Traffic, Dhaka-Style: The World’s Rickshaw Capital (Bangladesh)

Traffic is one of those detestable facts of life that seems to follow you, no matter where you go.  Whether it’s waiting on line at a market, inhaling exhaust from the cars during rush hour, or you’re trying to buy a pair of limited edition Super Mario Bros. shoes on the Puma website right after their release, traffic swoops in to sap your vitality.

Not to mention, if you like traveling, you probably have stories of superlative traffic situations.  One of mine stems from taking an airport bus from Congonhas Airport to downtown São Paulo; we moved roughly three miles in two and a half hours.  Then, you have the pipe that fell on a highway between Mexico City and Puebla; on that bus, we waited around eleven hours before the go-ahead.  And have fun trying to cross a street in a Vietnamese city.

Ah, yes, Vietnam.  Being a pedestrian in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi takes some guts, what with the never-ending swathes of motorbikes narrowly missing knocking you over.  It’s usually worth it though, given how delicious much of the coffee and street food is.  But, is there an analogous metropolis out there, known for its mesmerizing traffic, perhaps somewhere in South Asia?

Almost.

Enter– Dhaka, Bangladesh, the undisputed rickshaw (Bengali: রিকশা) capital of the world; by some estimates, there are more than one million rickshaws (aka pedicabs) throughout the city.  They are well-known for their colorful designs featuring monuments, cityscapes, and movie stars, and regularly jostle with lead and methane-emitting cars, trucks, and buses.  So congested are Dhaka’s streets that in 2018, the average driving speed was said to be just above 4 miles per hour.

Having recently read that the Dhaka government is planning to remove all pedicabs by next year, I wonder how successful this initiative will be.  COVID-19 may have put a temporary stop to it, but irrespective of the pandemic, millions of residents rely on the pedicabs for commuting, as their quotidian job, or for transporting goods.  Overall, Dhaka’s infrastructure is not equipped for the more than 19 million that live in the metro area, and completely eliminating rickshaws would only add to the vehicular traffic.  Also, if they go the Jakarta route – getting rid of rickshaws coupled with a rising middle class –  it might pave the way for motorbikes, which again would add to the traffic crisis.

On that note, I leave you with this nocturnal image, as a passenger in a Dhaka rickshaw in 2007:


Fortunately, the first line of a Dhaka metro system – as well as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme – are under construction.  Given that the city is monsoon fodder, I’m hoping that these two modes of public transit have some sort of buttress against flooding.

Eating Out in the Marshall Islands

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Marshall Islands.  After a seemingly endless series of red-eye flights from Fiji on Our Airline, I made it to Majuro, capital of the tropical archipelago– highest elevation, just under 10 feet.  For a brief 20th century history lesson of the Marshall Islands, you may want to read this tear-jerker.

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.

Where’s my neck?

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?

Moscow’s Quirky Vending Machines

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:

Moscow, Russia - Putin T-Shirt Vending Machine

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.

Moscow, Russia - Contact Lense Vending Machine

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.

Moscow, Russia - Japanese Vending Machine

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?

Moscow, Russia - Caviar Vending Machine

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?

Traveling to the Wrong Destination is Still Traveling

Ever end up in the wrong city?  I ask this, because I read a story a few years ago about someone flying to the wrong “Taiwan.”  Which is to say, the passenger meant to go to the island, but ended up in Taiyuan, China instead.  Never mind that the two places are spelled differently – in both English and Chinese, that the former isn’t a city, and that the person likely needed a visa for China, but I decided to see how common this type of mistake was.  Indeed, it does happen from time to time, that folks end up in the wrong place– just ask these travelers.

Although China did for a spell have a thing for building its own versions of European hotspots – Austrian villages, anyone? – supposedly, the central government has put the kibosh on those.  Then again, it’s unlikely one would confuse Paris, Tianducheng for Paris, France…or even Paris, Texas.

And then we have Atlanta, which really doesn’t want you to get anywhere quickly if you’re looking for an address on Peachtree Street.  (Hint: there are no less than 71 streets with the name Peachtree in them.)

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Located – I’m Shocked – on Peachtree Street

Thus, in the vein of this topic, I’ll pose this question to my readers– if someone offered you a trip to Mecca, which would you choose?:

Mecca, population ~ 7, 100, in California?  It is also close to the fascinatingly dubious Salton Sea, which I’ll get to in a later post.

Or…

Mecca, population ~ 1.5 million, in Saudi Arabia?

Suggestion: Having been to both, Saudi dates are the best I’ve ever tried.

Unforgettable Breakfasts in Sapporo, Japan

We have both been duped by today’s title.

