Interesting indoor spaces around the world

indoor spacesI love the outdoors, to the extent that I tend to bypass or overlook exceptional indoor spaces when I’m traveling or recounting a great trip. Fortunately, Lonely Planet author/former Gadling contributor Leif Pettersen’s recent list on LP’s website has reminded me that—as many a grandmother has said—beauty is on the inside.

Pettersen says only in recent years has he developed a special appreciation for the indoors. He had ample time to contemplate his new interest “during two sadistically cold weeks last winter when I voluntarily confined myself to the Minneapolis Skyway System as a livability experiment for an article I was working on.”

He’s since started a list of “singular, practical” indoor spaces (traveloguebookdealforthewin!) of note, including (obviously) Minneapolis’ Skyway System (“The largest contiguous skyway system in the world, connecting what may be the largest contiguous indoor space anywhere.”); Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar; Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure; NYC’s Grand Central Terminal (aka Grand Central Station); St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and the Queen Mary 2. Here’s to keeping warm indoors this winter.

[Photo credit: Flickr user davedehetre]

Indoor Skydiving

Summer travel: best U.S. cities for localized food lovers

best cities food loversWhat’s that you say? Summer’s half over? Those of us living here in the Pacific Northwest had no idea, given the lack of sun in these parts. But even if you’re getting slapped by the mother of all heat waves, it’s still early in the season for the best produce summer has to offer. As for where to get great food featuring locally-sourced ingredients? Allow me.

Some cities are inextricably linked with food; they’re destinations unto themselves if you’re the type who plans trips around meals. I do. Museums are great and all, but personally, I’d rather eat.

As a longtime proponent of sustainable agriculture, I want to support local growers as well as get a sense of place when I take a trip (that the food be good is still number one). That’s why a city like Santa Fe is so intriguing to me. The cuisine is rooted in the state’s history, indigenous peoples, and native foods, and there’s a fantastic farmers market. The fact that Santa Fe is beautiful in its own right seals the deal.

If you also let your appetite guide your vacation-planning, I’ve listed my favorite U.S. cities in which to stuff my face, based upon repeat visits or previous/present residency. It’s like choosing a favorite child, but someone had to do it.

Seattle
I currently reside in Seattle, and work at a cheese shop in the 14-month-old Melrose Market in Capitol Hill. So perhaps I’m a bit biased when I say that Melrose rocks. But really, I don’t think I am. It’s the best thing to happen to Seattle since Pike Place opened in 1907 and became the model for public markets nationwide. But Melrose isn’t a tourist trap, and you won’t find anyone hawking crappy t-shirts. It’s housed in two adjacent, restored historic automotive shops built entirely of reclaimed materials; there’s a soaring cathedral ceiling, and lots of exposed brick.

[Photo credit: Flickr user La Grande Farmers’ Market]

The Benefits of Buying Eco-Friendly Local Foodbest cities food loversAlthough home to just four dedicated retail spaces and a wine bar, sandwich shop, and restaurant, Melrose has garnered lots of national media attention. The Calf & Kid (aka My Day Job) is a European-style fromagerie, while Marigold & Mint is a lovely little nook full of antique apothecary jars and cut flowers and produce from the owner’s organic farm. At Rainshadow Meats, without question one of the finest local/sustainable butcher shops in the nation, there are hard-to-find cuts like pork cheeks, and excellent housemade charcuterie.

There’s also Bar Ferd’nand, a miniscule wine and tapas bar, Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop, and the jewel in the crown, Sitka & Spruce. Chef/owner Matt Dillon’s farmhouse mod space features an open hearth, room-length communal farm table, and rustic but refined, hyper-localized cuisine–this time of year look for foraged mushrooms, local goat cheeses, halibut, and Juan de Fuca spot prawns. Do.not.miss. Next door, Taylor Shellfish Farms–one of Washington State’s most beloved growers of oysters and Manila and geoduck clams–just opened a retail shop where you can scoop live shellfish from tanks, or puchase live Dungeness crab or housemade geoduck chowder.

