Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Video Postcard: Cairo

I'd never before seen a sign with neon that switched from Arabic to English.  Cool.

Still, I didn't seek out a Coke (or Pepsi) while we were in Egypt.  Look at me, advertisers.  I'm impervious!


Direct from Korea.

Green Tea Kit Kat

Though these Green Tea Kit Kats are made in Japan, Paul brought them back from Korea.

As you can read here, I quite like this flavor.  I was happy to receive more.  Thanks, Paul!

It seems that Nestlé will incorporate almost anything edible into a Kit Kat, but they seldom sell in the U.S.  The Japanese may have the most exciting choices.  Have you tried or seen any unusual ones?


PopLab and Potluck

Bakery window

Bakery case
Here's where you go to buy the meat bread to take to a potluck lunch.  Vegetarians, fear not!  I also bought blueberries.

A few weekends ago, pepperoni and cheese "meat bread" in hand, I attended the inaugural PopLab event, held at Judson Memorial Church.  This was a (free) day-long interactive seminar or creative think-tank of sorts, in which participants explored our pasts, presents and futures in small groups -- through the lenses and intersections of faith, culture, politics, and activism.

Here is part of how the event was described by the founders:
Ever ask yourself why the progressive left doesn't do a better job at capturing America's political imagination?
Ever reflect on why life is so interesting and yet church can be so boring?

PopLab is the place for you. 
Join us Saturday, April 10th for a creative workshop/retreat.  Join us for socializing, discussion, brainstorming games, and food. (Yes, FOOD.)  Our primary agenda is a very laid back one: reconnecting, free-associating, and talking smack about the future, progressive politics, and making a scene in order to make a point.  Maybe there's a more interesting (or just more fun) way to develop our collective voice and build the kind of future we all dream of?

Also: it was always our intention to have this be the first meeting of an ongoing conversation, a kind of "artistic and political think-tank for populist theology," so if you can't make it on the 10th, but want to be in the loop on what grows out of this, please let us know.  And please feel free to email us with any questions, concerns, or ideas...
You see how "FOOD" is written in all caps in the text above?  That certainly captured my attention.  And, yeah, the rest of it was intriguing, too.  I made sure to attend.

This first event was themed loosely around the idea of "superheroes," and all that might imply/encompass.  Over the course of the event, we were asked to answer the following questions on paper and in person:
  • When was the first time you can remember being politically “activated,” (however you define this)? 
  • What was your earliest moment of insight (or inspiration) in regards to the spirit, God, or religion (for or against, however you define this)? 
  • What was the first time you can remember being truly moved by a work of art?  Could be a book, play, song, or painting, but what was it? 
  • Name one superhero you have personally known.  Imagine what his/her icon might be.
  • Where are you most “hooked” politically?  What are the issues that motivate you?  Wherever possible, push yourself to ask “what am I for?” 
  • What are your spiritual values (however you define that), and how do they manifest themselves (or not manifest themselves) in your life today? 
  • Give an example of artistic expression that truly moves you today.  This could be a song that’s stuck in your head, a movie you saw, or something you are creating yourself. 
  • What is the greatest living super villain of our times?  And what might his/her icon be?
  • What next step do you see yourself taking to actualize your ideal political future? 
  • What action do you see yourself taking in your ongoing spiritual evolution? 
  • What creative endeavor are looking forward to most?  Is it yours?  Is it someone else’s? 
  • Describe what kind of super hero you’ll be, along with one element of your costume.

Have any answers in mind?  Much discussion ensued, to say the least.  At the end of it all, I found the day challenging, exciting, fascinating, inspiring, and delicious.  And just what was so delicious? Why, that aforementioned FOOD.  We enjoyed a buffet breakfast and outrageous potluck lunch.  Take a gander:

PopLab breakfast
A welcoming breakfast table.  I committed one misstep and drowned my blueberry green tea bag (brought from home) in coffee.  I thought it was a hot water urn!  Strange as it might seem, I sometimes forget people drink coffee.

Breakfast again
What to do when your breakfast clashes with your pants?  Eat quickly.  Also, I think it was Suresh who found the sea salt in the kitchen closet.  A thousand blessings upon him!  A little salt makes tomato slices so much more divine.

Incredibly incredible potluck spread.  Ah, deviled eggs.  How you bedevil me.

Meat bread
Grainy phone photo spotlight on my meaty meat bread.

