Engineers at UCLA are working on converting an iPhone into a small laboratory. Weighting less than 2 ounces, the iTube attaches to your phone and analyzes a food sample in about 20 minutes using a colorimetric assay test. The user grinds up a small sample of food with hot water and places it in the tube along with an extraction solvent. After several other testing liquids are added; the phone then captures an image of the sample using its built-in camera and a program app optically analyzes the image for allergen particles down to parts per million. It doesn’t just confirm the presence or absence of peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, eggs or gluten; it also tells the amount within the sample.
As someone who suffers from severe food allergies; the possibility of such a gadget intrigues me. However I am still skeptical. When in doubt about the specific ingredients of a food, I simply opt not to eat it. True, this practice limits my culinary variety but I figure I can find thrills other ways.
How about you? If you suffer from food allergies would you consider the iTube a useful gadget for home or travel use?
You’ve got a favorite restaurant that few people know about. Or it’s a cool location with a view that’s only meant for the locals. It’s fun to have secrets. CNN had this article: The rise of ‘secret tourism.’
The story talks about event organizers who build anticipation and unique experiences by keeping visitors in the dark until the last possible moment. In a way, it harkens back to the pre-Internet ways of travel: where you were never sure what you’d see when you arrived on the other side. Today’s world of the Internet, social networks and information overload can diminish the mystique of going abroad.
If you’re on the inside, exclusivity is fun: it makes you feel cool and in-the-know. For those who think the experiences in the CNN story are too manufactured, here’s a similar piece about underground bars and clubs in Japan: Hidden Tokyo. Now that’s a city I could live in for years and still not find all the awesome venues.
One of my favorite secret spots was a bar/restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan called People Restaurant (a.k.a. Shintori Restaurant). The branch I went to was down a set of stairs between two banks. Only people who knew it was there would find the place. Not a place where pedestrains would stumble across it. There is a big wooden door and no sign. The secret: stick your hand into a stone lantern, then the door will slide open. Inside, is a sleek, fashionable hangout. The drinks come in kooky, weirdly-shaped glasses. The popular item with groups were the “test tube” shots. A bowl of alcohol shots in little glasses that looked like test tubes. People Restaurant was my top spot to take visitors.
Do you have favorite secret spots? Please describe them in the comments.
Growing up in the Midwest, my Thanksgiving was the traditional spread of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, devoured at a relative’s home in suburban Chicago. But I grew up to be an inveterate traveler and spent the holiday in many places—one of the best was the historic, colorful Belgian city of Bruges.
Several years ago I was serving an internship at the US Embassy in London, and received a four-day weekend as per Federal law. I packed a bag, recruited a friend, and took advantage of the holiday to visit one of my favorite Northern European locations.
Bruges is a lovely little time capsule, a prosperous medieval port city that saw its fortunes vanish when its waterway silted up. The city’s centuries of slumber had an unintended boon for twenty-first century travelers: its cathedral, cobbled alleyways, picture-book canals, and magnificent Market Square survive to thrill romantics and history buffs alike.
My friend, a fellow American who was visiting me from back home, had never heard of the place. This presented another great opportunity I relished: playing tour guide in Europe. At first she was skeptical of spending the holiday in an unfamiliar city, but seemed to warm to the idea when told that Belgium makes the finest chocolate and beer in the galaxy (in fact, Belgium has almost as many beers as there are days in the year).
Having won her interest, we met up in London on a Wednesday, flew to the Brussels and caught a train to Bruges. A steady rain greeted us as we settled into a little bed and breakfast I’d enjoyed on a previous visit. I promised my exhausted buddy that tomorrow would be a lot more fun.
Thanksgiving was spent showing my hometown friend some of Bruges’ charms, like the bell tower that has overlooked the Market Square since 1300, the gorgeous Crusader-financed Basilica of the Holy Blood, and the terrific Gruuthuse Museum housed in the former home of a wealthy medieval merchant. Under a chilly drizzle, we munched on hot, greasy French fries from a stand in the Market Square and then checked out the Michelangelo kept in a nearby church. A major part of the experience was, of course, browsing the numerous chocolate shops lining the alleyways just off the colorful square.