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…

Sapporo - Nijo Market GoodsCase in point, over at the Nijo Market, you can buy bear-in-a-can ( kuma in a kan), seal (海豹 azarashi) curry and tinned Steller’s sea lion (todo).

Sapporo - Steller's Sea Lion and Onikoroshi Refined Sake

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.


Sapporo - Yamazaki Pan, Chocolate Wafer & Whipped CreamGetting 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/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.

Sapporo - Kaitenzushi Shirako

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.

Airline Safety Cards

Note: With two notable exceptions below, I always ask one of the flight crew if I can take an airline safety card.

Do I really want to take an airline safety card as a souvenir?  They’re typically cooped up in one of those seat-back pockets, probably the nastiest place on a plane – save for the loo/next to anyone eating Macca’s – to place your electronics/reading material/children/etc.  Not to mention, they have those please do not remove from the aircraft labels…well, that’s why you ask first.

But I enjoy the various languages written on them, the amusing graphics, and from time to time, review them to see the bizarre and unique airlines and aircraft types I’ve tried out.

As a shoutout to COVID-19, let’s travel vicariously through some airline safety cards:

airline-safety-card-continental-dc-10As stated above, this is one of those that I didn’t ask to take…likely because I was a little snot way back then.

But, why does this one deserve recognition?  One, it’s the oldest airline safety card in my pile (that’s where “5/94” comes in).  Two, Continental doesn’t exist anymore.  ThreeDC-10s no longer offer scheduled passenger flights.  Four, how nice of them to include Italian in the olden days.

airline-safety-card-adam-air-boeing-737-400-1I took one flight with the bygone Adam Air, between Bali DPS and Jakarta CGK.  The Merpati (another defunct Indonesian carrier) staff at DPS helped me buy this ticket, due to some overeager flooding causing capacity issues at Jakarta airport that weekend.

It’s also one of the few flights from 2008 and earlier that I vividly remember.  Inside the plane, there was duct tape liberally used to hold various parts/doors together.  Pieces of my seat were missing, and the plane rattled from take-off to touchdown.  Might as well thrown in a couple more photos of Adam Air, because it seemed that they were doomed from day one.

adam-air-dps-cgk-2adam-air-dps-cgk-1In fact, just a month after my trip, due to a variety of sordid affairs, they ceased operations.

airline-safety-card-american-airlines-dc-9-80-s80Taken from two American Airlines “Super 80s,” or DC-9-80s’.  The logo may have changed, but the stale and unwelcoming interior remains constant.

Would be even weirder if these two cards are from the same plane, just years apart.

airline-safety-card-air-asia-boeing-737-300-2Way to go, Air Asia.  Your retrofitting of this safety card really instills confidence in me…

airline-safety-card-air-asia-boeing-737-300-1Oh.  That’ll do.

airline-safety-card-garuda-indonesia-crj1000This CRJ1000 card from Garuda Indonesia is the newest (in terms of aircraft age) in my collection.

Though, hah, I have some pretty bad luck flying from Bali, as this particular flight had to return to Bali airport to refuel. In other words, the routing was Bali-Bali.

airline-safety-card-air-koryo-tupolev-134The pièce de résistance- an airline safety card from a Tupolev 134 of North Korea’s Air Koryo. Definitely didn’t ask permission to take this one. Furthermore, it’s the only Soviet-made plane with a presence in my archives, and it’s one of two Soviet jets that I’ve flown (the other – also with Air Koryo – was an Ilyushin 62).


Sure, some of these airline safety cards have amusing graphics, too, but that wasn’t the focus of today’s post.  Though, if you have any photos of unforgettable cards that you’d like to submit, let me know!

Hallucinogens and Heat: A Brief Guide to Eating in the Maldives

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.

Secondly, I was glad though not surprised that English was often present.  I had no idea how to say anything in Dhivehi, and the written script looked like one’s breath was trying its damnedest to communicate.

That said, here’s when I had a generally good sense of what I ordered:

Food in the Maldives -  (2)

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.

Food in the Maldives -  (3)

The server knew me well.

Food in the Maldives -  (7)

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?

Food in the Maldives -  (4)

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!

Food in the Maldives -  (5)

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:

Food in the Maldives -  (6)

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.

Another afternoon wasted.

Food in the Maldives -  (1)

The warning notice should have been a red flag, but I still dared to try a thimble’s worth of khaini, ready-to-roll tobacco.  Who needs Amsterdam when the Maldives are ready to serve you; they’ve even just introduced a points system for frequent travelers, so watch out Sabena!.


Have you tried Maldivian cuisine?

