World Streetfood Congress To Be Held In Singapore, May 31-June 9

Does the mere thought of street food set your stomach to rumbling? If so, you’ll want to get yourself to Singapore– the world’s unofficial street food (or, technically, hawker centre)– capital. The city is hosting the World Streetfood Congress May 31-June 9. Don’t let the stern-sounding name fool you: this 10-day event is all about hedonism, snackie-style.

In addition to a World Streetfood Jamboree featuring the “best street food masters” from all over the world, there are also demos, a first-of-its-kind awards ceremony, discussions on “street food opportunities,” live music, and more.

For those in the F & B industry, a two-day conference, The World Street Food Dialogues, will be held June 3-4. It will feature noted speakers/street food experts such as Anthony Bourdain, Saveur magazine editor-in-chief James Oseland, Brett Burmeister, managing editor and co-owner of Food Carts Portland, and Singapore’s beloved KF Seetoh, chef, food writer, and founder of the Makansutra food centre and “foodbooks.” Makansutra is also the organizer of the World Streetfood Congress.

For details and tickets, click here. Your path to enlightenment via assam laksa, kue pankong, nasi kapau, mee siam, fish tacos, and chuoi nuong awaits.

Concepcion: Paraguay’s Pearl Of The North

I arrived at the Concepción bus terminal at 11 p.m. amid cracks of thunder so loud they would have triggered car alarms, if the town’s horse-and-carts, scooters and clapped-out old junkers were equipped with them. As it was, there was no real taxi, so I just had to trust that the obese guy with the beady eyes and crappy Korean import really was a cabdriver. He considerately allowed me to carry and toss my 40-pound backpack into the car, and then we peeled out of the parking lot, radio blaring.

Fortunately, he took me straight to my destination – a “cheap” hotel I’d heard about that I immediately deduced was pulling double-duty as a brothel (it was). But it was late, I’d just landed in Paraguay at 2 a.m. that morning, and then spent 10 hours on a bus from Asunción. Theoretically, it takes seven hours, but welcome to transportation in Paraguay; the original bus broke down and we had to wait on the side of the road for a replacement vehicle. I was exhausted. I paid eight dollars for a room, trying to ignore the creepy guys chugging beers in the adjacent bar area. As I crossed the courtyard, the skies broke open and a monsoonal deluge poured down.

Soaked to the skin, I unlocked my room and discovered that it more closely resembled a prison cell. As a tidal wave of rainwater flowed from beneath the door, I frantically moved my pack to the bed (is there such a thing as crabs-to-pack transmission?), and put away my phone charger, which I had just been about to insert into an outlet. My impression of rural Paraguay was off to a bumpy start.

%Gallery-187342%The reason for my high-tailing it to Concepción, a key river port known as Paraguay’s “Pearl of the North,” was so I could catch the Aquidaban (right). This cargo/passenger boat sails up the Rio Paraguay and back, all the way to the Bay of Asunción. The boat departs from Concepcion’s port every Tuesday between 9 and 11 a.m. The following day was a Tuesday, and my entire itinerary was planned around my two-day voyage up-river to the Brazilian border port of Vallemí. I was on a very tight timeline, but I was definitely interested in Concepción itself, which I’d read was a charming colonial town, and the last accessible major port by road (once you get into rural Paraguay, all bets are off with regard to road conditions, which are subject to flooding; this is not a country you should visit if you have time constraints).

Feeling claustrophobic in my flooded cell, and wanting to escape the donut-hole-sized drowned cockroaches, I decided to go for a walk. Concepción, being a port, was lively despite the hour. The karaoke bar of my “hotel” was hopping, and filled with all manner of dodgy individuals, as well as a handful of scantily-clad women (the brothel assessment was later confirmed by a local who runs an agriturismo nearby).

As I wandered the street, I struck up a few conversations with shopkeepers and a semi-automatic-toting security guard (due to the region’s agricultural prosperity, Concepción has an exorbitant number of banks), and found them all to be every bit as friendly as Paraguayans are reputed to be. Finally, I trudged back to the cell, and set my alarm for 6 a.m., as I’d been told to get to the Aquidaban’s ticketing office early. I already knew the handful of passenger cabins were booked, so I’d be sleeping on the deck, and I needed to find a place to buy a hammock before departure.