Should you make it over to the Scandinavian-flavored Ballard neighborhood, be sure to dine at La Carta de Oaxaca (get there early or be prepared for a very long wait). Seattle can’t do Mexican food to save its life (I speak as a native Californian), with the exception of this Oaxacan treasure, where everything is made the slow, traditional way. Best of all, two of you can fill up–including beers–for under 30 dollars. For a more upscale treat, hit Bastille, a truly beautiful bistro featuring produce and honey from its rooftop garden.
best cities food lovers
Portland, Oregon
Portland has a vastly different vibe from easy-going Seattle. And while the attitude may be a bit much at times (do not raise the ire of a barista), it’s also got a phenomenal food and mixology scene (and yes, better coffee than Seattle). There’s no one neighborhood with all the great eats; they’re scatted throughout the city: Southeast, Pearl District, Alberta Arts District

Carnivores won’t want to miss Beast or Olympic Provisions (which also makes its own charcuterie for retail). There’s Cheese Bar, which specializes in beer parings, six glorious farmers markets, distilleries, artisan ice cream, and new favorites Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty (wood-fired pizza in the former–and much-missed–Lovely Hula Hands space) and Little Bird Bistro, the sister restaurant from former Food & Wine Best New Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon.

If street food is your thing, Portland is swarming with food trucks, carts, and stands: Mississippi Avenue and downtown are both hot spots; check out Food Carts Portland for the inside scoop. If you feel the need to work off some calories in between food cart visits, (this is one of the best cities for outdoorsy types, after all), sign up for the Grub on the Go bike tour with Portland Urban Adventures.

Santa Barbara
I grew up near Santa Barbara, and have lived there a couple of times. It’s truly one of the most picturesque cities in the world, and over the course of 30-plus years, I’ve watched it evolve from sleepy small town to L.A. North. Spendy boutiques aside, Santa Barbara really didn’t start turning into a sophisticated dining destination until about five years ago.

The original hidden gems focused on locality–Bouchon, and the venerable Wine Cask (which recently changed hands and is now co-owned by the very genial owner of Bouchon) are still going strong. The executive chefs at both restaurants now lead farmers market tours, which I highly recommend. Both the Saturday and Tuesday farmers markets are major community events, and the sheer breadth of offerings–dozens of varieties of citrus, tropical fruit, olive and walnut oil, goat meat–is dazzling. Seafood lovers won’t want to miss the Saturday Fisherman’s Market, held at the Harbor.

The Hungry Cat
is my favorite restaurant in town (it also has a raw bar), followed by the superbly fresh Arigato sushi. Milk & Honey makes fantastic cocktails (and the small bites aren’t bad, either), as does Blue Agave. My true addictions, however, are Lilly’s Taqueria–a downtown hole-in-the-wall where for under five dollars, you can stuff yourself senseless on the best street tacos this side of the border. I also never fail to get an adovado or carnitas burrito at Taqueria Rincon Alteño. The same guys have been running the place for at least ten years, and it always feels like coming home.
best cities food lovers
Oakland, California
Nearly a decade of living in Berkeley, on the Oakland border, has enabled me to see this much-maligned city grow up, both aesthetically and culinarily (it’s always had a great Chinatown and taco trucks). In the gentrified Temescal neighborhood, you can literally hit a different restaurant every night of the week on the block between 51st St. and 49th St. on Telegraph Avenue. There’s Asmara for Ethiopian, Chez Panisse alum eateries Bakesale Betty and Pizzaiolo; Doña Tomas, and the new outpost of San Francisco’s wildly popular Burma Superstar (delicious). On 44th, late night chef’s haunt Koryo has great, cheap Korean bbq. Just around the corner: the wonderful Sunday Temescal Farmers Market.

Nearby, on 51st and Shattuck is the new Scared Wheel Cheese Shop, while down on Grand Avenue, by Lake Merritt, is Boot and Shoe Service (sister to Pizzaiolo), Camino (chef/owner is longtime former Chez Panisse chef Russ Moore). Don’t miss Market Hall Foods in nearby trendy Rockridge.

