Archive for the ‘Local Cuisine’ Category

Off to Spain with a Jaunt to France

September 23rd, 2010 at 3:04 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We had not planned on going anywhere for exploration for the rest of the year, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose for us (the adult half of The Traveling Richters) to dine at the famed elBulli restaurant in Spain and personally meet famed chef Ferran Adrià, so we have wrapped an expedition for all of The Traveling Richters to explore parts of Spain around that event to take advantage of being in Spain for the special occasion at elBulli.

Our Itinerary:

  • Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2010 – Bilbao & San Sebastian, Spain
  • Oct. 1 – 2, 2010 – Toulouse, France. Just passing through southern France
  • Oct. 2 – 4, 2010 – Roses, Costa Brava, Spain
  • Oct. 4 – 5, 2010 – Zaragoza, Spain
  • Oct. 5 – 8, 2010 – Madrid, Alcala de Henares, and Toledo, Spain

In addition to having secured reservations at three of the top restaurants in the world for this trip, we’ll be exploring various museums like the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Prado and Reina Sofia in Madrid. We also have a docent to guide us through the history of Toledo, the life and times of Cervantes (author of “Don Quixote”), and an olive oil, ham, chocolate, and Tapas tasting tour in Madrid. It will be tiring, but we’re up for the challenge!

And we’ll be home just in time for our country to change on 10-10-10. We stay on the same island, of Bonaire, but the country of the Netherlands Antilles will be dissolved on 10-10-10, and Bonaire will become a municipality of The Netherlands. More on that here.

Depending on how busy we are in our travels, we may or may not post travelogues. Jake has started an on-line graduate program in photography, so we expect most of his on-line time on the road will be spent meeting his obligations for his classes.

However, if any of you have recommendations on other places we should not miss in the areas we will be traveling in, please let us know!

 

Taking Separate Trips

July 10th, 2010 at 4:42 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

It’s now a third of the way into July, and Linda and I find ourselves childless. It’s kind of a strange feeling, but liberating as well.

Bas is back in New Hampshire with his maternal grandparents, who have the pleasure of taking him to his first-ever overnight camp – two weeks of learning robotics, designing video games, and exploring his potential.

We just got word from Krystyana that she arrived safe but exhausted in Beijing earlier today. She’s in China for three weeks with 11 other teenagers and a couple of guides as part of National Geographic Student Expeditions. She will be spending her time looking at Chinese culture on a local, intimate level as well as honing her photographic skills. Her group has a blog set-up, and there should be occasional posts about their activities, as well as the ability to get e-mail notification of new posts – look at http://ngsechina2010.wordpress.com.

And Linda and I are presently at San Francisco International Airport awaiting our flight to Hong Kong, having flown in this morning from Los Angeles. We’ll be spending five nights and four days (not a typo) Kowloon-side, then three days in Macau, and another three or so days on the island of Hong Kong itself. Not much in particular is planned other than two dinners at reportedly excellent restaurants and a full day cooking class learning the ins and outs of Hunan and Sichuan/Szechuan cuisine. I will try to report on those experiences over at A Foodie Moment at some point.

No guarantees on regular updates here on the blog, especially if we’re having too much fun as a pair of temporarily childless parents.

http://www.ngstudentexpeditions.com/

 

GPS Tracking – The Path To Great Lamb BBQ From Ushuaia

March 6th, 2010 at 7:37 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Considering we were not even supposed to still be in Ushuaia yesterday, the folks at Lindblad Expeditions have been taking marvelous care of us – allowing us to remain in our cabins on board the National Geographic Explorer (which was supposed already have been several hundreds of miles away en route to dry dock in the Canary Islands), feeding us, entertaining us, and even providing us with free drinks. That will end later today as we get on the Miami Air charter (which Lindblad has also arranged for us at no charge) to get us to Miami. No other tour company I know of would have done all this for its guests. Kudos to Lindblad Expeditions!

The tour we were treated to yesterday was over the closest part of the Andes to Lago Escondido, and more specifically, to a small restaurant called Villa Marina, where we had wonderful BBQ lamb done in the local style, slow roasted for four hours (see photo in previous entry). Great scenic vistas and explanations of the geology and topology of the area by our guide along the way as well.

The GPS track for our Lamb BBQ quest is below in case any of you make it here, to the end of the earth (Fin del Mundo):

 

No Magellanic Woodpeckers, And Also No Plane

March 5th, 2010 at 2:40 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We just returned from Lago Escondido on the other side of the Andes mountain range here in Tierra del Fuego. Beautiful scenery along the way, and a spectacular roasted lamb for lunch, but no Magellanic woodpeckers to be found.