My delightful lunch.


I'm looking forward to future soul-searching, stomach-filling installments of PopLab.  If you're in NYC and you'd like to know when the next one happens, just comment below.  I'll make sure you get all the details.


Asian Grab Bag 6

6a 6b

Item 6
Package Information: Meisan (Japan)
Impression: Everything's red.  I dared hope for cherry.  It was kind of fruity and something...more.  Slightly tart.  A devious friend.

[What's the Asian Grab Bag?


Asian Grab Bag 5

5a 5b

Item 5
Package Information: Kanro (Japan).
Impression: The packaging and the candy are both yellow.  I'm expecting lemon flavor.  It's lemony, sure, but with a sort of "nursing home perfume" note underneath.  This fades and becomes mostly vegetal/floral.  Lemon and flowering weeds?

[What's the Asian Grab Bag?


More punch in the bunch.

Tiny bananas
Shoes by Converse, of course.

These tiny bananas really do taste better than the big ones.  They're more flavorful, meatier, and sweeter.   They're also the perfect size for snacking.


Unhelpful Review: Japanese Crab Chips

Crab chips from Jeff
[A gift from Jeff H.  Thanks, man.]

These tasted warm.


Eating Egypt: Day 3 - Cairo and Giza

Menkaure (or Mykerinos), Khafre (Chepren), and Khufu (Cheops)
Three giant pyramids at Giza, all in a row.  This was the only place we encountered truly despicable "touts" trying to sell us worthless souvenirs and generally annoying us.

Snack wrappers in a mastaba
Snack wrappers rest (eternally?) inside an ancient mastaba, or flat-roofed tomb.

1. Breakfast at Hotel President - It turns out that ful's not so good without sauces and spices.  I tried it plain and was unimpressed.  The unappetizing, grey-centered hard boiled eggs on the buffet were not a high point of the trip, either.

Not a trick.

2. At the Giza pyramids for the day, we took sunscreen, sunglasses, bottled water, and this nut and fruit mix, which we'd brought from the US in our luggage.  It turned out to be a good snack to eat in sight of the Great Pyramid, Cheops - the last remaining "Wonder" of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

3. Hotel - Goldfish "Mix-Up Adventures" (Parmesan and Xplosive Pizza flavors).  Meh.

Let me preface this.

Our cab ride home from the pyramids was something of a headache.  We were unable to get an "official" white cab with a meter, so took our chances on an unmetered cabbie who told us (in very little English) that the ride to our hotel would cost LE 15, or just under US$3.  I made the mistake, however, of telling him the name of the street we were aiming for - Sharia Taha Hussein.  Hearing "Hussein," our driver took us for a ride far, far out of our way, into medieval Cairo.  He claimed we wanted to see the Al-Hussein Mosque, and we were unable to convince him otherwise.  This meant our cab ride took an extra 45 minutes to an hour -- and cost an extra LE 100!  To add injury to insult, I was unable to sit upright during the ride, due to some sort of "poky thing" attached to the inside of the car's back windshield.

When we finally got back to our hotel, I had a bit of a tourist's meltdown. Goldfish "Mix-Up Adventures" Parmesan & Xplosive Pizza  served as my accompanying snack.  They were disappointing, and lacking in flavor, but were the only other imported edible item (besides the fruit and nuts we'd taken to the pyramids) I had on hand.  Mix-Up Adventures, huh?  How applicable.

Felfela article

At Felfela

Ta'miyya (fava bean falafel) and hibiscus at Felfela

4. Felfela - chicken kebab, tamiya, tahina and bread, eggplant with peppers, lamb (for Dan), hibiscus lemonade, Stella (for Dan), Turkish coffee.

After a nap and a cool-down (and a trip to the mobile phone store for Dan, to buy us a cheap Egyptian phone we could use during the remainder of our vacation), we headed to Felfela in downtown Cairo.  Though the restaurant was created, in part, to cater to vegetarians (according to the article, pictured above, which I read in the lobby of the restaurant), there's still plenty of meat on the menu.  In fact, the chicken kebab (shish taouk) was some of the best chicken I'd had.

The tamiya were also excellent.  These are fried fava bean patties (seen in the top photo above, along with my hibiscus lemonade).  They're something like falafel, but I prefer tamiya.  In my experience, tamiya are lighter and less dry than falafel.

