Food as Art in Japan


I’ve been lucky to eat at some amazing restaurants. From New York to London to Hong Kong, I have found myself in an occasional work situation that warrants a free meal at an iconic place, and I’ve made sure to take full advantage each time.

Still, I’ve never seen attention to detail quite like I’ve seen in Japan. Here, culinary preparation and consumption are essentially an art form. Mastering the art of making soba noodles, something most non-Japanese would look at as routine, is said to take a lifetime in Japan. You think your training was too slow before you had a chance to get out and actually do something in your job? Try being a sushi chef—here in Japan, it is common that a new chef will not even touch a fish for two or three years, instead taking that amount of time to simply master the art of forming the rice for sushi.

Don’t come to a nice restaurant in Japan with a “get in, get out” mentality, because you will fail to see and experience what makes the food here so amazing to begin with. Art takes time to develop and master, and that is the attitude taken on by virtually every chef in this country.

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When in Brasil, Make Sure to Try Feijoada…Just Make Sure to Do It on Wednesday or Saturday!



Often considered Brasil’s National Dish, feijoada is a hearty dish consisting of black beans, onion, garlic and a variety of meats—most commonly pork—slow cooked into a robust stew, served with farofa and white rice. It’s certainly something to try if you want to live like a Brazilian, but make sure you’re aware of your days.

You see, whether you plan to eat at someone’s house or in a restaurant, feijoada is only available on Wednesdays and Saturdays (with the occasional Sunday offering). That’s right—restaurants actually serve dishes only on particular days with all following the same cultural norms.

I couldn’t imagine such a practice being followed in the US—when we want something, we want it now. Sure, maybe pizza places are a little busier on Friday nights, but nobody’s going to tell me they can’t serve me pizza on a Wednesday, so long as my credit card works.

It has taken some getting used to, but I finally have a grasp on what foods go with what days of the week in Brazil, some of which are listed below. And while that knowledge may have almost no practical use—what is served is what I eat anyway—at least it helps me refrain for getting my heart set on feijoada when it won’t be possible to eat.

Beer and Sausage, and Beer…and Sausage…and Sausage, and Beer


If you’re hungry or thirsty in Germany, well, you don’t have much of a choice. You drink beer. You eat sausage. And that’s just how it is.

Sure, German cuisine has started to become adventurous with the influx of immigrants—particularly evident in the prevalence of currywurst and doner kebab shops—but this is a national diet that has and always will be built firmly on the staples: beer and sausage.

The average German gulps down 116 liters (or 31 gallons) of beer every year, and consumes more than 60 pounds (27 kilos) of sausage. While there are 1500 varieties of sausage produced in Germany (who would have guessed there were so many different ways to put meat in a thin casing?), the heavy hitters here include wurstchen, or tiny cocktail-like sausages often used as snacks or appetizers, and bratwurst, a heartier meal staple. Salami cold cuts are also huge here, often as a part of breakfast.

On the beverage side of things, Germans are masters of the craft of brewing. The home of a huge variety of beers—alt, bock, dunkel, kölsch, lager, malzbier, pils and weizenbier—it is no surprise that beer is often cheaper than water here. It’s perfectly normal to see some brands of beer sold in supermarkets for just a few cents a bottle.

So eat well and drink heartily while you’re here—just make sure you learn to like sausage and beer.

Beer at 39 cents a bottle

Beer at 39 cents a bottle

Types of sausage on the menu

Types of sausage on the menu

A "fancy" dinner

A “fancy” dinner








English Gastropubs: The Way to Eat in England

Steven K.,

English Gastropubs

Nobody can say they’ve truly experienced England until they’ve visited a local pub. With catchy names like Firkin & Fox or The Little Driver, you’re bound to be enchanted with the elaborate décor, quirky menu and the general way they operate.

First, there is rarely waiter service. While people order drinks at the bar in most of the world, here in England you also will request a menu and place your food order at the bar, and pay up front. You’re handed a number, and minutes later your entrees are brought straight out to your table. No tipping necessary.

Secondly, you may be surprised to see not only beer, but even wine on tap. At least in some places.

Next, you have to get with the lingo. Weekends often feature a Roast, which is (as you may guess) some massive portion of roasted meet only available on those days. “Bangers and Mash” means simply sausage with mashed potatoes. “Bubble and Squeak” is basically the veggies that happen to be leftover from the weekend Roast, and “Pudding” can stand for just about anything that they couldn’t come up with a more fitting name for (so don’t be alarmed if what is called pudding is actually more like bread).