I awakened to the sound of torrential rain, and instinctively knew my riverboat trip wasn’t meant to be. But I’d traveled so far – from Colorado, dammit – that I needed to at least go through the motions. I put on my flip-flops and began the ten-minute walk to the port. All of the streets were flooded, the water hitting me at mid-calf (right). Gringos are a rare sight in Paraguay, so the few vendors and dockworkers that saw me did double-takes. What the hell was this crazy gringa doing, wading in the pouring rain at sunrise?

Naturally, the ticket office was closed when I arrived at the port (read: a muddy river bank), but the Aquidaban was there, and already being loaded with cargo. I took one look at the heaping deck, and then imagined two days sitting in torrential rain, with no dry place to stash my pack or sleep. Thanks, but no.

Sadly, I made my way back to the cell, trying to formulate a new plan. En route, I passed a lovely, colonial-style accommodation I’d read about in my guidebook but deemed as too pricey because it wasn’t a “bargain” (sometimes I take things too literally). I walked into the Hotel Victoria and asked how much a single would set me back. The answer? A whopping $12. Sold. Although it was stark, I loved it. There was a large, comfortable bed, lots of light, an armoire, ceiling fan and spotless bathroom. It had the moody, tropical feel of a Graham Greene novel. I quickly retrieved my soggy belongings from the whorehouse other hotel and checked in.

The rest of the two-story Hotel Victoria is even more impressive, if you like vintage properties (it was built in the 1950s, and is still owned by the same family). The pretty, terra-cotta-tiled courtyard is festooned with potted ferns and slender, leafy trees; there’s a cozy sitting area next to reception where I could read and play with the resident cat; the staff are incredibly sweet, and the large, airy dining room became my makeshift office for the next couple of days. In a black-and-white tiled alcove, I set up camp with my computer, at a table located in front of a set of French doors (below). Every so often, some of Concepción’s resident horses, donkeys or mules would cruise by (these animals roam the streets; given the number of carts in use in town, I assume they had owners, although god knows how they keep track of them).

Since I had to make some immediate changes to my itinerary, that was my first order of business. And was I ever fortunate that I’d made the decision to bail on the riverboat. As is wont to happen in Paraguay, the road from VallemÍ to Concepción washed out, and was closed for at least several days. I would have been stranded, which would have been disastrous because I had a critical assignment elsewhere in a few days time.

With my plans settled, I now had two days to enjoy Concepción. The town is located within the department of the same name (the country is divided into these administrative districts), in central Paraguay. The region is prosperous from cattle-ranching, and the great swath I traveled, from Asunción north to Concepción and back, was flat, green, and decidedly tropical. The region extends north to Vallemí.

Concepción was founded in 1773, “to protect territories to the south from attacks by indigenous tribes and the neighboring Portuguese [‘Other Places Travel Guide Paraguay,’ Romy Natalia Goldberg]”. It became a key shipping hub at the beginning of the 19th century, and began to see an influx of European and Arabic immigrants over the next 100 years, which have considerably influenced the cultural aspects of the town (I was wondering what was up with the schwarma eateries and coffee houses).

Concepción certainly didn’t fit my mental image of a grotty, gritty, sketchy river port. It’s true that it’s on the banks of the Rio Paraguay, but it’s a tidy, safe, engaging town, full of stunning, colonial-style buildings. Some of these are fully restored, while others are in advanced stages of decrepitude, which in itself is beautiful. The aforementioned equines wander the streets, like so many dogs.

The mercado, located across the busy main drag of Av. Fernando de Pinedo, is classic rural South America. Lining the dirt streets are fruit vendors and butchers, and stalls selling everything from yerba mate to mosquito nets. In between are little eateries and food stalls preparing Paraguayan favorites like caldo de pescado, croqueteas and empanadas. The locals are warm, and I felt right at home, despite being, from what I could tell, the token gringo/a in town. I spent my days wandering, observing uniformed schoolchildren, vendors and dockworkers. I visited the historic Museo Municipal del Cuartel de la Villa Real (located in a former command post, it contains relics from the region’s Triple Alliance War of the late 19th century). I ate at a wonderful Brazilian place, Restaurant Toninho j Jandira, where the waiter chatted with me in Spanish (you will find few rural Paraguayans who speak English) about life in Concepción, and I was served more food than I could possibly have eaten in a week.

