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    May 20th, 2011adminAmerica, Food, Los Angeles

    Heather displaying our lovely meal

    The restaurant...

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    May 18th, 2011adminAmerica, Bazaars & Markets, Food, Los Angeles

    CAJUN food! Gumbo with cornbread, carrot raisin salad and chickory coffee from LA's 3rd Street Farmers Market

    So, I spent 3 weeks in America and 1 day in Rome, Italy. Just came back!

    The 3rd Street Farmers Market is fantastic, by the way.

    More photos & commentary coming soon…

    The lovely menu (I hope to visit the *real* New Orleans one day!).

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    January 24th, 2011adminFood, Istanbul

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    January 21st, 2011adminFood

    On Monday, I went to a grill restaurant (which, mistakenly, we first thought was a “girl restaurant,” like a Turkish Hooters, due to our friends’ pronunciation of “grill”). The place was huge, mostly empty, and each table was provided with an individual grill. We chose our meat — and the options were plentiful. If I desired, I could have chosen brains (which, sliced in sections, looked like cauliflower). But we prudently settled for beef and lamb.

    A friend, a gigantic pepper and yours truly.

    We also ate sucuk, which I mentioned in my previous Turkish Breakfast entry. But this sucuk was different — basically, bigger and better. All in all, it was a very meat heavy meal, which is very Anatolian. Turks will explain that “Turkish cuisine” shifts from area to area. The Mediterranean (e.g. Antalya) , Marmara (e.g. Istanbul and Bursa) and Aegean  (e.g. Izmir/Smyrna) regions feature more vegetables, herbs, olive oil and fish. The Black Sea region (which some refer to as “Turkish Texas,” due to its gun-crazy populace) is renowned for its  breads, corn, hazelnuts and anchovies. The Southeast is nationally beloved for its kebabs, baklava and “mezes” (appetizers, which are abundant and scrumptious). And central Anatolia (the heartland, where Ankara, Konya and Cappadocia are located) are known for their “manti” (like a Turkish tortellini in heavy cream sauce) and, of course, their MEATS.

    Of course, heavy meat diets are unhealthy. And, as a former vegan, the sheer level of meat can be overwhelming, at times. But it is very tasty and, though it goes without saying, it is very satisfying. I don’t think my appetite resurfaced until like 12 hours after this meal.

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    January 19th, 2011adminFood, Istanbul

    My first real Turkish breakfast overlooked the Black Sea. It was June and I was still totally disoriented in Istanbul. But that first real breakfast, with Osman, marked the beginning of my Istanbul experience. Since then, I’ve always loved Turkish breakfasts …the layers of oregano, pepper and mint, the cheeses and the honey and the sheer leisure it inspires… Here are some photos from a really nice (note: this is not average for me or most people!) Turkish breakfast. These photos were taken in November, right before I left for Greece.

    You can see the olives and eggs (the “menemen” dish, made of egg, onion, tomato, green pepper and spices). There’s also the meat (“sucuk,” a spiced Turkish sausage)  and various cheeses (especially “beyaz peynir,” or white cheese and “kaşar peyniri,” a soft, unpasteurized goat’s milk cheese that’s popular in Turkey and Greece). This breakfast also included dolmas, which are not always in the Turkish breakfast. But my breakfast companion, Cevdet, is a dolma addict. It’s rare that we go to a restaurant without a dolma order.

    That flat, circular thing is lahmacun — dough with minced meat — originally from Syrian cuisine of the Levant. And there’s also the ubiquitous Turkish tea (or “çay,” pronounced as “chai”), a black tea that people drink all day. You can also see the vegetables — tomatoes, cucumber — a common element in Middle Eastern breakfasts.

    Next to the lahmacun, you can see the pide (the long thing), which is “pita” in Turkish. Usually, people get cheap, greasy pide on the street with egg and/or cheese inside. When I was in a hurry, I used to grab them a lot. But they grew old quickly. Now, I just like the fancy ones, like this particularly beautiful pide!

    This is me being incredibly happy.

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    December 29th, 2010adminFood, Greece, Nature

    Grapes -- just growing in the mountains

    I visited Greece over a month ago. But, upon my return, I was so busy. So, I only sat down and wrote about Thessaloniki, Meteora and Kastraki much later. And now, I’m finished! So, this will be my last GREECE entry for now …that is, until I visit again.

