruit, I was blown away by its billowy French toast texture, just-right sweetness, and tropical abundance, for the next time I should have a craving.
Right before leaving Majuro, I went with a few peers to go fishing. Our local contact gave us a sampling of his home-smoked swordfish jerky, and some mercilessly hacked coconut meat.
Individually, they tasted pleasant, but combined they were even better, reminding me that cities like New York City and London might have flavors from all over the world, but the quality from the freshness is sorely lacking.
Another thing, you may not want to eat too much coconut meat, as it’s fattening like no tomorrow.
After one week touring Majuro and a few of its islets, it was time to take the long journey back to the states, starting with that trippy flight to Honolulu. You know, one of those take-off in the evening of Day 1, and land in the early morning of Day 1 flights. There was a problem, though. I forgot to buy edible souvenirs!
No worries, Majuro Airport has you covered.
Rum, Rice Krispies Treats, and eggs. Wow! This flight is going to be blast.
Have you been to the Marshall Islands? Which of the above foods would you most want to try first?