Experiencing Japan through vending machines

One of my favorite ways to experience a place is through street foods. Young and old, rich and poor, men and women all enjoy a quick pick-me-up at some point, and that makes street feed the great equalizer. When I was in Japan in May of 2008, I was mesmerized by the sheer number of vending machines on the streets that supplement (and, in some neighborhoods, replace) street vendors.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to enjoy some local flavor (pun alert!), I purchased a bottle of amino suppli3 on my first day. Amused by the name of the beverage, I snapped a photo of the bottle. Later that same day, while waiting for a train, I purchased an Ice Cocoa on the platform because the metal bottle caught my eye. Again, I snapped a photo and then enjoyed the cool, chocolaty liquid. It was at that moment that I realized that I was on to something: Japan (or at least Tokyo) is less about street food and more about street vending machines. And I was going to document that.

Over ten days in Japan I purchased and drank 26 different beverages from vending machines. And I took a picture of every single one of them. Some, like Pocari Sweat, were great. Others tasted like Robitussin. All of them, however, were part of one of my favorite activities in Japan: exploring the local flavors. Because of that, they are all fond memories.

How do you explore new places? Have you ever created an interesting album of foods or drinks from a specific trip? Share your story with us in the comments.


Booze and air travel – a bad idea or a travelers necessity?

If there is one thing we never seem to have a shortage of here on Gadling, it’s stories that involve drunk passengers misbehaving.

We’ve written about a planeload of 40 drunk Irish, a drunk Russian with an empty bottle of Chivas, a passenger so drunk he beat up his wife and blamed the airline and of course a passenger who drank so much, he killed 5 others (and himself).

Of course, this brings me to the bigger issue; are airlines creating these problems for themselves by refusing to serve some passengers, or should they simply stop service booze on all their flights?

Booze on aircraft is a big thing – it’s often the one time a year when some people get to drink fairly decent liquor and cocktails (assuming they are flying a decent airline and are not in coach), and when booze is free, why hold back?

I actually know several people who fly to drink – that’s right – they cash in their miles, use their elite status to liquor up in the airline lounge, and continue the binge on board. With mileage tickets costing as little as $25, it’s a cheap and efficient way to get hammered.

Some frequent flier boards are regularly filled with outrage when an airline changes its brand of champagne to something less expensive and some folks seem to obsess over the size of the glasses the booze is served in.

Some of the comments in recent booze related articles mentioned that alcohol is a major cash cow for the airlines, but I have to disagree – the expensive stuff is mainly served in first and business class, and is free. And alcohol sales in the back of the plane never really seem to be that high, certainly not on the flights I’ve taken.

So, would you survive a flight without booze? Airlines already banned smoking, so would removing the one final vice be that much of a blow to your comfort level?


Combine caffeine and naps for jet lag help

Here’s what I do to deal with jet lag. I don’t go to sleep much before I travel. I think I was a hamster in my past life. I’m the type who wants to get every last project done, every last dish washed, every last chore behind me before I head out the door. I ruminate. I become more compulsive than usual.

Sometimes, I stay up so late that going to bed may not make sense. That’s what happened before the good-deed travel Mexico trip. It got to be 4:00 a.m. and I thought, I’m getting up in two hours anyway, so why bother? I slept on the plane on and off, and went to bed early the following night. When I travel across time zones, this staying up late makes me tired enough that the jet lag is not as noticeable. I’m thrown off already, what’s a bit more?

When I was living in Singapore, one of my closest friend’s parents visited from the U.S. They are the hearty, cross-country skiing type who stay on a scheduled routine. Their answer to jet lag was to go on a long hike through the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve almost as soon as they arrived at our apartment. Our complex edged the preserve which made hiking there pretty darned convenient. They went to bed when they normally do, and seemed not to suffer much. Getting out in the air and sunshine is one way diminish that groggy, disheveled feeling.

There was an article recently in the New York Times that explains how a combination of coffee and naps can help thwart jet lag. I suppose this is what I do, but less scientifically. I always order coffee and a club soda when I fly. Coffee for the boost, and soda water for the hydration. It feels fancier than regular water. Anything one can do to spruce up travel in my opinion.

The photo is of my 2nd cup of coffee on the Southwest flight. It’s slightly out of focus, but then, so was I.

The Best 8 Beverages in the World

Timothy Ferriss, author of the best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (read our interview with him here), shares his eight favorite beverages from around the world.

