The first time I visited Hong Kong, I was in awe of the countless apartment complexes juxtaposed on the subtropical hills, the myriad roads that could easily double as parts of Manhattan’s Canal Street, and a health form asking me if I had a fever, cough, or other common ailments.
Although SARS did reach Ontario, Canada, it was mostly focused on China – where it originated, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. However, given that it was much less contagious, all I recall regarding plans to prevent its spread was a temperature check at Hong Kong’s airport, that flimsy health form, and some prescient leaflets at hotels and restaurants dotting the metropolis:
See anything familiar? What’s it like eating out – if that’s still possible – in your area?
Yes, these carriers once served a purpose, be it skidding off of runways, or skidding back onto runways. Occasionally, they took to the air. Now, their memories for me last only in the form of years-old digital photos taken back when I was a more jittery flier…which, in the case of at least one of these airlines, was a reasonable reaction.
Let’s start in chronological order of when I flew these defunct jetliners.
Jet Airways: BOM Mumbai, India – DEL New Delhi, India, June 2006
First Flight: May 5, 1993
Ceased Flights: April 17, 2019
I’d like to note that at the time, I got harassed for taking photos at Indian airports/on planes (naturally, locals weren’t getting bothered); this partially explains the blurry nature of some photos. Perhaps things are different now.
At their peak, Jet Airways had hubs in Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Amsterdam, covering a mix of domestic Indian routes, and key flights throughout Asia, Europe, and to New York City and Toronto. Due to its better-than-average reputation – particularly among Indian carriers – some investors look to be reviving the brand and its valuable slots by the summer of 2021.
Air Sahara: New Delhi (DEL) – (Patna PAT) – Varanasi (VNS), June 2006
First Flight: 1993
Last Flight: Purchased by Jet Airways in 2007
Air Sahara started off as Sahara Airlines, commencing flights on December 3, 1993. They most flew domestic Indian routes, though added some regional flights, as well as one to London by the mid-2000s. After Jet Airways took them over in April 2007, Air Sahara became JetLite, and then JetKonnect in 2012.
The word sahaara in Hindi (सहारा) means “help;” perhaps its owners should have thought of the repercussions of that name, since at the time of their purchase by Jet Airways, they had a mere 12% market share in India, as compared to Jet’s 43%.
Indian Airlines: New Delhi (DEL) – Jaipur (JAI), June 2006
First Flight: 1953
Ceased Flights: February 26, 2011 (Merged with Air India)
In 1953, just six years after gaining independence, the Indian government decided to nationalize its airlines. To simplify the process, Air India was strictly for international flights, and Indian Airlines – formed out of a number of domestic carriers – handled flights entirely within India.
Since they were the main event for decades for flying domestically in India, Indian Airlines also saw the introduction of the first Airbus A300, the Airbus A320, and shuttle flights (between New Delhi and Mumbai). With the liberalization of the domestic airline industry in the 1980s, Indian Airlines dominance over local traffic was conspicuously diminished.
In spite of a series of crashes and hijackings in the 1980s and 1990s, they were generally profitable; it didn’t hurt that they were owned 51% by the Indian government. Air India absorbed them in early 2011.
Adam Air: Bali DPS – Jakarta CGK, February 2008
First Flight: December 2003
Ceased Flights: June 18, 2008
Named for the son of one of the airline’s founders, and notable for its…unique livery (color scheme), Adam Air had a brief and rocky existence, reduced to dregs consequent to inexperience and cutting corners.
Adam Air’s stand-out orange and green colors, low-fares and in-flight meals regardless of the stage length of a flight were a huge hit with Indonesians looking for cheaper alternatives to the standard two carriers, Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air. However, its explosive growth in popularity was masking a fatal issue.
On a personal note, the only one of these airline trips that I vividly remember is Adam Air. I had a crazy Friday trying to get to Bali from Jakarta; at one point, I was walking waist-high in flooded fertilizer and cobwebs along the Jakarta (CGK) airport highway. It was pitch black, and I was alone.