    Below, I posted one last picture of the Meteora rock formations.

    As I wrote before, the rocks were originally underwater. But, about 60 million years ago, tectonic shifts pushed the seabed upwards. Today, I also learned a new fact about the rocks, though: Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian (who was born in modern day Bodrum, Turkey), wrote about the rocks. In the 5th century BC, he recorded that the people of Thessaly believed the rocks to be from the sea — so, centuries before modern science, the people knew!

    The strange, science-fiction-like rocks of Meteora.

    So, that’s all for Greece. Before it gets really cold, I would like to take 2 small trips, if possible: Edirne and Bursa. They were both former Ottoman capitals — and, conveniently, they’re both close to Istanbul. So, they’re perfect weekend excursions. However, it’s already getting really rainy and nasty …so, if I go, I better go soon…

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    December 13th, 2010adminBazaars & Markets, Food, Greece, Judaism

    A closer inspection than usually allowed in American supermarkets...

    These photos were taken at the Modiano Market in Thessaloniki. Sadly, the market was named after Eli Modiano, the Sephardic Jewish architect of the city’s past.

    Hailing from a prosperous, Greek family, Modiano designed the market’s arcade columns, which still shelter a frenzied mixture of meats, fish and spices. Today, one can be cajoled by ebullient fish sellers, tempted by bargain-ready spice vendors and, finally, utterly entranced by the prospect of 5 euro sweaters outside the market entrance. It is loud, colorful and very Greek.

    As a former vegetarian (and vegan!), I’m still uneasy around a sea of meat. No matter how many times I see ducks hanging, covered in red sauce, in Chinatown, no matter how many French or Italian or Turkish markets I pass, with fish eyes abstractly staring at me, I’m still uncomfortable!

    I was lucky to visit the market with my friend, Adriane. Her mother is a farmer in New England — and Adriane takes a grounded (and less neurotic!) approach to the food chain. She talked about the fact that, as meat eaters, we shouldn’t cower away from the actual process of producing meat. In fact, in America, the meat we buy doesn’t even look like an animal. I agreed completely. And, yet, I still cringed at full pig’s heads. One man, noticing my awkwardness, playfully pulled out the pig’s tongue for my inspection. Adriane laughed.

    Yes, we live in the “modern age.” The disconnection from food production extends to all forms of production — agriculture, clothing, carpentry, toolmaking, etc. One may work in a specific field (e.g. agriculture). Or one may make a conscious effort to learn basic survival and life skills — a desire that inspires everyone from New England farmer moms to crusty punks with DIY ethos. And, yet, by  in large, many of us don’t know how to make the things we use, or how to reconstruct the process of its creation.

    Adriane: Cooler than I am.

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    A mountaintop view from Plovdiv. Originally used as an ancient fortress by many great empires, this area is now a popular drinking spot for teenagers, sort of like an all-inclusive partying and "make-out point" spot, from my observations.

    I’ve been informed that this blog was mentioned in Sofia Weekly, which is great news (thanks!). And some Bulgarian readers have happened upon this blog, leaving emails and comments. I really appreciate the interest. In fact, I truly enjoyed my trip to Bulgaria, so I’m including one last photo-based entry before returning to my Istanbul blogging. You’ll find photos — both historical and mundane — from Sofia and Plovdiv. Enjoy!

    And here are the teenagers, sitting amidst their graffiti. I was interested in the lone boy by the tree. What was he thinking about? Girls? Life? Did he find humanity disgusting? Maybe.

    A run-down home by the old mountaintop fortress. There was a car parked infront -- which makes me wonder, who is inside?

    The Plovdiv Ethnographic Museum in the 1847 Kuyumdzhioglu House.

    Kebabs in a Sofia restaurant. The food was very good and very cheap. The waitresses all wore traditional Bulgarian clothing -- but, beneath the wonderful outfits, they looked tired, bored and jaded. I guess you see that in restaurants everywhere...

    Fish on ice at the same restaurant. When I was a vegetarian traveler (years ago!), this is what I was missing. But, even if I was a vegetarian today, I think I would loosen up when traveling.

    Oversized cowbells at the same restaurant. The cowbells are hand-made. So, no one bell is exactly alike. And, because each is shaped differently, each bell has its own distinct noise.