Ahwaziyada = Hawa (Turkish coffee) + ziyada (very sweet)

When it came time to try the Turkish coffee after dinner, I ordered mine ahwaziyada (very sweet).  It was also quite spicy, with a strong cardamom flavor.  I enjoyed the contents of the tiny cup, but made sure not to drink the thick dregs at the bottom.


Ah, day three!  You were a day of grand antiquity, major frustration, and great food (forgetting, for now, the sub-par American Goldfish)!  I'm sure I went to bed that night hoping day four might turn out to be less overwhelming, but even tastier.  We shall see...


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Special Report: Galco's Old World Grocery and Rose Petal Soda

So, a while back, I saw this lovely documentary.  I fell hard for the store, its proprietor, and its stock.

I promptly sent the link to my friend Matthew, who is in film school in LA.  Not only did I think he'd get a kick out of the short film, I was hoping he might be able to visit the store someday and allow me to live through him by reporting back.

After a little time passed, he did indeed fulfill this wish of mine.  In fact, Matt eventually sent me the following photos and message:

We went location scouting for my first cycle film (we make three the first year) at a succulent nursery and I realized we were pretty close to Galco's. I sheepishly suggested we go and my crew didn't scoff at the suggestion and they ended up loving it!

Later still, there were two more emails from Matt, one with more photos. They said, simply:
OMG! did that you tube video mention his candy selection ? ! !
I'm conducting a informal taste test right now!

Let's gape at the candy selection through Matt's eyes.



I had also shared the original documentary with a few other people.  To my delight, my coworker Paul bought several bottles of the rose petal soda and had them shipped to our office in New York.  He even gave a bottle to me.  How kind of him to share!

Once uncapped, the beverage was light and refreshing -- not too floral, by any means.  It smelled more like roses than it tasted, but the flavor was swell.  Here it is, moments before I drank (and savored) it:

Sweet Blossom

I love a beverage story with a happy ending!  I only wish I could have been to the store myself.  Galco's is certainly on my list of LA landmarks to visit on a future trip.

p.s. Matt also responded to the above video with the following clip.  I offer it to you as a bonus, though it has little to do with the rest of my tale.

[p.s. I'm posting this non-poetic post on a Poetry Tuesday because I'm pretty behind in blogging, due to my vacation.  I hope you'll forgive me.]


Poetry Tuesday: In the Zone

New Zone
[Naked Protein Zone Mango Juice Smoothie]

Fruit That Will Not Punch

Whey weighs grainy,
GMO? No.
Mango breaks past in a whisper,
A soft hand fluttering open.
Three fingers cannot make a fist.


Monday, April 26, 2010

If they can build a better gummy bear...


Surf Sweet Gummy Bears are tops!  I bought them on a whim to eat on the train one Saturday morning, but they ended up being so much better than I expected.  Organically sweetened and "[f]ree of artificial colors and sweeteners," there's a real, bright, sweet, fruity lightness to them. 

I'll never again hesitate with my hand on a bag of these babies.

Asian Grab Bag 4

4a 4b

Item 4
Package Information: N/A [i.e. none I can read]
Impression: Buttery, sweet, crumbly, sandy.  Yum!  Surprising white chocolate layer in the middle.

[What's the Asian Grab Bag?]

Asian Grab Bag 3

3a 3b

Item 3
Package Information: Furuta Chocolate (Japan)
Impression: An almost minty soapiness

[What's the Asian Grab Bag?]

Asian Grab Bag 2

2a 2b

Item 2
Package Information: Lotte Original (Japan)
Impression: Milky chocolate mixed with white chocolate in a lattice texture.  Interesting on the tongue.

[What's the Asian Grab Bag?]

Asian Grab Bag 1

Asian Grab Bag

Remember this bag of Asian candies and chocolates?

I can not, for the life of me, remember who gave it to me.  Dad? Paul? Martha and Jim?  A thousand apologies, friends and family.

Whatever country these items were purchased in, most of them are Japanese.  Let's peruse, shall we?
1a 1b

Item 1
Package Information: Kabaya Matcha Chocolate (Japan)
Impression: Strong green tea flavor and sharp soapiness

Eating Egypt: Day 2 - Cairo and Designopolous

Balcony view
Hotel balcony view - room 427

On day two, we did some more exploring in Cairo and visited the Articulate Baboon gallery space [their website doesn't seem to be up yet, as I post this] in the Designopolis district.  Designopolis is located about 40-45 minutes outside of Cairo (though it really depends on the incredible traffic).  The complex, which is currently under construction, looks like it will be a sort of super-high-end strip mall of furniture, art, and interior design-related shops.