After making to Bali (with the intent to fly to Timor Leste), my papers were rejected, but because of the severe flooding in Jakarta, I had a hell of a time getting back. Luckily, I befriended some folks at the Merpati Nusantara airline office of Bali Airport, giving them free English lessons. After eight hours of hanging out with them, one of them finally found a ticket back to Jakarta, only it was with Adam Air. To speak candidly, I was a bit nervous, but it was my only practical option. My seat had some horribly bright colors, and parts of the cabin were held together with duct tape, including by the window and oxygen masks. It was the only flight I’ve ever taken where I held my breath. Upon returning to Jakarta, traffic took about four hours to get back (usually, it was 45 minutes). UGH.
Merpati Nusantara Airlines: Dili (DIL) – Bali (DPS), March 2008
First Flight: Late 1962
Ceased Flights: February 2014
Merpati Nusantara, which means “dove archipelago” in Indonesian, took over for the Dutch De Kroonduif carrier of Netherlands New Guinea (present-day Irian Jaya province) in 1963. The merpati, or dove, aspect of the nomenclature might be related to the kroonduif, which means “crown dove” in Dutch, named after the once common bird found in Irian Jaya. Also, with Indonesia consisting of thousands of islands stretching thousands of miles, the nusantara, or archipelago, was intended to evoke the airline’s breadth.
After being bought and divested from Garuda in 1978 and 1997, respectively, Merpati Nusantara also had its fair share of incidents. With rising debt and oil prices at the time, the airline went bus in early 2014, though it seems some investors are hoping to form a Merpati Version 2.0.
Air Bagan: Bagan NYU – Yangon RGN, Spring 2009
First Flight: Late 2004
Ceased Flights: In 2015 (as Air Bagan), then lost their license in 2018
Air Bagan holds a number of “firsts” for Burma aka Myanmar: the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen, the first to use jets, the first to have female pilots, the first to introduce a frequent flyer program, and among others, the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen to go bankrupt. It is named for one of the country’s most famous attractions, the stupa and temples of Bagan (Nyaung U).
Their first flights were in 2004, primarily to serve tourists. Then, after the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Air Bagan was recruited to provide humanitarian services to the hard-hit southern portion of the Burma. In spite of these efforts, the US government authorized sanctions on the airline, which contributed to their eventual downfall. They first stopped flying in 2015, though ultimately lost their operating license in 2018. Fortunately, if they ever want to reappear, they’ve still got the domain name.
Sun Air Express: Lancaster, Pennsylvania (LNS) – Washington Dulles (IAD) – Hagerstown, Maryland (HGR), 2015
First Flight: 2012
Ceased Flights: Bought by Southern Airways Express in 2016
Formed years earlier as Sun Air International, Sun Air Express first flew in in 2008 between Florida and the Bahamas. In 2012, with assistance from the Essential Air Service program – i.e. federal subsidies for rural/remote communities – they began flights out of Houston, and Washington Dulles to regional airports…because when you think of sunny days, suburban D.C. comes to mind. Then, in 2014, they received more EAS support for flights out of Pittsburgh.
Throughout my travels, I’ve come across a heady amount of signs, ads, and menus lost in translation. Though it’s more fun when I’m able to read the original language, too, it’s very easy to bowl me over with copy that was clearly pasted into an online translator, and then pasted verbatim onto whatever deliverable for which it was being prepared.
Having spent much of my overseas time in East Asia, I can cheekily say that Japan and China share the gold medal for the volume and quality of their Engrish. However, if I had to nominate two favorites – one from each country – I think it would be these.
Let’s start with China.
In Guangzhou, one of my favorite places to wander and dine is the neighborhood of Xiaobei, known for its population of folks from all around Africa, as well being a de facto hub for Islam. The extraordinary amount of trade and commerce that occurs in this area, the seething relationship between African expats and locals, and the diverse food options all contribute to making it a unique part of the city, nay, country to visit.
In general, I would go there when hungry, either to get a bite of something Turkish, or for some superb Uyghur bread, called nan, covered in sesame or sunflower seeds:
To get back on topic, on the second floor of the same restaurant where I’d buy the nan, I would get mixed noodles with a cumin-laced soup, and a couple of kebabs.
