Categories
Food Travel

Pasar Ubud

When I was planning a sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia, I looked around to see if there might be any photography-related excursions along my route. I stumbled across a morning market photo tour in Ubud, Bali, that sounded intriguing. As it turned out, not only did the person offering these tours run them on a donation basis – with money going toward local animal charities – Mark Chaves is also a WordPress developer with a site hosted on WordPress.com! It seemed meant to be, so I signed up for a tour and hoped for clear weather.

When Mark asked ahead of time what kind of photography I’d like to focus on, I mentioned that I’d like to get better at street photography, but tend to feel shy about taking photos of people. He said this was a common problem, and that he’d compile some tips in a blog post. Within a few weeks he made good on his promise, and I found the post about how to approach “making” photos in public places extremely helpful, even inspiring: Strangers Are Friends We Haven’t Met Yet. I vowed to put into practice what I learned.

♦ ♦ ♦

It was my last day in Bali and I met Mark at 7am outside the bustling Pasar Ubud. While I’m far from a morning person, I knew it would be worth it!

Mark seemed to intimately know every nook and cranny of the market, pointing out details and interactions I never would have noticed on my own. He encouraged me to take lots of photos quickly, which helped me avoid overthinking and capture more spontaneous shots. He knew many of the regulars working the market, and made people smile when he asked if it was OK for me to take photos. We even stopped to greet some of the resident stray dogs and feed them the treats he’d brought along in a small plastic container.

Mark feeds a local stray dog

I’m so glad Google led me to Mark’s site that fateful day. It was a memorable experience, and I love the photos that resulted.

Categories
Food Personal

Meeting Anthony Bourdain

It took me a couple of weeks after the sad news of Anthony Bourdain’s death to remember that I’d met him once. After it hit me, the details started coming back slowly. He was in Montreal to do a Q&A for his latest book at the time, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. The event took place at the gorgeous old Corona Theatre in Little Burgundy, and I went with a foodie friend I’ve since lost touch with. Bourdain started the evening by recounting a misadventure he’d had on arrival at the airport, where the car that was sent to fetch him wasn’t properly licensed for airport pickups, and the driver got a ticket while he was in the back seat. From what I recall, he didn’t seem angry, rather just a little annoyed by the delay caused by our arcane permit regulations.

While I don’t tend to fawn over celebrities and can be quite shy in these sorts of situations, I’d brought my copy of No Reservations and forced myself to stand in line for him to sign it, thinking that – as a huge fan of his work – I’d regret it later if I didn’t. When I got to the front of the line I empathized with his airport snafu. “That doesn’t sound like a nice welcome to Montreal,” I said. “Sorry about that.” (As a Canadian it was my duty to apologize, even though it wasn’t my fault.) He chatted with me a bit in a friendly, down-to-earth way, scrawled his name in my book, and that was that.

Last month when I was at the cavernous Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, I roamed the food-writing section out of habit, looking at what was new. There was a gap where Bourdain’s books used to be. “All of Anthony Bourdain’s books are presently sold out,” the handwritten note read. “We miss Anthony Bourdain.” Indeed.

Categories
Food Travel

Myanmar Markets and Meals

I’ve finally dived back into the photos from my trip to Myanmar and Thailand last fall. In this post, I’ll be focussing on the food and markets of Myanmar.

Mandalay

We arrived in Mandalay via Bangkok, and the second-largest city in Myanmar gave me my first taste of Burmese food. It was here that I first noticed a beautiful quality to the light, and here that I first tried Myanmar’s famous tea-leaf salad. Verdict: unique.

Bagan

On the boat from Mandalay to Bagan, we happened to run into another Canadian. I asked what she’d be doing in Bagan, and she told me about a cooking class she’d arranged via Facebook. It was called Pennywort Cooking Class, and May, the owner/chef/teacher puts part of the proceeds toward a community library run out of her house. I was intrigued. Since my travelling companion Alex and I had some upcoming free time, we decided to look into the cooking class.

Am I ever glad we ended up doing this. Accompanying May to her local (tourist-free) market and then walking over to her home to cook up a feast with all the fresh ingredients we’d just bought was a highlight of the entire trip. The meal was full of herbs and vegetables I’d never tried before, including tamarind leaves, wing beans, pennywort, and custard apples.