    My adorable teenage tour guides in Plovdiv. I was lost, trying to find the Roman Odeon, and they gladly helped me. They filled me in on Bulgarian girls, too! According to these fine male specimens, Bulgarian women are very beautiful but very difficult. Well, now I know! Thanks, dudes!

    Night life in Plovdiv on the main commercial boulevard. The photo came out strangely, but I like it this way -- lends the whole experience a ghostly air.

    A less than inviting entrance in Sofia.

    A sex shop advertised on a Sofia street sign pole -- in other words, on city property! How did this get approved? How the hell is this normal? Okay, I'm from San Francisco, home to the largest leather festival in the world and all forms of debauchery. But do I think there should be an advertisement for "Rock Hard" or "Good Vibrations," both local sex shops, on my street sign? Hell no! Very, very strange.

    Old Town Plovdiv: Completely charming -- and relatively free of tourists! I walked on most streets completely alone, only accompanied by the occasional street cat. Perfect.

    Daily life in "Old Town." I always wonder how people, who live in the "historic area" of a city, feel about the whole thing. Do they appreciate it? I grew up in the historic area of San Francisco -- and I didn't appreciate it until I grew older and left home.

    Some more daily life -- fascinating and mundane simultaneously.

    I met these really cool guys in Plovdiv (from London) who, coincidentally, had the exact same heritage: Fathers from Ghana, mothers from Bulgaria, and a childhood in London with a lot of fantastic Cockney humor. They met as children, when spending summers in Plovdiv with their families. Anyway, they asked me to go get these special Bulgarian pancakes with them, which I expected to be an exotic discovery. When the food came, I exclaimed, "Oh, they're blintzes!" They asked, "What's blintzes." I said, "Basically, they're this."

    Okay, I know this *just* looks like a peach and espresso. But let me just say that this was maybe the best peach I ever ate in my life. It was purchased at a small farmer's market in Plovdiv ....so good. The espresso was from a bohemian-type cafe with a buxom, curly-haired lady behind the bar (yay!).

    I just loved this -- whatever it was ...an entrance to a cafe, restaurant or hotel ...I don't know. The photo was taken in Old Town Plovdiv.

    A more full shot of Plovdiv's impressive Roman Theater. I wonder what bawdy humor, fantastic tales and epic tragedies graced this stage. Really, I never get sick of Roman or Greek theaters.

    A shot through the columns.

    There was so much beauty in this shot -- the columns, the house and all the green. In fact, a Bulgarian TV show took place in this very spot (in that very house), and the opening credits featured an image similar to this one.

    A Sofia doorway.

    I took this picture in Sofia with no knowledge of its content. I was simply drawn to the image. But, on the bus from Plovdiv, I asked about the posting. Well, it's a death notice. Rest in Peace, whoever this woman was or may have been...

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    Socialist architecture in Plovdiv. Even years after the fall of the Soviet Union, many are still struck by such buildings' uniformity, ugliness ...and how political architecture can be.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been quite busy since returning to Istanbul. So, regular blogging has proven difficult. But Plovdiv genuinely struck me as a beautiful and interesting place. So, I’ll conclude my Bulgarian blogging saga with some impressions on the city.

    Bulgarian gypsies waiting for Muslim worshipers to leave the mosque after prayer time (side note: This was the first mosque to be established by the Ottomans in Bulgaria). Indeed, after people began walking down the stairs, they were hounded like Hollywood celebrities, bombarded with calls for money, pity and charity. The older lady also violently pushed around her daughter (or, who I assume to be her daughter) for inexplicable reasons. All in all, a very sad and pathetic situation.

    When I began researching Bulgaria, I came across pictures from a town called Plovdiv. To be honest, I only really know of Sofia. But Plovdiv looked serene & special — particularly due to its Roman ruins. And, after realizing that Plovdiv was on the way back to Istanbul from Sofia, it was a “must.”

    My Plovdiv adventure began with a situation commonly known by veteran travelers: The bus let me off on the side of the road — a nondescript, empty highway, that could have been in Hungary or Germany or anywhere. I wasn’t even quite sure that I was in Plovdiv! But, yet again, my shaky Spanish saved the day and a Spanish-Bulgarian tourist pointed in the direction of “Old Town,” where my hostel was located.