Roasted lamb in the Tierra del Fuego style - yum!

Roasted lamb in the Tierra del Fuego style - yum!

Returning back to the ship we found that in addition to there being no woodpeckers in sight, our charter flight to Miami was also in hiding.

Word is that the plane finally cleared all the Argentinian bureaucratic paperwork (there was a missing signature on a form, and that’s been the case for the last day), and should have finally departed Lima, Peru a few minutes ago, bound for Ushuaia.

This means we’ll be enjoying another night in the best hotel in Ushuaia, our ship, the National Geographic Explorer. It’s looking likely that we might actually leave tomorrow, but everything depends on when the charter flight actually lands in Ushuaia tonight (hopefully).

 

Visiting with the National Geographic Society

December 9th, 2009 at 2:42 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

As part of our long weekend with the National Geographic Society from November 19-21, 2009, we had access to the behind-the-scenes activities that make NatGeo the amazing organization it is today.

The seal of the National Geographic Society

The seal of the National Geographic Society

On Friday, November 20th, after a breakfast where a number of senior members of the Society spoke, including the Society’s chairman, Gil Grosvenor, we were given a tour of the offices. The tour started with a look at what all goes into putting together a single issue of National Geographic Magazine.

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last several decades (in which case it’s unlikely you’re reading this blog in the first place), you are familiar with the magazine and its incredible stories and photos covering diverse topics about our planet – typically focusing on man’s interaction with nature and nature’s mysteries.

A statue of a primal woman at the offices of the National Geographic Society

A statue of a primal woman at the offices of the National Geographic Society

What sets National Geographic Magazine apart from any other publication is the phenomenal photography accompanying each article, the detailed and informative map inserts, the lack of advertising in the features section of the magazine, and the fact that the Society and the explorers they fund may invest months or years in just one article in order to produce definitive works of knowledge to share with the masses. The magazine’s audience appears to appreciate the effort – there are nearly seven million subscribers worldwide (around five million of those are in the U.S.). The magazine comes as part of membership in the National Geographic Society, which costs a mere $15 a year. I’m proud to say that I ponied up back in the 1990s and became a lifetime member of the Society back then.

Linda waits for a presentation about National Geographic Magazine

Linda waits for a presentation about National Geographic Magazine

During our tour, we got to see the various articles and photos which would go into the May 2010 issue of the magazine, as well as learn about the process of how stories are pitched and then researched. Many features are in the planning stages for months or even years. And the gorgeous photos in each monthly edition of the magazine don’t come cheap either. A typical photo shoot may take six to eight weeks, and result in 30,000 or more photos, of which only perhaps a dozen will appear in the magazine.

Each issue of the magazine is finalized and put to bed about two to three weeks before the publication month. For example, the Decemeber 2009 issue had been signed off on during the second week of November.

The editorial and production staff are typically working on several months worth of stories at any given time, and keeping all that straight requires excellent planning and organizational skills.

Our next stop after production was the cartographic department where the amazing National Geographic maps are developed and kept up to date. And keeping the maps up to date is a pretty intense process. An example given to us was a Eurasian lake that had been shrinking dramatically over the last decade, enough so as to require an edit of the core map data. The evidence of this geographical change came from a series of images taken by satellite over a long period of time (see image below).

Juan at the National Geographic Society explains how maps change over time

Juan at the National Geographic Society explains how maps change over time

Other map changes are political, as ever shifting country boundaries need to be reflected in maps. Also, we learned that China has been taking drastic steps to move large populations from the country to cities – so much so that they need to build a city the size of Philadelphia every two months (and apparently they are succeeding). However, this move of populations to urban areas in China and elsewhere results in smaller cities, towns, and villages becoming effectively uninhabitated, and as such needing to be removed from the massive GIS (Geographic Information System) the Society maintains to generate its maps from.

The National Geographic Society also does business with entities, such as tourism boards, which want localized maps created by the Society. After all, having “National Geographic Society” on a map lends it significant legitimacy. But that causes some interesting issues as well, including requirements that geography be renamed to meet local customs, or that bits of land be shown to be part of the client country instead of belonging to the country that might be occupying said bits of land. Likewise, oceans and seas we know by a particular name may go by a completely different name in other countries (even taking translations into account).