Finally, perhaps the most surprising thing about British Pub food is the cost. In America, fast food tends to be the cheapest option if you’re looking to eat on a budget. In the UK, however, it is common to find pub specials with two meals for £8 (or thereabouts), which include a drink (maybe it will be £10 with alcoholic drinks). It’s also regular to see deals like “burger and a pint” for £4 or £5. In comparison, you’ll likely pay more eating at Burger King, making pub food all the more essential to daily life here.

English Gastropubs

English Gastropubs


McDonald’s Newest French Offering: The McBaguette

Steven K.,

In perfect timing in light of our recent post on McDonald’s first foray into France over 30 years ago, the company this month announced the introduction of a new addition to their menu in France: The McBaguette. The sandwich features a shorter version of the traditional french baguette with ham, cheese and potato topped with lettuce and mayonnaise. If you’re feeling a bit more risque, you can go for the chicken & pepper or spicy beef alternatives.

Ironically, the McBaguette represents McDonald’s push to capitalize on France’s economic slump and 13-year-high unemployment rate. With times being tight, the proud French may be much more likely to eschew their cafe culture and embrace the cheapest meal they can find. Perhaps a 4.50-Euro McBaguette?

The newest addition to McDonald's France lineup

The newest addition to McDonald’s France lineup

Enjoy Your Efes Here; You Won’t Find Much Else!


Every country has their own local beers—as the drink is enjoyed virtually all around the world. If you’re like me, you like to sample them as well, enjoying your Sapporo in Japan, your Brahma in Brasil, or your Guinness in Ireland. But few beer manufacturers anywhere enjoy quite the prominence that Efes (short for Ephesus) has in its native Turkey.

The pilsen beer is not only known in Turkey, as it is the 5th most popular European beer based on production and the 8th-most popular by sales volume. But within Turkey, the brand enjoys an astonishing 82 percent market share, and sponsors seemingly everything, including the national basketball team and the first Turkish futsal league.

While the majority of consumption is of its flagship pilsener, the Efes portfolio includes Efes Dark, Efes Light, Efes Xtra, Efes Ice and Efes Dark Brown.

So when you’re here, make sure you enjoy an Efes, because you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything else!

Efes Beer

The Mystery of Cachaça’s (Lack of) Global Appeal


I’m on a mission, out for a cause. You see, I like to drink cachaça. And when I leave Brasil, I have a hard time finding it. That’s a problem.

No matter where you are in the world, go to a bar and you’re likely to see the usual suspects—Heineken, vodka, whiskey, the occasional gin or cognac, rum, a few local beers, maybe a Guinness—and that’s what you drink. And I have no issue with that. But I have yet to hear a good argument as to why vodka is deserving of worldwide fame and cachaça isn’t.

Cachaça on the shelf in a Brazilian bar (image credit: Diogo Melo/

Cachaça on the shelf in a Brazilian bar (image credit: Diogo Melo/

With beer, it’s simple. Beer is everywhere, and although there are hundreds of beers around the world that may taste better, Heineken is a global marketing machine, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of marketing budget. But there is no brand of vodka, or any of the other liquors mentioned, that is ubiquitous. Sure, names like Grey Goose and Jack Daniels make a valiant effort, but it’s the drink itself, independent of brand name, that has the global fame and global reach.

More than 4,0000 brands of cachaça can be found in Brasil, which combine to produce an estimated 1.5 billion liters annually to the tune of approximately USD $130 billion in revenues. And yet, only 1 percent—one freakin’ percent—of that haul is exported (most of this to Germany, a testament to the wisdom of our Deutsch brethren). With that kind of production, consumption and bottom line, you’d think someone would have tried to grow this market outside of Brasil.

As for the drink itself, it is the distillation of pure sugar cane juice—a fresh, fragrant, aromatic and smooth distillate that is either prata (silver, or unaged) or ouro (gold, which the liquor resembles after it is aged)–typically anywhere from 38% to 50% alcohol by volume. The aging process can extend for anywhere from one to 15 years, and because of the added flavor it provides, aged cachaças tend to be more expensive and enjoyed by themselves. Unaged cachaças are most widely used mixed with muddled lime and sugar in the national drink of Brasil, the caipirinha (which happens to be, for my two cents, the best drink on the planet).

The sweet, limey indulgence known otherwise as caipirinha

The sweet, limey indulgence known otherwise as caipirinha

Also known as aguardente (“burning water”), pinga and caninha among other names, cachaça can be considered a relative to rum, except that rum is made from molasses (a byproduct from refineries that boil the cane juice to extract as much sugar crystal as possible), while cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled.