There are really only two reasons to make the considerable trek to Concepción, and both are valid if you’re intrepid enough to visit Paraguay. The riverboats, once so crucial to the lifeblood of this isolated country, are slowly being phased out as roads replace them. During my visit, I discovered that the other riverboat, Cacique II, had stopped taking passengers, although it’s possible you may be able to talk one of the dedicated cargo boats into letting you hitch a ride. This isn’t advised for solo female travelers, however, although Paraguay itself is quite safe for Latin America.

Concepción is also just a fascinating, and relaxing, place to while away a few days. It’s rich in history and Paraguayan culture (which embraces the indigenous Guarani people and language, siestas, sipping tereré, eating, socializing, ranching, and family). It exemplifies in many regards a vanishing way of life. It’s understated and sweet, and the air is pungent with the scent of flowering trees, ripe fruit and rich, red mud. I’ve never been so grateful to have my travel plans fall through.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]

Layover Report: Where To Eat At Miami, Lima, And Bogota International Airports

I just returned from three weeks in Bolivia and Paraguay. In that time, I had 12 flights, five of which were required to get me from my home in Colorado to La Paz. Now why, you may ask, in this age of expedited air travel, does it take so many connections to travel 4,512 miles (or nine hours by air)? Budget, baby.

I’m also horrifically flight phobic, so for me to fly various Third World carriers from Miami to Bogota to Lima to La Paz (and then La Paz to Lima to Asuncion, and Asuncion back to Lima en route to Miami, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth to Denver), is probably the best example I can provide of just how much I love to travel. I really, really, really love it. I also really love having Xanax on hand when I fly.

One of the reasons I didn’t mind my layovers too much is that I happen to adore most South American airports, especially Jorge Chavez International in Lima (so many cools shops, free snackies, great Peruvian food!). And since one of the things I most like to do in South America is eat, I used my downtime to see if there was anything worth writing about, foodwise. Indeed there was, and so I present to you my findings. Feel free to send me some Xanax in return (kidding! I’ll take empanadas instead).

Miami International Airport
It’s hardly a secret that the Concourse D location of Miami’s beloved La Carreta chain rocks, especially in a sea of Au Bon Pain and Starbucks. Best of all, it opens at 5 a.m., so when I was rushing to make my 5:30 a.m. flight to Bogota, I was able to grab a jamon y queso sandwich en route. If time isn’t an issue, sit down and feast upon Cuban-style roast pork, stuffed green plantains or fufu con masitas, or a medianoche sandwich.
Jorge Chavez International Airport, Lima
It’s all about Manacaru, the token Peruvian eatery in this gorgeous, progressive airport (they even recycle and post about water conservation). Every time I layover in Lima, I make a beeline for this full-service restaurant in International Departures, and order some empanadas and suspiro limon. Also known as suspiro a la limena; this achingly sweet, meringue-and-condensed milk pudding is the official dessert of Lima.

It’s no Gastón Acurio restaurant, but it’s pretty damned good for airport food; even the ceviche is sparkling fresh in my experience. It’s also great for when you’re dashing between flights, as they’re centrally located between gates, and have an entire case of grab-and-go.

They are open pretty much around the clock, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and coffee.

El Dorado International Airport, Bogota
Never having been to Colombia, despite repeated attempts to plan trips, I was desperate for a taste of the national cuisine when I landed in Bogota. Thank god for the (wait for it) Juan Valdez Cafe. I happily resolved my caffeine jones, and ordered up some arepitas, mini-versions of arepas. These corn-and-cheese cakes are Colombia’s most iconic street food, and I was thrilled to be able to try them despite being unable to leave the airport. Gracias, Juan.

[Photo credits: Cuban sandwich, Flickr user star5112; empanadas, Flickr user jules:stonesoup]

International Budget Guide 2013: Shanghai, China

Asia has long been the budget traveler’s playground, and the good news is that despite its rapid modernization, Shanghai continues to offer tremendous value for the money.

As most cities around the world put the brakes on new developments because of economic woes, Shanghai is bucking the trend by building and growing at a dizzying pace. Blink and another skyscraper has shot up, or a new museum has opened, or another mega-mall has taken shape.