While we know cartography is complicated, we had never realized the nuances that existed with respect to particular audiences. In a way the situation is a variant of the saying “History is written by the victors”. Perhaps it’s “maps are determined by self-interest”.

To National Geographic’s credit, when changes which the Society’s cartographers believe to distort accepted practices and understanding are included in Society-produced maps, there is also a disclaimer added to such maps which explains the accepted standards versus what the map represents.

From cartography we moved to the CritterCam labs where technical geniuses continue to figure out ways to mount cameras to critters.

Some of you may know that I had, for about eight years, the distinction of running the world’s longest running underwater WebCam – the Bonaire ReefCam. While that was a technically challenging project due (and one I will resume shortly), we had the benefit of a fixed location for mounting the camera.

The guys at the National Geographic CritterCam Lab are continuously trying to figure out ways to place video cameras in places where they can be used to study animal behavior, and that typically involves attaching a camera to the animal in question. The cameras are self-contained and include things like GPS trackers so that the cameras can later be retrieved, and more importantly, the video footage they captured. For CritterCams which are used on aquatic creatures there’s also some special hardware which, after a preprogrammed time, will cause the camera housing to detach itself from the shark, whale, or penguin (among other critters) it was attached to and float to the water’s surface for retrieval.

We visit the CritterCam lab at the National Geographic Society

We visit the CritterCam lab at the National Geographic Society. Note the shark fin replica on the work bench. It's used for testing a dorsal clamp for a shark CritterCam.

While the CritterCams are not WebCams (yet), they can capture some absolutely incredible footage. While we were in the lab, we were shown footage captured when they managed to attach a camera to a Humboldt Squid, a creature that can grow to about six foot in length. They discovered that when the CritterCam emitted light that other squid attacked it, violently. So the next model did not emit a light.

After another few presentations we headed off for lunch, also set up by the National Geographic Society. We were treated to a visit to foreign soil as part of our lunch, as it took place in the Embassy of Afghanistan. Ambassador Jawad had been scheduled to greet us personally, but the somewhat sudden inauguration of Afghan president Hamid Karzai the day before required that he be in Kabul instead. We were instead received by the Ambassador’s assistant, and presented with a wonderful selection of Afghan cuisine for lunch.

We are offered a wonderful array of authentic Afghan dishes at the Embassy

We are offered a wonderful array of authentic Afghan dishes at the Embassy

Our lunch included a presentation by the Society’s archeaology fellow, Fred Hiebert, on the recovery of ancient Afghan treasures stashed away as the Taliban took power and brought back out after their defeat. Fred was personally involved in cataloging many of the ancient works, and then also curating the National Geographic’s exhibition “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum“.

Bob Ballard joins us in a family photo at the Embassy of Afghanistan

Bob Ballard joins us in a family photo at the Embassy of Afghanistan

One of our lunch companions was Bob Ballard, best known for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titantic, the battleship Bismarck, and the USS Yorktown.  But his ocean exploration extends far beyond those wrecks, sharing his works with students around the world with the JASON Project. He is also working on a a new project coming which involvse the use of Internet2 for global real time discovery and documentation of new underwater finds on his new research vessel. We had first met Bob in 1997, as Linda was pregnant with Bas, while working at the Boston Sea Rovers Clinic in Boston, and it was nice to get reacquainted.

Another presentation we attended at NatGeo HQ

Another presentation we attended at NatGeo HQ

We returned to NatGeo HQ after lunch for a few more presentations, including the one pictured above about Geo-Literacy, and a more in depth presentation by Bob Ballard about his new research and discoveries.

That evening our dinner was at the Cosmos Club, a private social club with close ties to the National Geographic Society – the Society’s founding members were also members of the Cosmos Club. The club’s membership includes numerous luminaries including Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel Laureates.

One of the halls at the Cosmos Club in D.C.

One of the halls at the Cosmos Club in D.C.

A comfortable looking club chair in the member library at the Cosmos Club

A comfortable looking club chair in the member library at the Cosmos Club

While the facilities were impressive and distinguished, I think I would find it difficult to be a member of any club with a strict dress code, as my normal daytime work attire consists of a t-shirt, shorts, and bare feet.

After dinner we watched several more presentations pertaining to the efforts of the Society, including discussions of social media, film, and exploration funding, and were then taken back to our hotel.