Brooklyn
I admittedly don’t know Brooklyn well; I couldn’t tell you how to get from Point A to Point B. But I know that some of the best food in New York lies within this dynamic borough. In Williamsburg, keep an eye out for Leeuwen Ice Cream’s roving, butter-colored truck–after you enjoy the heavenly pizza at Fornino. I also love the Brook Farm Genbest cities food loverseral Store, which has all manner of lovely vintage and vintage-inspired items for the kitchen and dining room. Bedford Cheese Shop and Stinky Bklyn (in Cobble Hill) are two of the country’s finest cheese shops, full of esoteric domestic and imported selections.

Over in Bushwick at Roberta’s, chef Carlo Mirachi, a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef winner, fires up pizza and other treats in his wood-burning oven, and utilizes produce from his rooftop garden. If you’re still hungry, other tasty stops: Fatty Cue or Fette Sau (both in Williamsburg) for barbecue, Saltie for crazy-good sandwiches, (Williamsburg), and the oddest ice cream flavors ever at Sky Ice (Park Slope). Be sure not to miss the various weekend Brooklyn Flea markets, where you’ll find all manner of good-to-eat treats, artisan beverages from Brooklyn Soda, and retro kitchen equipment. Note: every Saturday is the Flea’s new dedicated food market, Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg.

My other top picks for great food, made with local ingredients:
Chicago
Denver/Boulder
Santa Fe
Portland, ME
Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to give you some tips on where to get your feed on!

[Photo credits: Portland, Flickr user qousqous; courthouse, Flickr user Silverslr; Vietnamese food, Laurel Miller; pizza, Flickr user h-bomb]

Ten real budget travel tips

budget travel tipsDo you continually feel wanderlust’s pull but fear that you don’t have enough money to see the world?

Your fears, thankfully, are misplaced. Despite the mainstream travel media’s concerted, ongoing effort to make you think that travel is solely the domain of the rich, it is actually possible to travel well for surprisingly little money–and not just in those places where good deals are plentiful.

If saving money is your first goal, always do advance research by perusing published articles and guidebooks covering your intended destinations. Also be sure to take a look around the budget-oriented travel media. The Guardian’s budget travel guide is very likely the best English-language newspaper for budget travel advice. The Guardian does an especially great job of focusing on budget travel itineraries and showing readers, step-by-step, how to travel well while remaining on a tight budget.

Following are ten general tips to help you travel for far less than you think you’ll need to spend. Later this week I’ll look at some local budget travel techniques that are little-known outside of their home territories, which will provide a useful supplement to this post.

1. Hostels and low-price hotel chains. Increasingly these days, hostels boast individual rooms, some with their own toilets and showers. So even if you’re no longer interested in early morning dance parties, don’t write off hostels. Many of these new hostels are also quite stylish, which means that in many locales ratty, filthy hostels are finally facing price point competition. Also of note are the newish budget hotel chains, like Tune Hotels (Indonesia, Malaysia, UK) and easyHotel (UK, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates). With advance booking, these no-frills hotels can be huge money-savers.

2. Empty university dorm rooms. Many universities offer their rooms for very affordable rates during those stretches of time when there are no students around. Some of these rooms show up on booking sites and others can only be reserved through the universities themselves. During the summer of 2007, I stayed in a university dorm in Vienna for €19. My private room was clean and spacious, with appealing modernist touches.

3. Private home stays. Airbnb is the newest and slickest arrival on the scene, a well organized and very attractive listings site that allows proprietors and guests alike to comment on each other’s performance as hosts and guests. This social media function makes Airbnb especially useful for quality control. In many destinations, tourist boards organize private home stays; in some others, guest rooms are advertised by locals. Guidebooks should help you figure out the best way to go about securing reservations in private rooms. As always, use common sense.

4. Volunteer tourism, or Voluntourism. This tourism/volunteering hybrid has taken off in the past decade. To give but one example, Andaman Discoveries’ volunteer gigs in southern Thailand charge around $210 for a week of on-the-ground volunteering. That charge includes accommodation, many meals, and airport transfer. Check out VolunTourism.org for more information.