What did I eat along the way? 

1. Breakfast at the Hotel President in Zamalek - grapefruit, yogurt, unidentifiable juice (not quite orange.  Guava?).  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the hotel put on a good spread, with cereal, fruit, pastries, ful, and fruit juices.  This came included in our room price (about $100 a night, which was a special deal for a suite), so we ate breakfast at the hotel each morning in Cairo.

2. Euro Deli café, next door to the hotel - Caffe frappe for Dan and mint tea for me.  We went to this cafe several times as part of our strategic plan to end up with small bills.

You see, in and around Cairo, everyone who performs a small or large service for you (bathroom attendant, driver, waiter, etc.) expects a small tip.  And prices are not high, so many things cost only a small number of pounds.  Yet almost no one wants to give change or break larger bills.  It was quite frustrating to plan ahead to have the "right" denominations of paper money and coins at the right time.  The Euro Deli was one of a handful of places we found that would take, and even break, the LE 100 (Egyptian pound) notes we got from the ATMs.

Model of Designopolis plans
Detail of Designopolis model.

Something new; something old

3. Cilantro (café chain) in Designopolis -  Tangerine Schweppes and SanPellegrino Aranciata.  These were very refreshing beverages after a hot morning on the construction site.  The Schweppes drink tastes like fruit juice plus (the US version of) Smarties candies.

Arabesque Arabesque: have the fresh tangerine juice

4. Dinner at Arabesque - Stella beer (not related to the Stella Artois beer I see everywhere in Brooklyn), fresh tangerine juice, fresh guava juice, molokheya or jew's mallow soup (served with chicken, onion, rice, and sauce), pigeon sambusa, chicken kebab, kofta, tahina and bread, mini shawarma, eggplant with garlic and vinegar...  I'm probably leaving something out.  There was a lot of food.

This restaurant is just across the street from the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo.  It's worth braving the traffic to get there.  The tangerine juice was the best beverage I've ever tasted, and the waiter swore there was no sugar added.

I was excited to get a chance to try molokheya, another classic Egyptian dish.  It's made of a leaf that gives the soup a sort of glutinous texture, not unlike okra or egg drop soup.  This is something that seems a little slimy at first, but the flavor wasn't bad.  Once I added in the delicious grilled chicken, onions, rice, and red sauce, I quite liked it.  Like most of the other dishes we ate in Cairo, it was very filling.

I tried the pigeon sambusa reluctantly, but luckily it just tasted like the pastry in which it was encased (a sambusa is like a samosa or empanada, and this one was built with what I identified as phyllo dough). 

Another major highlight of this meal?  Though I had delightful eggplant dishes 6 out of 7 of my days in Egypt, the creamy eggplant with garlic and vinegar at Arabesque was my absolute favorite.

Bakery sweets (bought by us) and roses (from housekeeping)

Sweets - not sure what these are

Kunafeh or Basbousa and Balah Al-Shaam?

Bbouzat haleeb - Misika - Gum Arabic ice cream

5. Mandarin Koueider - Assorted bakery desserts and Misika (Gum Arabic) ice cream.

Returning to Zamalek, the neighborhood that contained our hotel (and which is on an island in the middle of the Nile), we were taken to Mandarin Koueider to pick out some desserts.  Dan and I decided on the four in the top picture of sweets above, Omar chose the two varieties pictured next, and Dan added a cupful of Gum Arabic ice cream (which was reminiscent of cloves or cardamom and contained odd, if not unpleasant, chewy bits).

The baked goods were almost all far too sweet for my taste, and I like sweet things.  My favorite items were a sesame cookie and a buttery, flaky pastry.  I also quite liked the item covered in powdered sugar, which had date filling inside.

We enjoyed our nightcap of sugar back at the hotel, where housekeeping had left us roses in an old water bottle.  Doubly sweet!


And so ended day two!  Five days of food and frolic (and frustration, occasionally) remain.  If you have questions about our trip or what I've posted so far, please feel free to leave them in the comments or email them to me at snackreligious @ gmail.  Thanks for reading!

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