The menu, however, had already made up its mind about who I was:
First of all, this one is so amusing in that they even got the Chinese wrong. Whereas the Chinese says 馄饨 (húntun), or wonton, their translation is of the word 混沌 (hùndùn), which alternatively refers to a chaos that existed before earth.
In other words, mentally dense.
For you see, the character 混 means to mix/blend, and the character 沌 is chaotic/murky. Somehow, when you combine the two, you get sucked up by Chinese creationist theory. —
As for Japan, it’s a shorter story, but no less risible.
After arriving in the port city of Takamatsu, I started to feel peckish. Yes, I would eat their famed Sanuki udon later that day, but for the time being, a Japanese bakery was in the cards.
For twenty years, I’ve been a fan of Japanese bakeries, starting with the corn kernel-stuffed buttery loaves, and right up to the tingly “mapo” roll found last year.
The name of the bread is – wait for it – translated correctly. クリーミ (kuriimi) is creamy, and ソフト (sofuto) is shorthand for software. But, ソフト also means soft. Of course, the folks who printed up this label – whose description reads as a “moist and soft bread with custard cream folded inside” – would have chosen more wisely – though less memorably for marketing purposes – if they had gone with the Japanese word for soft,
Would you have put these two entries in your pantheon of Engrish? Which would be your two candidates?
Mexico, thus far, is one of my three favorite countries in which to eat –the other two being Japan and Turkey. During my brief time in Southern California, I used to cross over to Tijuana just to get a series of lunches, and then overdo it by chomping on churros while waiting to get back in the US.
After meeting some affable Mexican folks in my travels, my awareness of regional Mexican cuisines grew, as we started taking road trips throughout their delicious country. I will cover more of these stories in later posts, but for now, we’re going to take a look at the tlayuda, the Oaxacan specialty that might count pizza as a distant relative…all the way in Italy.
Tlayuda are eaten either with granulated sugar, or with any number of savory ingredients…
Time for the good stuff! Savory tlayuda are first, smothered in a mix of refried beans and pork lard, the latter called asiento. Then…whatever! For the one above, I ordered it with ground chorizo, squash blossoms, quesillo (Oaxaca cheese; roughly similar to mozzarella), radishes, avocados, tomatoes, and a couple of flora unique to the region.
On the left, the green pod (and its seeds) is called guaje. Although the pod is inedible, the seeds have an eclectic flavor profile, something of a grassy pumpkin seed. More importantly, the guaje, being plentiful in the region during the time of Cortés, lent present-day Oaxaca its name. Since the Spanish couldn’t pronounce Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the plant, they abridged it to become Oaxaca. So much easier, right???
And on the right, pipicha, or chepiche. Does it bear a striking resemblance to tarragon? Yes…but the flavor is more like a citrus cilantro, with a hint of minty licorice. Used by Aztecs and other ancient tribes to treat the liver, pipicha also are high in antioxidants, and can be used to cleanse the palate after a meal. I felt that the flavor was quite strong, so I would recommend using it sparingly.
Jagalchi Market, one of my favorite food markets in the world – at least for now – is located in the metropolis of Busan, South Korea, in the southeastern part of the country. You’ve got seafood downstairs, restaurants above, and the possibility of trying some of the freshest crustaceans, mollusks, and bivalves out there on both floors.
Yep, this place is quality.
Likely established in 1876 and named for the gravel (jagal/자갈) that surrounded the food market/port at the time, it only became a major center in the fishing trade after the Korean War, when many refugees from other parts of the country made it to southerly Busan.
With a bit of the market’s history out of the way, let’s take a short tour of the area:
If you hop on line 1 of Busan’s metro, you can easily get to Jagalchi market. In fact, since Busan’s main train station downtown is also on line 1, you could make an easy day trip from Seoul and other Korean cities using KTX, the national high speed rail. Or…you could just stay where you are, because if you’re already in South Korea, excellent food already surrounds you.