5. Couchsurfing. This free accommodation option is the ideal recession-era budget travel trick. It’s a free and very popular way to bed down. Though there are a number of couchsurfing sites, CouchSurfing is the granddaddy of the movement. Couchsurfing fans get starry-eyed when discussing the practice, which depends on peer review and typically prompts guests to contribute something (like meals or a service) to their temporary hosts.6. WWOOF. This strange acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This is a fantastic organization that pairs up farm hands with work opportunities on farms, providing room and board in exchange for labor. WWOOF currently lists farms in 100 countries and territories around the world. Many people get involved with WWOOF in a kind of quasi-apprenticeship manner, though the organization is open to travelers.

7. Social media. Travel bloggers are notoriously friendly and forthcoming with their tips and their time. Reach out to travel writers whose articles you’ve liked and strike up a friendly rapport. Approach them respectfully and you’ll usually find that travel writers love to share their knowledge. Scour Twitter for interesting people in the destinations on your itinerary. Be friendly and make contact. The likelihood that you’ll meet someone who will give you some tips for interesting local action is high. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone who will show you around, treat you to a meal, and drink a cheap bottle of something or other with you.

8. Supermarkets and street food. You don’t have to eat in restaurants while you’re on the road. Supermarkets, public food markets, and street food can all help you save money while traveling. In many places, you will find fresher produce in markets than in restaurants. Public food markets and street food provide a route into local culture and are usually quite inexpensive. Follow the crowds for the freshest and tastiest grub.

9. Hitchhiking. All the caveats apply. Be prepared, be careful, use your judgment, and embark on your hitchhiking adventure with a friend. Beyond the shared cost of fuel, hitchhiking is more or less free. It is a great way to meet locals and learn about the places you’re visiting.

10. Home exchange. Swapping your residence with another is far easier than it sounds. Home exchange networks charge an annual membership fee, which allows a place of residence to be listed. Once a listing is in place, members organize exchanges with each other. The net result? Free accommodation. And sometimes intercontinental friendships. Home exchange networks include HomeExchange.com, INTERVac, and International Home Exchange Network. See this article (written, to be fully forthcoming, by my first cousin!) for one family’s experience with home exchange.

[Image: Flickr / ArchiM]

Adelaide’s Central Market offers the flavors of South Australia

“This is what Adelaideans do,” Mark Gleeson explained to me, as we wandered through Adelaide’s bustling Central Market. “The Market is a part of how we live, and has been since 1869.” Gleeson, a retired chef and owner of the Providore, a market shop selling pastry and picnic items, also leads public market tours. I’d hit the market on previous visits to South Australia’s charmingly provincial capital city. This time, however, I was his willing disciple as introduced me to vendors and gave me a detailed history of the state’s ethnic culinary influences.

The indoor public market, which is owned by the city council, is far more than a tourist attraction. That much was apparent from my first visit, in 2005. It’s always thronged with hungry locals shopping for weekend barbecues and beach picnics, sipping coffee, or savoring a bowl of Malaysian beef rendang.

As we walked, Gleeson told me, “Adelaideans are pretty savvy about food- we take an interest in how it’s produced, where it’s from. Knowing the vendors who make or sell it is part of the social fabric. We’re a multi-cultural city.” Unlike the rest of the continent, South Australia wasn’t settled as a penal colony, and the market reflects that.

The first German immigrants, fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, arrived shortly after the colony was established in 1836, followed by Russians, Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians. The state (indeed, all of Australia) also has a considerable Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian population. This mash-up of ethnicities have had a significant impact upon the food of South Australia, but none more so than the Eastern Europeans (wine, beer, and charcuterie being the most obvious examples).

As we wandered the marketplace–a tantalizing cacophony of sights and smells–Gleeson brought me to some of his favorite shops so I could try some ethnic specialities. Because of him, I’m now into a half-decade-long affair with the delicate piroskhis at Taddy Kurgan. These ample, fried puffs of dough resemble yeasty, perfectly-made doughnuts, except they’re stuffed with savory fillings of ground beef and rice or braised cabbage, or spinach and feta. The original shop owners emigrated from Kazakhstan. They recently sold to a Chinese couple, after training them very carefully in the art of piroshki and pelmeni-making.