Airline Route Map Rhetoric

Before starting to read books (this is ongoing), I chose maps.   That’s right, I can point out where all of the worlds Guineas are (what a novelty).  In fact, I participated in a couple of state geography bees (harsh reality?), but am still lamenting over not applying for a spot on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Contestants who were sent to place buzzers on the then-newly independent CIS states were perpetually bingung, rather, confused (sorry, haven’t written something in Indonesian for a while).

A predilection for cartographic creations has helped make flights seem less long, especially when the only movie offerings are Drop Dead Fred or The Room.  Having a pen makes it even more pleasant, as I get to gerrymander US states or Cypriot regions to the toot of my own horn (note: haven’t done this yet).  Remember when Iran was upset about National Geographic magazine calling it the Arabian Gulf instead of the Persian Gulf?  I don’t have a problem with the complaint, but just as thought-provoking, if less well-known, is that (Western) airlines generally used to added a suffix to their names in order to be able to fly to both China and Taiwan.  The Dutch airline KLM for example stayed that way on flights to the mainland, but was called KLM Asia to the latter.

This will probably be a thread I’ll continually update, once I’m able to find the Delta inflight magazine that showed Kampuchea instead of Cambodia, or the one where Xian, China is listed as the more archaic Chang’an.  Until those encounters happen, take a peek at the oddities, sometimes controversial, sometimes just …odd.  -ities:

The red lines stand for code-share flights, in other words not those actually operated by China Southern (airline code CZ), but a lot happens when you’ve been abroad for about a year.  Minneapolis relocates to Canada, south Florida travels back to 1995 and Maori Island becomes a misnomer.

China Southern Airlines (CZ) Nationalism

Juicy stuff here.  The Senkaku Islands(or as China calls them, the D/Tiaoyu Islands) AND the South China archipelago, (not to mention Taiwan- but that’s a been there, done that), are clearly in attendance on this page of the China Southern route map.  Might as well add “Africa” and the Solomon Islands to that map too…

El Al Route Map

El Al (LY), an Israeli/whatever airline, understandably can’t just overfly certain countries.  Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran (would you ever guess???)  Thus, their long-haul routes become that much more long-haul.  Say, when flying from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg, they have stay right over the Red Sea, and on their Bangkok route, well, ouch.  But this recent news of potential Dubai-Tel Aviv flights might be the black swan moment in their route map’s history…

Etihad, Abu Dhabi AUH- Jakarta CGK “World Map”

Etihad (EY) of the United Arab Emirates went a bit overboard.  I was flying from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta, but they generously wanted to impress me with their knowledge of world geography.  Because what’s going on in Brasilia is directly going to affect my flight over the Bay of Bengal.  Good thing they don’t have any domestic routes.

China Airlines, TPE-HNL

If you squint well enough, you can see…the ocean.  Taipei-Honolulu, another route I’m not sure why I took.

East/West Seas, Asiana In-flight Map

This one’s got two-in-the-hand!  The West Sea is what the Korean Peninsula terms the Yellow Sea, nothing too offensive.  But the East Sea.  Well, in another never-ending spat with Japan, the Koreas can’t possibly agree with the Sea of Japan, so they just used their/an imagination.  By the way, the Sea of Japan has some delicious Echizen crab…

Maybe all airlines should just take a page from Oman Air’s book, and only label the origin and destination points:

Oman Air, Bangkok BKK to Muscat MCT, 2019


Have you noticed anything “nuanced” on airline route/in-flight maps?

Window or Aisle?

There doesn’t seem to be any good seat in economy class.  Window seats force you to play Twister in case you need to get up for anything; aisle seats mean bags may fall on you whenever the overhead is opened, someone is going to impel you to stand in the aisle once everyone can disembark, your elbow becomes a bullseye for drink carts, and sometimes a giant metal box is under the seat in front of you, c/o in-flight entertainment (IFE); a middle seat has barely any of those issues, phew, except good luck trying to free a limb to do anything.  Not to mention, don’t you get such a kick out of when the check-in agent says the flight is “very, VERY full,” “completely full” or the ingeniously crafted “full,” only to realize that there are seats still unoccupied?  Heck, on some US flights, they will charge you to switch to certain “Economy Plus” seats…are those for extra legroom, or less COVID exposure?

Hey now, then why do I always choose an aisle seat, given the non-exhaustive list of negatives above?  I like wandering about, hitting up the galley where frozen apples and bananas are available to all, sometimes chatting with flight attendants (who are also often frozen) and joining in the elderly Japanese folks who always manage to establish a pop-up gymnasium in the back.  Also, bowing to slight irony, using my knowledge of geography (…and with some assistance from the in-flight map, if available), I’d trek to one of the emergency exit doors to peer out the window.  Why not just choose a window seat then?  I’d make enemies for life with my restless legs and prevailing Middle Eastern countenance.

Just like non-smoking rooms at a Chinese hotel couldn’t be further from the truth, you don’t always have a choice in where you sit on a plane.  Nevertheless, for flights less 3.5 hours, I will attempt a window seat, in order to get views like these:

United Airlines (NRT-HKG)- Mt. Fuji
United Airlines (NRT-HKG)- Mt. Fuji, 2013

Air Dolomiti (CTA-MUC)- Catania & Mt. Etna
Air Dolomiti (CTA-MUC)- Catania & Mt. Etna, 2014

Leaving JFK with a starboard view of the Manhattan skyline, 2019

Taking in the beautiful karst scenery of Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, 2019

Flying over a Gobi desert wind farm, Mongolia, 2019

Oh, let’s not forget, if you’re seated at the window, you get to use your whole noggin to peer out, so that no one else has a chance of seeing anything.  Never mind that merely sitting still will get you nearly the same view…

Where do YOU like to sit?

Five Meals in Baku, Azerbaijan

In late 2016, I visited Baku, Azerbaijan, after learning about the ease of getting a tourist visa if you were a passenger on Azerbaijan Airlines’New York JFK-Baku GYD flight.  With more time, I would have explored the vast biodiversity of the country; however, this short trip was focused on Baku, the Azeri capital, and a few of regional historical landmarks.

As such, today’s post will be centered on a few meals that I tried while in Baku.  With food heavily influenced by Turkish and Iranian cuisines – as well as Russian cuisine – I had high hopes for the Caspian Sea metropolis. Nuş Olsun (Bon Appétit)!

Having done no prior food and drink research about Baku, I decided to rely on the local knowledge of the Azerbaijan Airlines flight attendants; their suggestions were written below, on a less than flattering in-flight sickness bag.

While paying homage to the FAs’ recommendations, the first thing that I ate in Baku was a quince.  Most commonly consumed as a fruit spread, quinces are quite popular in the Caucasus region.  I think quince jams and paste go great with manchego and melba toast, but take my word for it, a raw quince is astringent, awkwardly crunchy, and thus no bueno.

After a day trip to a couple of cool places – I will get into them at a later time – my shady taxi driver dropped me off at this restaurant, ostensibly managed by his “friend.”  Nevertheless, it was a good intro to Azerbaijani food, replete with delicious pomegranate, pickled eggplant, local non-spicy giardiniera, somewhat bland bread (more on this in a moment), raw greens, ayran – a mix of yoghurt, water, and salt – and piti.  What, a piti?  Sorry.

Piti, a soup made with a base of chickpeas, lamb, and chestnuts, comes from the northwestern town of Sheki.  It is always served in an earthenware pot, and can even include quince, cherries, and other items, depending on the season.

About half way through eating the piti, a waiter came by to demonstrate that I was eating it wrong.  You are supposed to rip up the bread, place it in the bowl, and then pour the piti on it.  The pickles (and onions, which I had already eaten by this time) are a traditional accompaniment, as is the floral yet subtle sumac to sprinkle on top.  When eaten correctly, it all comes together so much better~

Xaş (khash)…here’s where we get into the doldrums.  Originally a cheap meal for farmers, and found as far away as Mongolia and Greece, khash is a stew made of tendons in cow and/or sheep feet.  In Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, it’s generally eaten in the winter, and is amusingly eaten to overcome hangovers.

It was extremely oily, heavy without any pleasant flavor, and ultimately not something I’d want to eat again.

Now we’re talking!  Lyulya kebabs, made of minced lamb, onion and plenty of salt, served with more onion, delightfully chewy bread, and narsharab, an Azeri condiment made of sweet and sour pomegranates.  Pomegranates are known as the king of fruit in Azerbaijan, where more than 200 varieties of the vermilion fruit are grown.  Even some dishes are made with pomegranates and eggs…I’m curious about this one.

Just don’t throw that bread out.  It’s rude.

What better way to finish off a brief tour of Azerbaijani food than with paxlava, also known as bakhlava?  The intricately designed paxlava on the top left is called şəkərbura (roughly, shekerbura), and is filled with walnuts and sugar.  On the bottom, tenbel paxlava, or lazy paxlava, made with ground walnuts, sugar, and a sweet syrup.  Although I’m a tea drinker nearly 100% of the time when compared to coffee, as this was a jet lag dish, I went for a cuppa.

If you want to read more about Azerbaijani cuisine, check out this article.