Even in the context of a huge and under-appreciated continent, La Paz, Bolivia’s high-altitude administrative capital, is something of an obscurity. Most travelers barely pass through for a stopover en route to the jewel-like mineral lakes, fuming volcanoes, and the lunar salt flats at Uyuni. All that is about to change.
Ignore what you’ve heard about the city’s lack of obvious attractions. Forget about the protests that used to regularly shut down the colonial center. And cast away all your doubts about the food: notoriously bland mountains of meat and potatoes, washed down with tepid coke or a passable lager called Paceña.
Thanks to an unprecedented period of political stability and peace (courtesy of the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales), improved infrastructure, and a bonafide culinary revolution spearheaded by the co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, La Paz is ready for its moment in the spotlight. (more…)
I arrived in San Juan Yolotepec, a minuscule village in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, on a bright June morning at about 8 a.m.—confusingly the same time it had been when I’d left the closest major city, Huajuapan de León, an hour earlier. While the rest of the country had skipped forward an hour at the beginning of spring, Yolotepec, perched on a scrubby hill near pretty much nothing, had remained stubbornly in the past. Neftalí Gonzalez, the dentist who’d driven me up here, to the village of his birth, explained: “Nature doesn’t use Daylight Saving, so why should we?” (more…)
Santiago, Chile, has never been on anyone’s list of the world’s, or even South America’s, most interesting cities. (Except perhaps in 2011, when the New York Times inexplicably declared it the world’s top travel destination.) Santiago lacks Lima’s colonial charm or its world-class cooking. It doesn’t have the cosmopolitan glamour of a Buenos Aires, the spectacular setting of a Rio, or even the mercantile vibrancy of a São Paulo. It’s a staid, pleasant place— well-behaved, but plain, its river a concrete trough, its palm trees a kind of afterthought. Even its prettiest, most bohemian neighborhoods are overwhelmingly gray, shrouded in a heavy pall of pollution trapped there by the mountains that form the city’s eastern boundary. It’s a nice enough place, but not much more. (more…)
In several of the dialects spoken among the Naga tribes, who live in remote hilltop villages along India’s northeastern border with Myanmar, there is no single word for ‘hello.’ Instead, people greet each other by asking, ‘Have you eaten?’
By the time I learned this, I’d already spent three weeks traveling around the Indian state of Nagaland, bumping along muddy tracks waterlogged from near-nightly thunderstorms, dipping into banks of fog, and rounding blind corners over deep valleys bursting with bamboo and bananas and giant ferns. I’d tasted winged beans in a tar-black paste of fermented mud crab and sesame seed, snakehead eels electric with the numbing zap of Sichuan peppercorns, and a thick curry of pig intestines cooked in blood over the open fire that is the center of every Naga kitchen and home.
Yes, I had most definitely eaten.
I first tasted Naga food about three years earlier when a friend’s sister-in-law invited me over for a dinner of home-cooked dishes from her native state. She prepared smoked beef, pungent with a fermented soy paste called axone, smoked pork with fermented bamboo shoots, and fresh pork in anishi, a black gravy made from pounded and smoked yam leaves, all served with heaping mounds of rice. These were bold, confrontational flavors and textures I’d never associated with India.
When I was a kid, my dad would take me and my siblings to make cookies with our Great Aunt Lee in the apartment she kept, a short drive away. My memories of that house are hazy at best. There’s my Aunt Lee sitting in her chair—I have zero memories of Aunt Lee when she’s standing. I remember her huge and white and blue: a big blob of a woman in a white dressing gown with a sharp, bird-like face and even sharper blue eyes, and tight curls of wispy snow-white hair. Her hands were pale, her fingers tapered, her veins blue ropes. In the kitchen, beneath a big window, blindingly white, a tray of cookies—snowballs—fluffy semi-domes of sweet dough dusted with confectioners’ sugar. When I picked them up off the tray, I would almost always get overexcited, breathe in sharply, and choke on the sugar dust. (more…)
When I want to buy cucumbers, which is often, I don’t need to go more than twenty-five steps from my front door. At the end of my dead-end lane there’s a guy named Pankaj who mans a pushcart loaded with vegetables, one of the 420,000-odd hawkers working the streets of greater Mumbai. From his cart, I can buy cucumbers and bottle gourds and eggplants, sweet limes and carrots and bunches of fresh dill or coriander. I can get bell peppers and string beans and, when I’m lucky, deep purple amaranth to fry with garlic and fresh coconut (ingredients, alas, that I have to buy elsewhere). It’s a quick, easy transaction. I rarely spend more than two hundred rupees in one go (about $3.20 US), or buy more than I’ll use in the course of a day. I don’t need to; I can just come back tomorrow. If I don’t have exact change, I can always bring it back later. Pankaj knows me—he’s my vegetable guy, my subzwalla—and that’s still how these relationships work. (more…)