Those traveling to the Chinese city this year can take advantage of two huge state-run art galleries, which have just opened their doors (free to the public) on the former World Expo grounds. In fact, the whole site is currently being transformed into a mixed-use district with shops, hotels and elevated gardens designed to draw crowds. Other updated draw cards include the Shanghai First Food Store, which is an entire mall dedicated to – you guessed it – food. The store has just reopened after a major renovation and sells snacks, candy and all the unusual dried meat one could possibly want. Visitors to the city can also bear witness to the rise of the burgeoning Shanghai Tower, which will be the second tallest building in the world when it’s complete.

For budget travelers who want to visit Shanghai, now is the time. While China at large offers excellent value, their booming economy means that costs will be rising fast. A thriving middle class with more disposable income on their hands is slowly pushing costs up. What’s more, the government has been reviewing admission prices for major tourist sites and is getting ready to raise entrance fees – in some cases, ticket prices will more than double.


Visit the China Art Palace and the Power Station of Art. The site of the 2010 Shanghai Expo has been undergoing a makeover, with some of the pavilions transforming into museums. One of two huge state-run art galleries that opened at the end of last year is the China Art Palace, which was built in the striking, lacquered shell of the China Pavilion building. The massive gallery houses works by famous Chinese artists as well as a number of international exhibitions. Entry is free.

Another Expo building – which was originally a thermal power plant constructed more than 100 years ago – has been transformed into the Power Station of Art. The gallery is the first state-run contemporary art museum in China and so far, exhibitions have included the Shanghai Biennale and a collection of surrealist works. An Andy Warhol showcase is also planned for this year. Museum entry is free, except for special exhibitions.

Get a foot massage. Visiting a massage parlor is as much of a routine in the Chinese lifestyle as visiting a restaurant. Groups of friends and even colleagues will head to a parlor for a joint session of foot rubs accompanied by free snacks and entertainment, including music and DVDs. Despite their popularity, travelers are often hesitant to try out the ultra-cheap locales for fear they’ll be disreputable or less than sanitary. Thankfully, a new breed of bright, clean venues – including the Taipan Foot Massage & Spa – have sprung up all over the city, offering the same indulgent massages in a serene and safe atmosphere. It’s heaven for sore feet after a long day of sightseeing. Services start at around $10 and go up to $30 for a 90-minute foot, leg, and shoulder massage including free food and drink. 370 Dagu Road, Jingan District.

Indulge in street food. A trip to Shanghai wouldn’t be complete without a taste test of some of the many culinary delights on offer throughout the city’s streets. Treats to try include man tou (steamed buns filled with meat or vegetables), cong you bing (pancake with shallots), ci fan (a ball of rice stuffed with fried bread, vegetables, or meat), and egg tarts (a popular local desert with a custardy flavor). Street food ranges in price from 1-6 yuan (16 cents – $1) per serving. Try out Wujiang Road, South Yunnan Road, or Huanghe Road near People’s Square for some of the best spots.

Take a cruise on the Bund. Shanghai’s skyline is developing at a phenomenal pace with new skyscrapers shooting up every year, particularly in the Pudong district. These architecturally unusual buildings are best viewed when they are lit up at night, leading most travelers to head for a rooftop bar to scope out the view. However, the cost of drinks at a typical sky deck can quickly add up, so a much more budget friendly way to take in the skyline is to go on a cruise. Boats run along the Huang Pu River and The Bund – the waterway that runs through the city – giving passengers an excellent vantage point to take in all the new developments. The cruises are a great value at around $6, with tickets available from the booths at the southern end of the Bund promenade.


Captain Hostel. If you want bang for your buck in an excellent location, it’s hard to look past this hostel located straight across the street from the Bund. The well-situated building is within easy walking distance of the shops on Nanjing Road and offers good access to the metro. The hostel itself is ship themed, with portholes galore in the cabin-like dorms. But more importantly, it’s clean, air conditioned and offers guests free Wi-Fi. There’s also a rooftop bar with dramatic city views. From 60 yuan ($10) for a dorm bed. 37 Fuzhou Lu.