The following morning, Saturday, we hopped on a bus which took us out for a guided tour of the Manassas Battlefield in nearby Manassas, Virginia. Our guide, Craig, spent most of our bus ride to  Manassas explaining the events leading up to the secession of States from the Union and the subsequent U.S. Civil War. The first major battle of the Civil War was fought at Manassas in July 1861, and another important battle fought there again in August 1862.

An old farmhouse which played part in the Civil War battles in Manassas, Virgina

An old farmhouse which played part in the Civil War battles in Manassas, Virgina

Headstones for Ellen Morris, Judith Henry, and Hugh Henry at Manassas

Headstones for Ellen Morris, Judith Henry, and Hugh Henry at Manassas

Our tour guide, Craig, provides a description of the battles at Manassas

Our tour guide, Craig, provides a description of the battles at Manassas

Be careful or you'll shoot your eyes out with that cannon, Bas!

Be careful or you'll shoot your eyes out with that cannon, Bas!

Memorial to Stonewall Jackson, with lots of artistic license in terms of musculature for both Jackson and his horse

Memorial to Stonewall Jackson, with lots of artistic license in terms of musculature for both Jackson and his horse

After our tour of the Manassas battlefield we were taken to the home of Gil and Wiley Grosvenor. Gil is the chairman of the National Geographic Society and great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell. Gil and Wiley live in the Virginia countryside, about an hour or so outside Washington, D.C., on a beautiful farm.

A giant NatGeo map of Asia used for educating school children about geography

A giant NatGeo map of Asia used for educating school children about geography

As we arrived we were greeted by a huge National Geographic map of Asia which the Society uses as an educational tool for school kids. We were also treated to the music of Marie Miller and her fellow musicians as we explored Gil’s barn and land.

Krystyana uses a fisheye lens to snap a shot of her new equine friend

Krystyana uses a fisheye lens to snap a shot of her new equine friend

Horse face fisheye image by Krystyana

Horse face fisheye image by Krystyana

In the barn, in addition to being introduced to several breeds of horses (including ones we had never heard of), we were served a couple of delightful wines made in Virginia – not a place one normally expects to find as a producer of good wines. The vineyard responsible for the wines was Rappahannock Cellars, and the Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc they served were very worthwhile. We also got to enjoy three more of their wines with our lunch. Sadly, Virginia has rules against shipping wines out of state so we were unable to order any to send home for later enjoyment.

Our fellow NatGeo Grosvenor Council members for a final farewall photo on the giant map

Our fellow NatGeo Grosvenor Council members for a final farewall photo on the giant map

After an enjoyable meal and some great conversation, we all gathered on the giant map for a group photo before heading back to D.C. for the night and dinner on our own (which I hope to document shortly).

Cool lighting and shadow as we leave Gil's farm in the Virginia countryside

Cool lighting and shadow as we leave Gil's farm in the Virginia countryside

Additional photos from these two days can be found here on Flickr.

 

How To Eat A Guinea Pig in Ecuador

November 13th, 2008 at 11:49 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We arrived in Quito as scheduled, mid-morning on Tuesday. We took it easy our first day – eating, napping, and acclimating to the high altitude here. Yesterday we spent the day with a private guide and driver exploring local crafts markets and offerings in Otavalo as well as using my camera’s GPS to get us to the exact equator – 0 degrees latitude. Krystyana should be writing all that up in the next day or so, so let me focus on today’s activities, which started with a visit to the Museo Nacional de Banco Central del Ecuador where we learned about how man first came to Ecuador many thousands of years and how culture evolved here until Ecuador’s independence from Spain in 1822. Very interesting museum and well worth the three or so hours we spent there.

But the most unusual thing I did today (with Linda and Krystyana trying a nibble) was to dine on Guinea pig.

Warning: If you’re squeamish about eating unusual foods and creatures, especially cute and cuddly ones, please stop reading here, and especially don’t look at any of the pictures below.

Guinea Pigs in Ecuadoran Cuisine
Guinea pigs, in the time before beef cattle were introduced to the country, were the main staple meat among Ecuadoran indigenous peoples. However, beef, pork, and other meats did not completely displace Guinea pigs from the Ecuadoran diet, and “cuy” (as Guinea pigs are known in Ecuador) are still a widely eaten delicacy. It is claimed that they are very low in cholesterol – I have no way to confirm or deny that, but based on all I’ve been reading of late, high cholesterol foods don’t actually appreciably affect the cholesterol that clogs one’s arteries (blame sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup for that).