Our thanksgiving feast was in a little Italian café off a cobbled lane, where a pizza was washed down with a delicious locally-crafted strawberry-flavored beer (Frambozen). Dark chocolate, freshly made by a nearby confectioner’s, was the dessert. After introducing my pal to a few more fine Belgian beers (Trappist monk-brewed dark, and a white beer called Dentergems), a post-feast stroll around the backstreets capped off the night. The following Sunday I returned to London while my friend flew home to Chicago with a bagful of pralines, a hangover, and a few good stories.
I’ve had many interesting Thanksgiving experiences before and since, but my holiday spent in the historic, idyllic little Belgian city still brings a smile. Stuffing and family is great, but I really miss that beer.
For this week I would like to stay away from my usual “reflective topics” and investigate something much simpler: food. I started thinking of travel and food as I stumbled upon this article on Asia’s 10 greatest street food cities. As I am currently in Bulgaria and have seen many countries and sampled much of their cuisines along my way from Asia, I reckon that food, and especially, street food, is unmistakably one of the reasons why I enjoy travelling.
To me, food and street food in particular are essential travel elements: living in Penang – where I can get ultra-cheap, mouthwatering delicacies at every corner 24/7-, food options are able to shape my travel experiences. Do you need a simple example? I would pick the Central Asian region. As I think of every one of the ‘stans I visited, I cannot keep that mutton stew’s smell out of my mind… and my mouth. So, my most obvious Central Asian travel memories will always be drenched in that overcooked sheep’s fat smell; and instead, as I think of Iran, the delicate spiciness of their feta cheeses spread over oven roasted bread paints each and every one of my travel memories.
And as much as I do not really travel to experience food only as others may decide to do, It appears that I mostly remember a place by its smells, its street foods’ colors, shapes and tastes. Some countries may even feel nicer because I had the chance to experience better food. For sure, the food variety definitely makes a destination much more appealing. Honestly, there is nothing wrong against Central Asia or Nepal, but after weeks of the same langman noodles and momos diet, memories kind of jade around the edges and smell like that. They became associated with a taste: the Himalaya tastes like hot, saucy meat buns you will find anywhere and everywhere in different forms and shape… but definitely a similar content. So my dear Himalaya, your peaks smells like those same hot momos in vinegar sauce I had in every village I visited!
Try to close your eyes and remember some of your life’s best trips: now, think better. Can you agree that you probably remember those places because of the quality of the food you indulged in?
If I close my eyes and think of the first memory of a place I may associate with a country, I personally see a much brighter Thailand compared to Uzbekistan. Somehow, the food’s taste is always there, biting at the back of my mind.
Do you agree? Is there any particular place or country that you highly remember because of the taste of foods associated with your own experience? Please comment, I think it is quite interesting.
Once upon a time in Okinawa people were so healthy and happy that many of them lived more than one hundred years. The legend says it was because of their special diet, the very active lifestyle (Okinawa is the motherland of Karate) and the strong sense of community that keep everyone together. Still today Okinawa enjoys not only the highest life expectancy but the world’s longest health expectancy. I came here to find out why. (more…)
Cost/Day- 60 euros
After a few months on the road, it takes something fairly odd to catch a vagabonder off-guard, but seeing a man herding sheep from the back of a scooter certainly threw me for a loop. The sheep didn’t seem flustered by the portly man zipping in and out of the herd, hurrying them along the hilly roads of Mykonos in loud Greek, all the while trying to weave around potholes. However, I on the other hand almost ran my beat-up red scooter into a fence as the road took one of its many curves and my eyes were locked on this episode of “Sheep: Hell’s Angels”.
Plane food doesn’t have the best reputation, and people love to complain about it. One family even sued American Airlines for killing their father with a chicken dish on a flight from Barcelona to New York.
But don’t get too attached to your mystery meat and stale dinner rolls. Celebrity chefs have taken to the skies and hopefully their influence will trickle down to economy.
While we’re still lucky to get free peanuts in coach on most domestic flights, the front of the plane is experiencing a revival of aviation’s more glamorous past, when flying was only for the wealthy and passengers ate lobster with Christolfe dinnerware on the Concorde. Don’t worry, you’ll still get your bag of broken pretzels on airlines like Ryan Air and Air Asia, but if you occupy a first or business class seat on Air France, for example, you can expect something like Basque shrimp and turmeric pasta with lemongrass. Celebrity chef Joel Robuchon calls his onboard menu “a simple recipe, absent the superfluous, with a purity through which the full flavor of each ingredient is fully expressed.” That’s pretty fancy for a meal at 35,000 feet!