Shanghai City Central Youth Hostel (Utels). Located about 4 miles from the city center, this hostel is somewhat away from the action, however the nearby metro station means there’s still easy access to all the sights. Guests can choose from a range of room types including doubles, singles and dorms. The hostel also boasts a bar with a pool table, games, and budget-friendly drinks. Rates include free breakfast and Wi-Fi. From 50 yuan ($8) for a dorm bed. 300 Wuning Rd, Putuo District.

Jin Jiang Inn (Shanghai East Huaihai Road). Jin Jiang is the largest hotel group in China with around 400 hotels across the major cities. The chain of hotels caters mostly to businessmen, but they’re great for travelers looking for a no-frills private room that’s clean and functional. This particular hotel is centrally located in Shanghai and has great access to the metro. From 300 yuan ($50) for a double. 293 Yunnan Nan Lu.


Hai Di Lao. This hot pot restaurant is part of a chain that goes to great lengths to entertain diners. A meal here usually entails quite a wait, but diners are treated to neck massages, manicures, snacks, and board games until their table is ready. Once seated, choose from a large selection of meats and vegetables to cook in your own pot of flavorful broth. Save some room for the gongfu mian, hand-pulled noodles that the chefs twirl dramatically right at your table. The restaurant is open 24 hours and has menus in Chinese and English. Food is priced per meat or vegetable selection, but a filling meal including alcohol will cost around $10-15. The restaurant has several locations, including 3/F, 1068 Beijing Lu near Jiangning Lu.

Di Shui Dong. Located in the French concession district, this restaurant dishes up Hunan style cuisine, a type of food best described as hot and spicy. The restaurant serves a huge variety of dishes including fried meats, seasoned vegetables and hot peppers, but it’s the flavorful ribs that locals and expats keep coming back for. Just be warned that some of the spicier dishes are eye-wateringly hot. The staff doesn’t speak much English but the menu is bilingual. Portions are large and around $10 a main. 2/F, 56 Maoming Nan Lu.

Tokyo Food Court. If you’re exploring the area near Xintiandi but don’t want to eat at one of the pricier restaurants in the entertainment district, this underground food court is a good budget option for dining. Located under the HSBC Bank and Cartier store, you’ll find a plethora of menu choices including sushi, pizza and pasta dishes. There’s also plenty of local cuisine, including noodle bowls and dumplings. For a Shanghai specialty, try the xiao long bao – dumplings with soup and meat in them. Bite a hole in one end of the pastry and slurp out the liquid before eating the rest of the dumpling. A main here will cost around 35 yuan ($5).

Getting Around

Shanghai is very walkable with many pedestrian streets and atmospheric neighborhoods, however the city’s size means that you will need some transport when covering larger distances.

The metro system, which is comprised of 13 lines, is fast and surprisingly easy to navigate. The trains are air-conditioned and clean, and station announcements are made in English as well as Chinese. Fares depend on distance, but most tourist centers can be accessed for around 3-5 yuan (50-80 cents). You can purchase tickets from the vending machines in the stations, which display information in English.

Taxis are an affordable alternative, even for budget travelers. For example, a trip between Xintiandi (a popular shopping and entertainment district) and the Bund might cost around 20 yuan (a little over $3).

Shanghai has two airports. A taxi from downtown to Pudong Airport will set you back about 150 yuan (approx $25) while a trip to Hongqiao Airport will cost roughly 70 yuan ($11). Another option if you’re traveling to Pudong Airport is to take the Maglev, or high-speed train. Racing along at 268 mph, it’s one of the fastest trains in the world. Tickets start at 40 yuan for the whirlwind seven-minute ride.

When To Go

Shanghai can feel oppressively hot in the summer. Temperatures in the high 90s (F), soaring humidity levels and city pollution combine to leave you feeling like you’re being smothered under a blanket. Summer is also the peak tourist season, so hotel rates will be higher. However, Shanghai is pleasant to visit any other time of year. The coldest months tend to be January and February when overnight temps can hover just above freezing and daytime temperatures reach 45 F.


Shanghai is generally quite safe compared to other large cities, but given the massive crowds everywhere, it’s important to keep an eye on your belongings. You should also be careful when crossing the street, as cars won’t always yield to pedestrians – even at crossings with walk signs.

The biggest threat to travelers involves being caught up in a scam. Watch out for so-called “students” inviting you to see their art shows before scamming you into purchasing expensive paintings. Also, don’t accept invitations to “tea ceremonies” – these involve elaborate drinking rituals at the end of which you’ll be stuck with a huge bill. As a general principle, it’s a good idea not to accept any kinds of solicitations on the streets as more often than not they involve some sort of scam.