In terms of preparation, from what I’ve read, Guinea pigs used to be grilled on spits over open fires, but nowadays are either cooked on a rotisserie or deep fried. Below, for example, is a photo of a rotisserie with several Guinea pigs being cooked, found on our travels out to Otavalo yesterday.

Guinea pigs on rotisserie spits alongside the road outside Quito

We always try to sample local cuisine, and one of our missions in Ecuador and Peru was to try Guinea pig – all but Bas because he just cannot get himself to eat anything he deems to be cute and lap or hand-sized. Bas’ criteria for cuteness encompasses rabbit, ducks (but not chickens), and, of course, Guinea pigs. And, honestly, Linda and Krystyana weren’t too wild about the idea either. Okay, so it was really just me that wanted to try and eat this traditional meat.

The Cover of Mama Clorinda's Menu

Our guide for Otavalo, Luisa, recommended a place in Quito called Mama Clorinda’s as the place to have traditional Ecuadoran food, so after our museum visit this morning we made our way there – about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. Mama Clorinda’s was a tiny restaurant with low ceilings (ouch) and about a dozen tables, with lots of locals dining there. As we reviewed the menu we were serenaded by two musicians playing Ecuadoran music. We liked the music, but didn’t appreciate the fact that the musicians were next to our table – it made it too loud for us to talk. Had they been outside the restaurant it would have been more pleasant.

Cuy - Guinea Pig - on the menu of Mama Clorinda's

In any event, we finally ordered our meals, with Bas positioning himself in such a way that he would not be able to see my meal when it arrived. He ordered fried chicken with baked beans, and Linda and Krystyana ordered deep fried pork chunks known as “fritados”. I ordered a whole Guinea pig, but unlike the menu description shown above, I asked for mine to be fried without breading. After all, other than the non-low-carbness of breaded Guinea pig, it’s highly unlikely that Guinea pig was breaded back in the days before cattle – and I wanted as authentic an experience as possible.

When my Guinea pig finally arrived, it was not whole as I had expected. Instead the kitchen had split it into six parts: the head in two parts with the lower jaw separated from the upper jaw and skull, and the body cut into four pieces as seen in the photos below.

The guinea pig is served in many pieces - the head in parts, the torso in four

Here are the guinea pig's teeth in the separated lower jaw

Barely discernable, this is the top of the guinea pig's head - ears at right

The teeth on the jaws were still clearly visible, and if I studied the skull enough I could see where the eyes were (or used to be) and also see the ears sticking up. Each of the four body parts featured a small, crispy paw.

The guinea pig's front paw - extra crispy

My commentary about the meal on my plate were not being well received by Bas, so I stopped my dialog and instead focused on trying the meat. I tried to use a knife and fork, but the Guinea pig parts were just too small for normal utensils so I had to resort to using my fingers. Peeling back the crunchy skin I found the color of the cooked meat was very similar to the dark meat of a chicken or a rabbit, and not surprisingly, very similar in taste. I found the meat to be quite salty, but that may have been the preparation more that the taste of the meat itself as all of the meats we were served were saltier than they should have been.

The flesh of the guinea pig is much like the dark meat of chicken

The fried Guinea pig skin was tasty and fatty, but not as crunchy as it first seemed – instead it was a bit chewy. The other thing I discovered was that Guinea pigs are quite bony, and not particularly meaty. The rump of the Guinea pig had noticeably more meat than the front half, and while I joked with Krystyana that the one benefit of Guinea pig over chicken was that the former had four drumsticks, there really wasn’t that much meat there. I suspect I burnt nearly as much energy picking bits of meat off the carcass as I consumed in the skin and meat that I managed to find to eat.

All in all it was an interesting experience, but probably not one I care to repeat as I prefer bigger pieces of meat which require less work to separate from the bone. And for those who were wondering, Krystyana and Linda did each try a small piece of Guinea pig, but only while Bas averted his gaze. Linda thought it tasted like dark meat from a chicken, while Krystyana was convinced it was more like rabbit.

While I did manage to strip the body of meat and edible skin, I was not able to get myself to search for any morsels of meat that might have been in the lower jaw or skull of the Guinea pig. I hope I did not miss out on anything fantastic, but instinct tells me my decision was a prudent one.

Even I wasn't brave enough to tackle the head of the guinea pig

In terms of Mama Clorinda’s itself, we found the service a bit spotty, and the other meats overcooked. We would seek other places for Ecuadoran cuisine if we had the desire to eat typical local food.