I am a consummate consumer in the literal sense. Beverages, perhaps more than any other indulgence, have fascinated me from my first sip of Pocari Sweat in Japan. From Brazil to Zimbabwe, each locale has its superstar drink, and some are as defining of the culture as the people themselves. Here are my top 8 beverages in the world:

#8. Paulaner Kellerbier (Munich, Germany)

Paulaner is one of the six main breweries in Bavaria, and their incredible kellerbier is the only beer in the world that I love. I generally hate beer, but this is as pure as snow and as smooth as silk. It’s a good thing, too, as bottled water is more expensive than brewskies in Munich.

#7. Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee (Tanzania)

Tanzanian peaberry coffee beans, freshly brewed with a simple Krup machine, are near perfect for curing AM grogginess. The only close competitor for early-morning favorites would be Kenya AA coffee, which ups the caffeine but sacrifices some flavor. The former is more elegant, the latter more brute force.

#6. Portuguese Green Wine (Portugal)

Vinho verde, so named for the ripeness and not the color, is sweet and refreshing, perfect for a hot and humid early evening in Lisbon. If you don’t like fruity wines — think Zinfandel — you might be better off trading green wine for a drier Napa Valley Pinot Noir.

#5. Pocari Sweat (Tokyo, Japan)

Not to be confused with the always amusing Calpis Water, Pocari Sweat is the post-exercise darling of Japan. Clear and less sugar-laden than Gatorade, it rehydrates without causing stomach upset and helps you recover from the oppressive heat in a heartbeat.

#4. Acai (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Acai, an Amazonian berry, can be found on any beach in Rio. Generally served with a dash of guarana syrup for caffeine and a guaranteed sugar rush, it looks like purple frozen yogurt and is delicious with a bit of granola or banana on top. Just keep an ear open for “acai, acai, acaiiiiiiii!” and look for tan men carrying coolers on their hips or heads.

#3. Long Jin Cha Green Tea (Hangzhou, China)

The famous “dragon well” tea of the western lake district is well known for good reason. It is one of the top 10 best-regarded teas in China and delivers a beautiful combination of lightness, mild taste, and immediate alertness.

#2. Cold Mugicha Barley Tea (Tokyo, Japan)

Mugicha is the anti-heat weapon of choice for millions of Japanese and Koreans. It has a strong flavor, but the few sessions it takes to acclimate and appreciate this unique drink is well worth it. It improves circulation and, in so doing, helps decrease body temperature more than simple ice water. A delicious but acquired taste.

#1. Yerba Mate (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Consumed from a gourd, and replete with a straw that strains the leaves for you, yerba mate is the food of the gods. It contains three stimulants (caffeine like coffee, theophylline like green tea, and theobromine like cocoa) and provides an extended increase in mental performance without a subsequent crash. I love “Cruz de Malta” brand, and I credit this beverage with producing my first book. Pura vida!


German Riesling or real Thai Red Bull? Mexican horchata or Panamanian passionfruit? What is your favorite liquid Epicurean delight?

Timothy Ferriss is author of the #1 Wall Street Journal and NY Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

Bubble Tea: So Many Flavors, so Little Time

Each country I’ve lived in has some food or drink item I came to crave. So, when I think of that food or drink I think of that country. Like how eating Creamsicles and pork rinds reminds me of my childhood. (Okay, I have some southern roots and I can not recall the last time either passed my lips.) Bubble tea reminds me of Taiwan. When I left there I was sure that was the end of my bubble tea drinking days, since I hadn’t seen it before I moved to Hsinchu. As it turns out, bubble tea made it out of Asia and it seems it’s the latest creation to rival Baskin and Robbins ice-cream in the number of flavors possible. In Columbus, Ohio there are at least three places I know if that serve bubble tea-two of the businesses revolve around it. One, Bubbles Tea & Juice Company, is at the North Market, a swank boutique like eatery that stalls with various offerings ranging from organic meats to high end baked goods to ethnic foods and the other is near The Ohio State University campus.

The bubbles in bubble tea aren’t really bubbles at all but tapioca balls that are so sticky if you shoot them out of a straw at a window, they’ll stick. I have never done this but I know someone else who has. The balls are black and settle to the bottom of the glass, which in true Taiwan fashion is usually not glass but plastic. The tea is served either with milk or without and comes in different flavors: red bean, litchi, green tea melon, strawberry, you name it, someone is making it somewhere. In Taiwan you can get it cold or hot. I prefer hot myself. In the U.S., cold seems to be the temperature of choice.

Here are links to blogs and articles about Bubble Tea spots in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Houston. Read them for flavor suggestions. Where do you go for your bubble tea and which flavor do you recommend? Here’s a link to a company, Boba.us where you can buy supplies to make your own.