While in the Marshallese commercial, cultural, and political hub, being in a new country and region, I just had to try some of the local Marshallese food. And if you’re thinking it’s simply coconuts and fish… partial credit.
The first local meal I recall trying was at The Tide Table restaurant of the Hotel Robert Reimers. Being jet-lagged but peckish, I chatted with the waitress about Marshallese eats; surprise, surprise, coconuts and fish came up, in addition to the Hawaiian dish known as “loco moco.”
Loco moco consists of boiled white rice, a hamburger, scrambled eggs, and some mysterious brown gravy. It’s not local, but then again, it was the most regional dish on their menu (take that, Caesar salad). I kinda liked it, but perhaps the drinks menu could offer something nuanced?
Eureka! Pandanus juice– that’s the orange liquid in the mysteriously unlabeled bottle. It was delicious! But describing the flavor of pandan(us) – an ingredient common to Southeast Asian desserts, too – is a bit difficult. Quite sweet, and probably a better name for something that people eat than its synonym, screw pine.
Now, if we take pandanus and put it on the delicious side of the Marshallese spectrum, what’s at the other end? Easy peasy: the noni fruit.
The noni fruit – native to Southeast Asia and Polynesian islands – might be known to some of you in pill or extract form to treat various maladies. I know it better as a disgusting, vile food that might even put some durian to shame.
For background, I went to a beach party, and found one of these pock-marked fruits lying around on a table. Ever the adventurous if naïve eater, I took a bite. Yuck! It tasted of rotten bleu cheese. One of my peers saw my reaction, and brought a fresh coconut over to drink. If a friend invites you to some noni and shirako, you might want to start interviewing for new amigos.
Eventually, I was able to explore Majuro, primarily to investigate local bites. The Marshall Islands accepts US dollars, so I was free to spend the wad without forex fees…but the question is, what to spend it on?
Coupled with one of the most random newspaper ads I have ever seen, I sat down at a casual place for a very filling meal. To start, I ordered a predictable coconut water, some pumpkin porridge, and grilled red snapper. Simple fare, both fresh and welcoming.
Note the condiments on the left: tabasco sauce, soy sauce, and ketchup.
Since the porridge and snapper tasted nice, I wanted to give them more business. Above, we have mashed sweetened sweet potatoes, and on the left, a staple starch of the Marshall Islands, the breadfruit. Having never tried a slice of breadfruit, I was blown away by its billowy French toast texture, just-right sweetness, and tropical abundance, for the next time I should have a craving.
Right before leaving Majuro, I went with a few peers to go fishing. Our local contact gave us a sampling of his home-smoked swordfish jerky, and some mercilessly hacked coconut meat.
Individually, they tasted pleasant, but combined they were even better, reminding me that cities like New York City and London might have flavors from all over the world, but the quality from the freshness is sorely lacking.
Another thing, you may not want to eat too much coconut meat, as it’s fattening like no tomorrow.
After one week touring Majuro and a few of its islets, it was time to take the long journey back to the states, starting with that trippy flight to Honolulu. You know, one of those take-off in the evening of Day 1, and land in the early morning of Day 1 flights. There was a problem, though. I forgot to buy edible souvenirs!
No worries, Majuro Airport has you covered.
Rum, Rice Krispies Treats, and eggs. Wow! This flight is going to be blast.
Have you been to the Marshall Islands? Which of the above foods would you most want to try first?
Though Russian points of interest will make future appearances on LearningFeelsGood, most fresh in my recent stroll through trip photos is the unexpected amusement found in the form of Moscow vending machines…and here I thought Japan had already cornered the market on this stuff.
Without further ado, let’s take a gander at a few surprising – and one not so surprising – souvenirs:
Now you too can own a t-shirt of Dear Leader Putin wearing shades. Or a hat. Or neither. Not to mention, why isn’t Patriot Box written in Russian too? Because locals. Already. Know.
Contact lenses in a vending machine. Stick your eye into that little slot in the lower right…no, that’s not it. So then, was this purpose-built with one person in mind? Yeah, if I had my own vending machine, it would probably sell pillows. Or tacos.