Over at Sevenhill Fine Foods, Mr. Waldeck, a Polish refugee, sells traditional tastes of his homeland, including makowiec, a poppy seed bread, and regional charcuterie like mettwurst and lachshinken. Sun Mi runs a small stall offering her Korean take on made-to-order sushi, while Tony O’Connell of O’Connell’s Quality Meats specializes in local product, such as lamb. O’Connell, 52, started in his family’s shop at 15, and treats his customers like relatives. The first time I met him, in ’05, he gently tucked a couple of extra-fatty lamb chops into the display case while we talked. “We’ve got a couple of older ladies who will be real happy with those, so we’ll keep them,” he murmured. You don’t find personalized customer service like that too often these days.

At Wild Oz, you can buy native game such as emu, kangaroo, and wallaby, and feral (aka, “environmental nuisances”) wild pig and goat. A number of shops sell regional and indigenous “bush tucker” ingredients such as lemon myrtle, wattleseed, and quandong jam, and flaky, red, Murray River salt. House of Organic sells pristine, sustainably-grown Australian produce: Mildura asparagus, Adelaide Hills beurre bosc pears, kipfler potatoes. Seafood shops display local Smoky Bay oysters, sweet, teal-hued, blue swimmer crabs, scallops in the shell glistening with neon-orange roe, octopus, and bugs, a delectable Australian slipper lobster.

At dough!, Turkish pide and Lebanese flatbread compete for space with quiche, pastry, and locally-made, whole, glaceed figs, clementines, and kumquats, and plump, dried muscatel grapes from Barossa Valley vineyards. Across the aisle, The Smelly Cheese Shop is one of Australia’s finest specialty providores, stocked to capacity with imported and Australian artisan cheeses and housemade condiments such as skordalia, oil-packed, dried tomatoes, marinated bocconcini, and other picnic and cheeseboard items.

You need to fuel up for all of this browsing. Local’s love “brekkie” at Zuma’s, a coffee house serving savory muffins and egg dishes. The first place I always head, however, is Asian Gourmet. This unassuming, somewhat dumpy restaurant inside the market is famed for its laksa, a spicy, coconut milk-thickened noodle soup (the Singapore version with egg noodle is my pick). I’ve never had a better version, and I’m not ashamed to admit I actually plan my schedule around market hours, so I can get a daily (sometimes twice daily) fix.

Speaking of Asian food, the Market is conveniently located in Adelaide’s thriving little Chinatown, also known as Gouger Street. It’s lined with cheap and upscale Asian eats, most of which have sidewalk seating. I adore Wah Hing; besides consistently excellent, deceptively simple Chinese dishes, it’s a sleek, lively place with a great regional wine list.

And that describes Adelaide in a nutshell: locals may refer to it as “just a big country town,” but that doesn’t do justice to this city of astonishing diversity and quality ethnic cuisine. The Central Market is a national treasure, and Adelaideans love of convivial, adventurous dining and their pride in regional products make it a must-visit on ever food-lover’s itinerary.

For a more in-depth South Australian food experience, put Tasting Australia on your 2012 calendar. One of Australia’s largest food and wine festivals, it’s a week-long orgy of eating and drinking. It’s held in Adelaide every other year.

The following recipe is about as simple as it gets, and is very reflective of the region. Haloumi, a mild, salty, fresh sheep’s cheese traditionally from Cyprus, is artisanally produced on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island. Fried haloumi is a beloved regional treat. Serve as an appetizer, as part of a salad, or as a dessert course, drizzled with honey.

Fried Haloumi

recipe courtesy of The Market- Stories, History & Recipes from the Adelaide Central Market, by Catherine Murphy

Dust some slices of good-quality haloumi with flour. Fry quickly in olive oil until golden on both sides. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground black pepper.