Air France is just one of the airlines backed by a celebrity chef. United Airlines enlisted famous Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, who created two menus, one for first class and one for business. Delta is working with Miami-based Michelle Bernstein, who is in charge of bringing 5 star cuban fare on flights over three and a half hours.
There are, however, some clear leaders in the in-flight food business. Singapore Airlines works with a team of eight world-renowned chefs, Qantas has an eight course prix-fixe option and Virgin Australia offers a three-course lunch and dinner menu for all classes – even economy!
Gordon Ramsay has made his own contributions by introducing the “Plane Food Picnic” out of London’s Heathrow airport. Passengers can choose from a starter, a main course and a dessert to take away in an insulated lunch box. A three course meal will set you back about thirteen euros, but to those averse to plane food, it’s well worth it. The roasted rump of Hereford beef has gotten excellent reviews.
Do any of you have plane food horror stories? Have you tried Gordon Ramsay’s picnic lunch or feasted on Michelle Bernstein’s braised short ribs on a Delta flight?
Traveling with pre-existing food allergies can be daunting. It is like playing Russian roulette three times a day with meals. Living on the edge is part of the excitement of travel. Food experimentation however, is not a luxury you can afford if having a reaction on the road can be potentially dangerous. The good news is; recently there has been a rise in worldwide awareness of Celiac Disease.
For those unfamiliar with it, Celiac Disease is a digestive disease wherein one’s body cannot process gluten proteins. Exposure to these gluten proteins (through ingestion or direct contact with the skin) sets off a negative chain of reactions that may affect many areas of the body. It makes eating out and shopping for food in your own country an adventure!
What if you’re going where you don’t speak or can’t read the native language you say? A little forethought and the following resources can help.
Celiac Travel has cards in 51 different languages that you can print out and easily hand to a friend, wait staff, or chef explaining your allergy.
Gluten Free Passport offers a plethora of links and resources across the globe.
You can take along an ELISA test and become your own mad scientist. Granted…the kits are slightly expensive. When you weigh the difference, however, between spending money on prevention or missing a day of walking around exploring, the dollar amount may prove highly worth it.
Also man’s best friend is presently being trained to sniff its way onto the prevention scene with Gluten-Detection Service Dogs, which are currently being trained in Slovenia. If you are curious about these types of Service Dogs please contact me and I will be happy to share more details with you.
Do you know of any other great resources?
One of the great things about travel is how even ordinary errands can become cultural adventures. For example, the simple act of going grocery shopping. Ben Groundwater, who writes “The Backpacker” column for The Sydney Morning Herald, waxed poetic in this article: Culture shop: the joy of supermarkets.
Groundwater recounts his memories of his favorite supermarkets. He admits that he sometimes remembers them better than the sightseeing landmarks. Taste and even smell are powerful senses, often intimately linked to our memories. The bite of good kung pao chicken will always send my mind back to a certain Szechuan restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan. The taste of a particular cheese brings back visions of France. The list goes on.
Have you ever been to any supermarkets or street markets that made an impression? Please share your stories in the comments.
Until I visited Colombia, I thought that my favorite hot chocolate was from Mexico. The dose of cinnamon (and sometimes, chile) has caused me to squirrel away a box of Ibarra or Abuelita for those moments when I crave it.
But then, in Bogotá, I found something that was even better.
Chocolate Santafereño is, at first, a cup of rich hot chocolate. But then there’s the cheese. Cubes of salty queso blanco are added to the steaming chocolate, and as you’re drinking, they melt into the perfect consistency to slurp along with the sweet treat. For those who are fans of both sweet and salty, it’s hard to go back to plain old hot chocolate.
I know, it may sound weird at first. It did to me. But cheese has a way of getting my attention, so I tried it one rainy morning in Colombia, and I was hooked. Now, I keep a supply of queso blanco in my refrigerator at home to go along with my hot chocolate.
Have you tried it? What’s your verdict?