This is a neat idea–a vending machine selling only Japanese products. When I bought a bottle of green tea from this one, it uttered “有り難う御座います” (arigatou gozaimasu/thank you). Also, note that the upper left sign is pointing to the hot drinks, and the lower right, the chilled drinks.
Actual oranges being squeezed in this Zummo machine, presumably with nothing else added…sweeeeet! But, how long have they been sitting there?
Food. Well, to me at least. This is what you were expecting to find in Russia, right– a caviar vending machine? Maybe by the Caspian Sea.
Even with the agreeable exchange rate, I still didn’t dive in to a jar of икра (ee-kra). Guess I’ll have to settle for the fake stuff for now.
Which of these products, if any, appeals most to you? Seen any vending machines in Moscow that should be added to the list?
I wish I could say that my breakfasts in Sapporo, Japan were unforgettable in the positive sense – then again, I did have control over what was to be eaten – but to be fair, it was only one day’s selections that were unique.
I was drawn to Hokkaido’s largest city by, what else, food, and indeed sampled more hits than misses. Down the line, we’ll cover more of what I ate, but today the focus is on one of my multi-breakfast days.
A short walk from my hotel led me to Nijo Market (二条市場), arguably Sapporo’s most famous. A relatively relaxing place compared to other markets in the country, it also has products much harder to find outside of Hokkaido…
Case in point, over at the Nijo Market, you can buy bear-in-a-can (熊kuma in a 缶kan), seal (海豹azarashi) curry and tinned Steller’s sea lion (todo).
It was a tough decision, but I went with stewed sea lion, served in the 大和煮 (yamato-ni) style, which means stewed with soy sauce, ginger, and sugar. How do you wash that all down at 7:30 in the morning? With a US$.80 juice box of sake called “Demon Slayer.”
The stew was well-seasoned – nothing surprising for Japan – and you definitely knew it wasn’t your standard issue beef or pork. Or tube-shaped fish paste cake.
Getting my daily dose of bread was next on the list, so I flocked to the nearest convenience store for inspiration. The brand Yamazaki Pan comes up with rather bizarre crust-less bread creations, and if you couldn’t read Japanese but knew about Japanese food, you might be forgiven for thinking that they are all stuffed with mayonnaise and yakisoba.
That is unless you noticed the handy graphics depicting what is likely inside. In this package, we have Fujiya chocolate wafers and whipped cream. The wafers seemed a bit stale, but on the whole the sandwiches did the trick.
One of my favorite aspects of eating in Japan is hunkering down at a kaitenzushi restaurant (回転寿司屋/conveyor belt sushi). Not only do they have nearly unlimited tea and pickled ginger (made easier because they are self-serve), but you can also often find ネタ (neta, toppings/ingredients for sushi) unique to that establishment. I’ll go over this in more detail another time, but matsutake mushrooms, raw chicken and hamburgers have been spotted in addition to seafood.
Those toppings are head-scratching enough, but what about 白子 (shirako)?
Shirako, or milt, is the seminal fluid of various fish. Yet, it wasn’t so much what I was eating but the texture of it.
That’s a lie. It was both.
Needless to say, that was the best lemon I have ever eaten.
Given Name: 무침회* Alias:Muchimhoe Place(s) of Origin: Daegu, Republic of Korea Place Consumed: Daegu, Republic of Korea Common Features: Seafood (but not fish), gochujang* Background: I’d be hard pressed not to find a good meal from the Korean peninsula…heck, even that duck bbq in Pyongyang was quality.
After checking in at my hotel in Daegu, I asked about representative dishes from the area. Aiming for multiple meals that would make a marine biologist blush, it appeared that I forgot to look at a map in the planning stages of this trip (meaning, three hours before I left)- Daegu isn’t on a coast. OK, but it’s not far from one either. A staff member reminded me of this, and proceeded to introduce me to “muchimhoe street*.“
Verdict: Excellent, as expected. Ssam* up the gochujang-laced seafood mix into the lettuce, add a bit of egg and dig in. Even with the overpowering taste of gochujang, I was able to make out the turban shell, squid and conch, but there were definitely other mollusks present. Generous amounts of sesame seeds were sprinkled on top, and there weren’t any bones either, so there’s another +2. A very aquatic affair, with seaweed and sea grass as part of the banchan, and the soup had a salty, “beachy” tinge to it.
Amusingly, the grandmotherly-type figured that as a foreigner, I’d have no idea how to eat anything (Korean). However, she took this a step further and literally fed me the first bite. So…if you’re into that kind of thing, keep it to yourself.
Glossary * 무침회 muchimhoe – “muchim” = mixed with various seasonings; “hoe” = a dish with raw food * gochujang 고추장- fermented, spicy and slightly sweet red chili sauce made with glutinous rice and soybeans; if you’ve eaten bibimbap, you’ve likely seen gochujang * muchimhoe street – if you look at the linked map, take exit 1 from Bangogae (반고개) metro station, and walk towards the red pin. The red pin is Naedang-dong (내당동), the most famous area for this specialty in Daegu…the city isn’t a major destination for foreign tourists, so don’t think just because it’s THE street for muchimhoe that they’re out to rip you off. * ssam 쌈 (Korean) – “wrap”
Beaches, at least while I’m traveling solo, are somewhere near the bottom of the list of priorities. I might head towards one for a sunset shot, to try local seafood, or to admire the terrain, but not to kick back for hours on end.
Thus, you can imagine my…imagination’s surprise when I flew to the Maldives a some years back. I was on my way to Colombo, Sri Lanka, so why not fit in a rapidly disappearing archipelago on the way?
Beyond snorkeling between schools of tropical fish and rubbish floating by a jetty near Hulhumale’, and getting nauseous from diesel fumes from the ferries, I wasn’t sure what else to do.
Oh, right. Let’s explore Maldivian food.
Right off the bat, you should know that fish, specifically skipjack tuna, is THE staple of the Maldives. The canned (tinned for British English viewers) variety is more and more common, but traditionally the tuna was cured – in this case, boiled, smoked and sun-choked – into a product called ari. Coconuts are also par for the course, which raises Maldivian food to level awesome.
That said, here’s when I had a generally good sense of what I ordered:
The first meal I ate in the Maldives was appropriately a tuna-centric one. It tasted canned, and the chapati – known locally as roshi – was lukewarm at best. What a disappointment.
Maybe I’m being too hard on the food. I drank the water, so that’s probably where the disappointment set in.
The server knew me well.
Oops, more water.
Wandering around downtown Male’ on one of my empty stomachs, I sought refuge in a bustling short eats hole-in-the-wall.
What’s on the menu? Fried things, round fried things, fried round things, and tuna. With fried coconut. And heavily sweetened tea. And tuna, grilled that is.
The first plates come by. The lighter things in the lower-left are called gulha, made with tuna, coconut and chilies, and the darker ones are kavaabu, fried with tuna, potatoes and lime. To the right, we have riha folhi, curried tuna rolls, and in the back, unfortunately I don’t recall the names. The yellow item that looks like a swimming turtle is NOT an egg, and the glutinous cubes behind it didn’t have much taste. It’s safe to say that neither of those contained tuna. Can anyone identify those snacks?
Add the fish curry to the list of foods that made me suffer dearly. I couldn’t speak for a few minutes because it set my mouth on fire for some time. That the rice was boiling hot didn’t help things, nor did the spicy vegetables (including red onions, another Maldivian favorite). Which is to say, I’d order that curry again, if only I knew the name!
Papaya shake. Although I often think papayas have a Bubblicious aftertaste, they are refreshing in shake-form. No sugar, no ice, all fresh…just hope that the glass was properly cleaned.
Now it’s time to go into the “doldrums of food” category:
You’re supposed to spit it out?
This potent combination of a stimulant – the areca nut, cinnamon, cloves, and calcium hydroxide (to help with absorption) usually follows a Maldivian meal. That is, I thought it was a dessert, so down the hatch a handful went.