    So, that’s how it began.

    The magnificent Roman theater with PRESERVED STATUES -- a more rare sight! I love how classical civilization -- both Roman and Greek -- emphasized height, so as to be closer to the gods. There's such lasting beauty in mountaintop spaces...

    Now, onto some history:

    THE GREEKS

    Like Istanbul, Plovdiv is located in historical Thrace. So, as I took the bus across the Bulgarian-Turkish border, I thought about the massive cultural differences encountered today between the two nations. Perhaps, in ancient times, there were greater cultural meetings points in the region inhabited by Spartacus and mythical Orpheus.

    Interestingly, the city was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. He renamed the city Philippopolis or “the city of Philip.”

    A contemporary (not ancient) statue commemorating Philip of Macedon in the central plaza of Plovdiv. However, below the statue, there rests the ancient seats of an old theater.

    The city was later reconquered by the Thracians.

    THE ROMANS

    But their independence was not eternal. Rather, Plovdiv was incorporated into the Roman Empire, becoming an official Roman city in the first century. From then on, it was known as Trimontium (“three hills”) — yes, it has three hills.

    The Balkan Roman road, the Via Militaris, passed through Plovdiv.

    The Assyrian satirist and mathematical, Lucian, called Plovdiv “the largest and most beautiful of all cities.”

    By all accounts, it was a vibrant, dynamic city, boasting the cultural bounty of Roman life. Unfortunately, only a small portion of classical Plovdiv has been excavated. It will be interesting to see what archaeologists uncover in the Balkan region in years to come…

    Yup, that's me.

    After the Western Roman Empire fell, Plovdiv became a part of the Byzantine (or “Eastern Roman Empire”). At one point, the city was even ruled by a eunuch emperor Peter I of Bulgaria.

    THE OTTOMANS

    Medieval Plovdiv, now known as "Old Town," housed many of Bulgaria's intellectuals, poets and bohemians in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Okay, fast forward: After a lot of power struggles between the Byzantine Empire and the Latin Empire, Bulgaria was lost to a different power — a new threat from the east: the Ottoman Empire.

    Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule for 500 years. Plovdiv was pronounced capital of Eastern Rumelia (until the Ottomans captured Sofia) — and, in this time, the Ottomans constructed a beautiful, spacious mosque in the city center.

    However, Plovdiv also became a focal point for resistance against the Ottoman Empire, including a revival of Christian and Bulgarian traditions.

    In 1878, the city was liberated from the Ottomans during the Battle of Philippopolis.

    Today, the city is named Plovdiv, which comes fro Pulpudeva — as Wikipedia explains, “assumed to be a translation of Philippopolis, from Pulpu = Philippou and deva = city), which was rendered by the Slavs first as Pəldin (Пълдин) or Pləvdin.”

    Today, many ethnic Turks live in Bulgaria, especially in Plovdiv. There are also many refugees from the 1990s Balkans wars who live in smaller towns.

    THE SOVIETS

    I asked my Bulgarian friend, “Are there remaining communists or socialists in Bulgaria?” She said, “Oh, yes — the little old grannies who talk about how everything used to be better. They say that people have nothing now, that in socialist times, at least they had something. They go to meetings sometimes and talk about these things. But it is just the grannies.”

    While I was staying in the hostel, one of my roommates told me, “You need to check out this restaurant — Diana. The place is crazy! The food is good. And the best part is that, when I asked to go the bathroom, I began walking down this long hallway. It just kept on going and was very strange. It led me to the back area, and there was the bathroom. But something seemed off, like it used to be a bunker or something. So I checked around and talked to a woman. She said, ‘Oh yes, I worked in that bunker during the war. But we don’t talk about it now.’ Isn’t that incredible?”

    So, of course, I went! As expected, the food was good. And here are pictures of the food and the bunker bathroom!

    Appetizer: Potatoes with bacon bits

    Chicken and pork and lots of vegetables! So good! By the way, this was the SMALL PORTION.

    The entrance from the bunker back into the restaurant...

    More bunker action

    Those doors look pretty impenetrable, huh?

    We've reached the end: The Ladies Room!

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    September 17th, 2010adminBazaars & Markets, Bulgaria, Food, Touristy Stuff


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