The Market

The Class

The Library at May’s House

When I asked if the library had opening hours, May said that technically it did, but she’s never turned anyone away no matter when they showed up.

Inle Lake

A unique set of communities live on this lake in Myanmar’s Shan State, in stilted houses only accessible by boat. We had the opportunity to take another cooking class here, but this time in very different, more formal context: a resort chef guided us through making some local dishes, including delicious chunks of shan tofu – made from split-pea and chickpea flours, instead of soy.

Later on during our stay, we visited Thaung To market, part of Inle Lake’s rotating five-day market system. We arrived early since it closed at 9am, and I spotted no other tourists. What an incredible experience. Apart from all the cellphones, I felt like I’d gone back in time. I forced myself to take photos of people — which I’m usually too shy to do — and I’m glad I did.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with two more things I ate in Myanmar: one I’d love to have again, and one that I did not enjoy. I’ll let you guess which is which.

Categories
Food

A Thing

I bought a Lebanese food thing today. I had no idea what it was, really, but it looked golden and tasty, so I pointed to the large platter being kept warm in a heater on the bakery counter and asked for a piece of that, “s’il vous plaît.”

The server didn’t seem entirely convinced I knew what I was ordering (he was right, of course) so he warned me, “It’s sort of like a crème brulée.” Say no more, I thought.

He proceeded to ask me a series of questions, which I didn’t quite comprehend at first. Not because he was speaking in French, but because this was a whole new world of food, and I lacked context. I eventually figured out that he wanted to know if I’d like a small, medium, or large amount of hot syrup on the thing.

Next, did I want the thing in a something-something, or on its own? I really didn’t understand this one, so I just nodded. Let’s go for the whole shebang, I figured.

To go, or to eat here? This one I understood. “To go.”

I paid for my thing – along with the plate of delicate pastries I’d gotten for later; this place has the best Lebanese-style baklava in Montreal, despite its unlikely location in a past-its-prime suburban strip mall – and headed to my car. I lowered the paper wrapper and bit into the soft, gooey thing, encased in a crunchy, sesame seed-studded dough pocket with a tiny built-in handle/finger hole. The verdict? This thing was delicious.

Categories
Food

KP’s Tortilla Soup

I’m going to come clean right away. By the time I had the idea to post this recipe, I was sitting at my kitchen table, nearly done eating all the leftovers, and I was too lazy to go get the camera didn’t think the dregs left in the bowl by that point would make for an appealing photo.

This recipe is quite flexible, so feel free to adjust the spices to your taste. Don’t like heat? Use mild chili powder. Like a thinner soup? Omit the tortilla pieces. Think cilantro tastes like soap? (I used to!) Don’t use any, or substitute with parsley for some colour. You can even make a vegetarian version by leaving out the chicken and using vegetable stock.

This recipe makes about 4 large meal-sized servings or 6 smaller portions. Try it before some enchiladas or tacos for a full, homemade Mexican meal.

KP's Tortilla Soup

Ingredients

2 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Spice mixture (see below)
6 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz/398 mL can Italian tomatoes (I like Pastene)
3 bay leaves
4 corn tortillas, cut into small pieces
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 lime, juiced
1/2-1 cup shredded chicken breast

Spice Mixture

2 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. hot chili powder (if your chili powder isn’t hot, add 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground coriander (or freshly crushed whole coriander)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Optional Toppings

Crushed tortilla chips
Fresh chopped cilantro
Avocado slices or small chunks
Sour cream or Mexican crema
Grated cheese

Directions

  • Heat olive oil on medium-high heat in a large pot on the stove until it shimmers but before it smokes.
  • Add the onion and lower heat to medium. Cook until onion softens slightly, about 5 minutes.
  • Add minced garlic and spice mixture and cook for another few minutes.
  • Add stock, tomatoes, bay leaves, tortilla pieces, and salt.
  • Simmer for about 20 minutes, crushing the tomatoes against the sides of the pot occasionally to help them break down.
  • Add chopped cilantro and simmer another 15 minutes with the cover on.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings – you may want to add more salt at this point.
  • Add juice of 1/2 lime and shredded chicken.
  • Serve with as many optional toppings as you like – or none. It’s flavourful and satisfying on its own.