[Photo credit: Mike Behnken]

How To Eat Bolivian Street Food (Without Shame)

There’s a certain breed of traveler who will, often to their detriment, go to extreme lengths to avoid looking like a tourist. I know, because I’m one of them. Whatever spawned this phobia is anyone’s guess, but I really, really, really dislike standing out in a crowd, especially if that crowd is foreign, and I’m eating.

While I also sneak looks at maps and guidebooks on the DL when I’m lost, the thing that really troubles me is being clueless about local or national etiquette while dining, especially when it comes to street food (my raison d’être). I always research beforehand – learning, for example, that in Thailand the spoon is the primary eating utensil; it’s abhorrent to insert a fork into your mouth and chopsticks are only used for noodle dishes and primarily in the North. But it’s sometimes impossible to know local custom until you’re actually in the moment (above, Bolivian lustrabotas, or shoe shine men, eat on the street)

I’m pretty sure it was a long-ago trip to Vietnam that scarred me. I’d been in the country all of a couple of hours, and was eating my first meal. I was sitting at a miniscule table on the sidewalk in coastal Nha Trang, happily wolfing down báhn cuon. That is, until the young Vietnamese guy next to me, who unfortunately spoke some English, informed me that I was eating it the wrong way, and making something of an ass of myself (yet providing entertainment for our less vocal tablemates). I was mortified, and sure enough, I noticed the snickers and giggles due to how the silly round-eye was eating her rice noodle roll. To be honest, I can’t even remember how to eat bánh cuon, but at the time, it was clearly emotionally challenging.While I appreciated the advice, I didn’t particularly feel it was given so much to be helpful as it was to make me feel stupid. Or maybe that’s just how I interpreted it. But ever since, my policy regarding street food in vastly different cultures has been to adopt a watch-and-wait policy.

When I arrived in Bolivia two weeks ago, I leapt of out bed my first morning to head to the Mercado Lanza to try some salteñas and tucumanas– two Bolivian street specialties that are variations on the ubiquitous empanada. Empanadas are my Kryptonite, so I was ready to do some damage. Best of all, there’s no learning curve. Insert in mouth; enjoy. I naively assumed their Bolivian cousins are just as easy to gobble.

Salteñas (right) are baked pastries formed into domed half-moons. They’re usually filled with a spiced meat and egg mixture, but their essential purpose is to be full of juice. I knew this, but grossly underestimated just how much they’re the Shanghai soup dumplings of pastry. The proper way to eat them is not to simply purchase and take a huge bite (note to self), because that will result in a.) scalding, meaty juice exploding in your mouth and singing its way down your esophagus, and b.) greasy, aromatic, meaty juice squirting all over your clothes (like, say, your really expensive microlight down jacket that you use for backpacking). You’ll also attract the attention of passerby, who will smirk at the idiot gringa who just had a salteña explode in her face.

I later learned, from a menu photo at a salteñeria, that one is supposed to eat them with a spoon. I’m not sure how that applies to the street, but let’s just say my second go was much more successful, and less humiliating. That said, I’m not a big salteña fan, as it turns out.
Tucumanas are basically the same shape as empanadas, except they’re always fried. They’re often filled with a mixture of chicken and potato, and my first taste occurred about 15 minutes after my unfortunate salteña encounter.

Determined not to be the same fool twice, I watched a crazy-busy street vendor (right) frying and serving tucumanas at warp speed. My street food credo is to only purchase from stalls or carts that are doing a rapid business, to ensure a fresh product (plus, it’s a sign that the food is good, if not great). I observed the various patrons eating their tucumanas, and when I felt ready, I ordered one.

It was rapturous – light as air, yet fragrant and savory. I stood hovering next to the cart, squirting a bit of mayonnaise-based salsa into the tucumana after each bite. I hunched, so as not to dribble any bits of filling. I shared the salsa squeeze bottle. I wiped my mouth with the square of paper it had been wrapped in. Then I ordered another. You know you’ve achieved street food nirvana when the vendor doesn’t demand money until you’ve eaten your fill. Bless you, Bolivia.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]