So ironically enough, rum is actually a lower-quality offshoot of cachaça, and yet it enjoys global distribution while cachaça remains a Brazilian gem. Is that because of a cost difference? I doubt it, given that a wine-sized bottle of Pitú or 51 (Cinquenta y un), which are two of the most popular brands of unaged cachaça, can be gobbled up at supermarkets in Brasil for 4 or 5 reals, or the equivalent of about $2 USD.

The only conclusion I can think of is that cachaça makers spend their time and effort producing quality cachaça, rather than promoting their brands. Or perhaps this is just Brasil’s way of keeping one of their secret gems amongst themselves to enjoy, just to spite the rest of the world. But I have no doubt that with the right marketing strategy (see our tale about McDonalds’ humble introduction into France), cachaça would become a globally-enjoyed beverage, possibly above all others.

Some of the various brands of cachaça found in Brasil (image credit:

Some of the various brands of cachaça found in Brasil (image credit:

Italian Food as a Source of National Pride


That Italy is a culture of proud machismo is well established. That Italian food is one of the most popular around the world is also fact. Put those together, and you have an extreme sense of nationalistic pride in the country’s culinary offerings—pride that can be so over the top as to create some opportunities for humor at the Italians’ expense.

Spend enough time with Italians, and it can be a great joy to watch their reaction to any creative alterations to Italy’s staple dishes; you will never see any kind of “Italian fusion” being embraced by Italians. You want to try to make lasagna with a cheese other than ricotta? Not here, you won’t. You want to add something fancy like turkey or mushrooms to spaghetti al pomodoro (simple spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce)? That’s just blasphemous. And don’t even think about using a cheese-based sauce with seafood.

Secondly, it can provide a laugh when you erroneously pair ingredients that you are genetically supposed to know don’t go together. For example, if you prefer a seafood-based sauce with your pasta, you use long noodles. If you want meat sauce, that’s when you need short noodles. Get it mixed up, and your Italian friends will have a (comical) fit. While you’re at it, try cutting your pasta with a  knife, or cooking your pasta too long so it’s soft and mushy as opposed to the preferred al dente. You may not have friends anymore.

Finally, because Italians are so proud of their cuisine—and indeed, it is the only suitable cuisine on earth—you are likely to get humorously defensive reactions when you suggest that while Italian food is good, you prefer Peruvian, or Thai, or Japanese, or Lebanese. Just rubbish. Have they actually tried those other cuisines? Doesn’t matter…you’re not only wrong, but silly for even suggesting such foolishness.

And when you do encounter this, it’s only fitting to laugh, given that over-the-top pride exemplified even from the country’s leadership—among his many other blunders, Silvio Berlusconi managed to offend an entire country (Finland) by knocking their cuisine while serving as Italy’s Prime Minister.

Make sure you treat your Italian food wisely...

Make sure you treat your Italian food wisely…

IDsanfranisco: Freeganism and the Art of Dumpster Diving


The West Coast, especially San Francisco, has always been on the cutting edge of any environmentalist movement that has occurred in America. It was right here that recycling became cool and commonplace a few decades ago, then the organic movement, then the vegan movement, and so on. If there was any kind of movement in the US, it’s likely that it either began or received a significant boost from activists here.

But forget veganism—that’s so last-decade. A more recent trend popularized here is freeganism: the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded.

The first traces of freeganism here date back to the mid-1990s, as part of the environmentalist and anti-globalization movements. But it has gained enough traction in recent years that the city of San Francisco and local businesses have had to alter their waste practices. It is not uncommon to see padlocked dumpsters around here, and by going to these extremes, it is also hopeful that businesses are finding ways to be more conscious about waste.

There is even a “Why Freegan” manifesto, which defines the practice as “an anti-consumeristic ethic about eating” and describes several alternates to actually paying for food. It also gets into water conservation, recycling, using solar energy and even employment.

Freegans themselves are also very diverse in regards to what they participate in. For example, some just dumpster dive with the goal of securing their own food, while others do so in hopes of gathering food to distribute to other people. There are also wild foragers who attempt to harvest and gather fruits or other foods that happen to be growing wildly within their communities.

So next time you want to impress your vegan friends, tell them that you’ve gone freegan—just beware, it may not be for the faint of heart.

You may not always be crazy about what you get...

You may not always be crazy about what you get… (image credit: