Family Finds Rare Animal on Vacation, Then Serves It For Dinner

hexapus octapus Greece
Labros Hydras/SWNS

Nothing like catching your own food and eating it on vacation. Except for when you find out that your nightly catch is an extremely rare species.

That’s what happened recently in Greece. While vacationing in the sunny southern European country, Labros Hydras captured an octopus while snorkeling, and not knowing that it happened to be an extremely rare hexapus, killed it and ended up preparing it for family dinner.

For those not in the know, a hexapus is an octopus with six legs instead of eight. There is dispute on where the first one was sighted, but it was either in the early nineties or 2008. And now there would have been yet another, if it hadn’t been consumed for dinner instead.

But when you have had a vacation tradition for years of catching your own seafood, should you be held responsible for your actions?

“It tasted just like a normal octopus, but now I feel really bad,” Hydras told The Telegraph. “When we caught it, there was nothing to suggest it was any different or had been damaged. I thought it had just been born with six tentacles.”

And in light of his actions, Hydras is insistent on doing what he can to remedy the situation. “Now I want to pursue the scientific angle to make scientists aware of the existence of the wild hexapus. It is the least that I can do given my ignorance and guilt that I feel for killing such a rare animal.”

Lesson: eating locally isn’t always the best policy.

Exploring Normandy, France: The Harbor Town Of Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue

The land of Calvados, Pont l’Evêque cheese and World War II history, Normandy, France, is one of those places that manages to pack almost everything into one region. Coastline, farmland, history, culture, food – in a trip to Normandy you can get it all.

Well known for some of its larger cities and the World War II beaches like Utah and Omaha, an often forgotten gem of Normandy is Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, a small fishing village just east of Cherbourg. A tiny village in the off-season, during the warmer months it explodes with French and Brits descending upon their vacation homes. Which makes late spring or early fall the perfect time to explore: the weather is nice and the streets are quiet.The first harbor to be freed by the Allied Forces in 1944, the village is also home to the La Hougue Fort and Tatihou, part of 12 groups of fortified buildings across France that have UNESCO World Heritage classification. Built by King Louis XIV’s famed engineer Sebastian le Prestre de Vauban, the Vauban fortifications include citadels, urban bastion walls and bastion towers. In Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue you’ll find one just east of town and the other on the island of Tatihou, both built after naval Battle of La Hougue saw twelve French ships sunk in the surrounding waters. Go to La Hougue Fort early in the morning and have the place to yourself, the waves crashing on the rock wall that surrounds the fort and, if you’re up for it, an excellent promenade.

In town you’ll find the infamous Maison Gosselin, a family-owned store that’s been in operation since 1889. It’s still set up like a classic store – you take your produce to be weighed before you pay for it – and it’s complete with regional products like Sel Guerande sea salt and plenty of options for Calvados. In fact the wine cellar almost seems bigger than the store itself. Foodie heaven.

From here you are a short drive to the WWII beaches, Utah Beach and the Utah Beach Museum being the closest. Omaha Beach, which houses the Normandy American Cemetery is just a little further east.

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When in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue:

Eat:

Le Pub le Creperie – Owned by an ex-Parisian named Philippe, this is the place to go for good crepes. You can also get the traditional serving of moules frites (mussels and fries). Be sure to accompany with the rose. 36 rue de Verrue.

Oysters – One out of four oysters in France come from Normandy, and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a hub of oyster production. You can visit a local oyster production complete with a tasting at Ets Lejeune.

Shop:

Snag a classic striped mariniere French sailor shirt. Check out local boutique Cap Saint Vaast Marine (12 rue de Verrue) for the classic brand St. James. While you’re at it, stick to the maritime theme and pick up a few jars of flavored sea salts at Maison Gosselin.

Do:

Get up early and check out the La Hougue Fort; you’ll have it to yourself and the fortified walls are beautiful in the early morning light.

Go to Ile Tatihou. The island is limited to 500 people per day so make sure to book a time on the local ferry that shuttles visitors to the island.

Get outside. In the summer Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a hub of activity, from cycling to sailing.

The Kimchi-ite: Busan, South Korea’s Seaside Second City

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling

South Korea‘s second city, Busan, has become the county’s gate to the ocean, known for beaches, an extremely busy port and rich seafood culture. Located on the exact opposite end of the country from Seoul, it’s unique from the capital in more than just location. It offers more open space, a distinct dialect and a much more laid back atmosphere.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Gwangan Bridge with ships passing by makes for romantic views.

Many of the beaches on the western coast of Korea have muddy sand and murky water caused by sand storms coming from China’s Gobi Desert. However, Busan has earned a reputation for having the best beaches in Korea, with golden sand and rich, blue-green water, often drawing comparisons to Miami.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Korea’s mountainous landscape is present down by the sea.

But with fame in Korea come the crowds and by far the most crowded is Haeundae Beach. During peak times Haeundae is the perfect image of the country’s overpopulation. It is also home to much of the activities for the Busan International Film Festival, one of the most important film festivals in Asia.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Shopkeepers at an outdoor market prepare eomuk, a famous fishcake skewer.

Fresh seafood comes into the city’s harbours everyday and most often finds its way into eomuk (often referred to as odeng), a skewered fish cake and one of Busan’s most famous dishes, which is cheap and can be purchased virtually anywhere.

Jonathan Kramer, Gadling
Busan Tower stands as one of the city’s unique landmarks.

Busan is a great jumping off point for getting to other parts of Korea, such as Jeju Island, as well as international destinations, such as cheap ferries to Japan and affordable flights throughout the rest of Asia.

For more on Korean culture, food and more, check out the “Kimchi-ite” archives by clicking here.

7 Deadly Sins: The Best Fast Food Mexican Restaurants In Southern California

fish tacos at bull taco californiaIt really isn’t fair. California has sun, beaches, mountains and legions of fit, attractive people. But Californians also get to enjoy otherworldly tacos and burritos too. I know, I know, there are good tacos and burritos to be had in other parts of the country, but when it comes to fast food Mexican, California is still king.

Here’s how I like to roll when I’m visiting California: start the day with a breakfast burrito, feast on an grilled fish burrito for lunch and cap the day with shrimp or lobster tacos at dinner time. If I wasn’t always falling asleep early on the West Coast due to jet lag, I’d probably do another round of tacos late night too, if I could only stay up late enough to squeeze it in.

It’s very hard to distinguish where to get the best fast food Mexican fare in Southern California. Try one place and you’ll think it’s the best thing you ever tasted and then travel down the block to realize there’s someplace even better. But what follows is a run down of the best fast-food Mexican seafood tacos and burritos I had on a recent trip to Southern California (save for Rudy’s, which doesn’t do seafood).


La Sirena Grill (Laguna Beach, El Segundo, and Irvine)

I had a blackened shrimp burrito and my wife had a blackened wild salmon taco and a blackened tilapia taco here and everything was incredibly fresh and tasty. They have a sweet, tangy salsa that is out of this world. Much of what La Sirena serves is organic and even the containers they serve tacos in are made of corn.

carne asada tacos rudy's californiaRudy’s Taco Shop (Solana Beach, La Costa)

This place is the polar opposite of trendy La Sirena – there are no advertisements boasting about sustainability or humanely raised beef at this hole-in-the-wall joint but their carne asada is melt-in-your-mouth delicious and their chips are first rate too.

Rubios (Locations are mostly in suburban San Diego with a handful in other cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, Vegas, Phoenix and L.A.)

I know that some foodies are suspicious of chain places, but I am rooting for this one to make it out to Chicago. I had two grilled mahi-mahi tacos with roasted corn, cabbage and creamy chipotle salsa and a gourmet shrimp taco, which came with toasted mozzarella, jack and white cheddar cheese, bacon bits, avocado and two chili sauces.

fish tacos rubiosBoth were ridiculously good and were served with chips and beans on a real plate. The nice young kids who work at the Carlsbad location I patronized were fascinated by my interest with the place. To them, it probably seems a bit odd to be fussing over tacos and taking photos of them, but they’re spoiled they can get these beautiful things anytime they want them.

Bull Taco (Cardiff by the Sea, Oceanside, Petco Park)

This beachside taco stand advertises itself as “Inauthentic Mexican” but has become something of a local institution in just five years, serving unusual taco creations. Nathan, one of the chefs at the Cardiff by the Sea location, told me that all the cooks who work there are classically trained chefs. Only in California would serious chefs be found working in a taco joint and thank God for that.

bull taco shrimp tacosI devoured three tacos – grilled sea bass, shrimp curry and the coup d’gras, a lobster, chorizo and bacon beauty. Purists might balk at some of their concoctions but I would kill to have this place near my home in Chicago.

Bahia Mexican Restaurant (near the zoo in San Diego)

This modest little fast food place, with its colorfully painted chairs and tables, made me feel like I was in a working class neighborhood outside Puerto Vallarta. Big menu, low prices, no frills and it smelled great. After a long morning spent pushing my sons around in a stroller at the San Diego Zoo, I was starved, so I ordered a fish taco (grilled tilapia, $2.30), a shrimp taco ($3.30), and a lobster taco ($3.80).

bahia restaurant san diegoThe tortillas were very light and flavorful, the tacos were packed with seafood and everything was wonderfully fresh and delicious. My only complaint: the place is filled with vending machines selling junky toys and temporary tattoos, which my sons nagged me into buying. Halfway through my lobster taco, I relented and bought two sets of tattoos, but my 3-year-old didn’t like the one that came out of the slot for him. But even the tantrum that ensued couldn’t diminish the experience for me.

Taco Surf Taco Shop (Pacific Beach neighborhood in San Diego)

taco surf taco shopFor a place that’s filled with surfboards and is just a block away from the Mission Beach-Pacific Beach boardwalk along the ocean, this place is dark and slightly depressing. Taco Surf Taco has been featured as one of the best places to get a burrito in the country by Fox News and was also singled out by USA Today. I don’t agree with Fox News very often and I don’t agree with them on this call either.

The people working at TSTS are very friendly and my mahi-mahi burrito ($7.66) was big and tasty, but I didn’t think it was extraordinary. Another diner told me I should have tried their California burrito, which has steak, cheese and fries, but I’ll leave that one to Fox News and others. One other beef: horrible music. I had a Whitney Houston “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” earworm for days after hearing it at this place.

poquito mas tacosPoquito Mas (7 locations in L.A.)

I had two shrimp tacos ($6.50) at their West Hollywood location and I thought that the name of this place, which means “a little more” in Mexican, was appropriate – there were only three shrimp in each taco – not nearly enough for my tastes. They were tasty though and I especially liked their array of spicy salsas, but not their dicey tortilla soup.

Conclusion: If I had to crown my very favorite seafood, fast-food Mexican meal in California, and it really isn’t fair because all of these places are great, it would be a tie between La Sirena and Rubios. Their tacos and burritos literally brought a smile to my face. Please, please, please guys, come to Chicago. I’m begging you.

There are thousands of places to eat seafood tacos and burritos in Southern California and no list of the best places is comprehensive. What’s your favorite place?

[Photo and video credits: Dave Seminara]

A Family Night Out In Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
After a long road trip around Iraq, I find myself back in Baghdad. It’s our last night together as a group. For our final dinner we decide to eat a famous Baghdadi recipe at a famous landmark –mazgouf fish at Abu Nuwas Park.

Abu Nuwas park runs for one-and-a-half miles along the east bank of the Tigris in central Baghdad. It’s named after an early medieval poet who was half Arab and half Persian, and wrote poems in both languages. His poetry celebrated wine and sex and made fun of the Arab nostalgia for Bedouin life. This ensured trouble during his lifetime and fame after his death.

In keeping with the Abu Nuwas’ liberal tradition, the park that bears his name is a neutral ground for the city’s warring factions. Everyone comes here to relax, not fight. Of course there’s still the usual cordon of armed guards. Trust is in short supply in this country.

Once inside, though, it doesn’t feel like Baghdad at all. Families have picnics on blankets spread under trees. Kids do cartwheels on the grass. The Tigris glitters with reflected streetlights. A fountain at the edge of the riverbank shoots up water as colored lamps make the jets pulse red and purple. Music mixes with the calls of vendors selling nuts, candy, and Spongebob Squarepants balloons.

We’ve come to dine at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Mazgouf, named after a large fish found in the Tigris that’s considered a delicacy. The fish is cut in half down its length and stuck on spike next to an open wood fire to slowly cook. When it’s done, it’s pulled off the spike and put on a plate. The scales and eyes on the outside are still preserved, making a sort of bowl from which to scoop out the goopy and incredibly rich insides. The restaurant at Abu Nuwas Park is said to be one of the best.

We find the restaurant and sit outside. As usual, the people at the next table come over and welcome us to Iraq. Mazgouf is made to order so there’s a long wait before we get our meal. Once it comes, everyone digs in with relish. I’m no expert on mazgouf but it’s the second-best meal I’ve had this entire trip. It’s so rich and heavy I can only finish half of it, although I’d love to eat the whole thing. The mood at the table is celebratory. We’ve made it through Iraq unscathed. Everyone is thinking of home but disappointed to be leaving.

While everyone else is leaving tomorrow morning and the guards will go off to other duties, my flight isn’t until the following morning, which means I get a whole day to myself in Baghdad. This worries me only slightly. My time in Iraq has taught me that the country is far safer than most people believe, and my hotel is in a good neighborhood. Besides, staying in the hotel all day simply isn’t an option. I just hope I don’t have any trouble when I go out alone.

After dinner we stroll around the park. The mood is relaxed and festive. So is the dress code. A woman walks by in a skirt and I almost keel over. It’s the first bare female leg I’ve seen in more than two weeks. Young couples who may very well be unmarried walk hand in hand, whispering to each other. I’ve stepped into another world. It’s even more relaxed than Kurdistan. Flashing lights and squeals of laughter draw me down a path and to another gate.

%Gallery-172598%It’s an amusement park. Kids are zipping around on bumper cars in the middle of a pool, or shooting down a giant inflatable slide. Their big brothers and sisters play videos games in a nearby arcade.

Getting in requires going through another checkpoint. There’s a brief hassle as the park’s guards demand that our guards leave their guns behind. Captain Ali, the senior of our two guards, doesn’t like that idea. I’m not sure how it’s resolved but we eventually get through, only to be stopped again.

“What now?” someone in our group groans.

“Photo! Photo!” the park guards say.

“Oh, OK.”

We all line up and take each other’s photos. I still haven’t figured out why Iraqis all want their photo taken. Only one of them has asked for a copy, and he never emailed me so I could send it to him. Maybe they just want to be part of my holiday memories. That’s cool. Memory made.

As soon as we’re through I ditch my guards. I don’t think those kids on the Merry-go-Round are going to shoot me, and after more than two weeks of these guys dogging my movements I’m sick of them. I slip behind some spinning ride with flashing lights and I’m gone.

Swarms of laughing children zip past me as I wander among the rides. I shake my head in amazement. How is this possible? This country is torn apart by war and sectarian bitterness and here everything is just fine. These families are the Iraqi majority, the decent folks who want all the bullshit to stop so they can get some enjoyment out of life. It would be silly to think they’re “just like us”; they’re not. But they’re enough like us that when this whole mess sorts itself out, I know who I want to come out on top.

“Mr. Sean.”

I turned around. Aw crap, Captain Ali has found me.

“We need to go now,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah.”

I turn away and keep walking. He trots patiently behind. This is a game he knows he’ll win.

Families come up to me, asking that I photograph their children or forcing their kids into impromptu English lessons. The kids take it with good grace, as curious as their parents about this strange foreigner who’s wandered into their fun.

Well, almost all the kids take it with good grace. One man drags his toddler over and urges her, “Say hello. Say hello.” She bursts into tears.

“Tired?” I ask.

He smiles and nods.

“Yes, tired. Late night.”

We laugh, one father to another.

Another tug at my arm. It’s Captain Ali again. Go away.

“Mr. Sean, we need to go.”

He leads me off, holding my wrist like a naughty child. I could complain, but he’s the law and even though he still has a reserve of good humor, his patience is at an end. We head for the exit.

Three bombs exploded in Baghdad this morning. More than a dozen killed. The story is already being broadcast by all the major news channels, with the usual blaring headlines and snuff film visuals. I take a last look around at Abu Nuwas park, at the picnicking families and the laughing children and the guys selling balloons. There are no TV cameras here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Solo Stroll Through Baghdad!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel