A few minutes walk away from our hostel in Kuala Lumpur, there is a Malaysian food extravaganza.
Plastic tables and chairs, food frying in large pans, waiters thrusting menus into tourists hands. This is Jl Alor, better known to the tourist community as “food street”. It came alive well before dusk; a cacophony of smells, sounds and sights, eating at its most authentic.
Food is cheap here. Tourists tucking in. Washed down by beer. Attentive waiters taking your picture. A few drops of rain? Don’t worry we’ll simply put up a parasol before the downpour.
Seen as we walked down a street in Hangzhou, this presentation of melons certainly made us smile.
More seriously, fruit has kept us going this gap year. It’s been a lifesaver on long journeys and when we’ve been unable to stomach local food or find any open cafe or restaurant. Healthy, easy to carry around, and relatively cheap, fruit is the perfect food for travellers. And when we were both ill in Chile, avocados were the only thing we could eat for about five days.
Sadly, the days of very cheap fruit sellers offering their own produce by the roadside has disappeared from many of the countries we have visited. You can still find cheap fruit shops in many towns, but often we have had to go to supermarkets where fruit is over packaged, over chilled and over priced.
At the stunning new Aeon shopping mall in central Okayama, the sixth and seventh floors are a delight for foodies. Creating their own separate world, isolated from the hubbub around them, concept restaurants offer every variety of Asian food.
But it’s the way their food is merchandised that grabbed our eyes. Outside every restaurant, the menu is presented on plates, its texture reminding us of Lenin lying in his subterranean Red Square tomb, and for a few moments we did wonder if this was actually real food embalmed. But no. Somewhere in Japan there must be a factory where chefs can send their dishes to be converted into plastic fake food.
We went online for more facts and discovered that fake food called sampuru, which originated in 1926, is a multi-million Yen business; restaurants pay a lot to have their dishes faithfully reproduced. First, silicon is poured over the food to create a mould, this is then filled with plastic and the whole thing cooked in an oven, followed by intricate detailing and painting, and a few secret techniques.
It’s interesting that whilst this food promotion is standard in Japan, where people want to taste with their eyes, we haven’t seen it (yet) in any other country. A quirky example of how modern Japanese culture delightfully surprises and may always remain an enigma. To our British eyes, fake food seems just too shiny and plasticky to be appealing.
We thought aqueducts died out with the Romans, until we came across this.
California has a massive water shortage; water is more important than oil. Started in 1963 and opened in 1997, the California Aqueduct is a 700 mile system of canals, tunnels and pipelines that takes water from the north of California to the south.
25 million people living in the Central Valley rely on this water. Whoever you speak to thinks other industries are using far too much. In many farmers’ fields there are signs claiming the most important use of water is to grow food, whilst the fracking and oil industries claim their need is just as great.
Agriculture currently uses 80% of California’s water and one could argue fruit should be grown in a State which isn’t so hot and where water is not such a rare commodity.
The farmers latest gripe is that they are being forced to use oil wastewater, because lobbyists for the oil and fracking companies ensure they get first usage and the oil wastewater then goes to the farms without proper cleansing. Farmers suggest this may have health effects for those who eat the produce.
Started in 1907, Pike Place Market is a kaleidoscope of curiosities and the signature attraction of Seattle. Upstairs seafood sellers sing out customer orders and toss the fish for wrapping. Downstairs there’s lots of old dusty stuff; magazines, magic-tricks and records.
As we had watched Seattle’s large Russian community parading on their Victory Day (below left), it was appropriate we enjoyed some Russian takeaways for lunch. PiroshkyPiroshky (below right) offers delicious hand-crafted Russian pies – Roger had cabbage and onion filling, Hilary potato and mushroom.
Pike Place is also home to the first Starbucks (below left); inside every Chinese tourist in town wants to take their selfie. If you get the chance do read Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time by Howard Schultz who brought Italian coffee culture to America. And the journey continues; nine blocks away is the prototype Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room (below right). It’s a stage, showing how coffee gets made – globally 20 are planned.
Cherry trees are blossoming. Vines sprouting new growth. The further south we head the awakening valley becomes more attractive; a patchwork of orchards and vineyards.
Fruit will be sold at wayside stalls. Bottles picked up by weekend tourists for dinner parties in Vancouver. In fact if you’ve never heard of Okanagan Wine it’s because most of it never gets beyond the British Columbia border.
We never allowed our kids to drink it but there’s no denying the global reach of Coca-Cola. Its bottling started in a store on Main Street Vicksburg.
Between 1886-1894, Cola-Cola was only sold at pharmacy soda fountains. Great for those in the towns but not for rural communities.
Joseph Biedenharn saw the opportunity. By bottling the medicinalnervetonic and selling it up and down the Mississippi, he established the cornerstone of the independent network of franchised bottlers who today distribute Coca-Cola around the world.
Joseph’s recently restored store is now a small museum and shop.
Fruit in Costa Rica is simply the best; it is large, sweet, ripe and has wonderful textures. Quality you can’t get at an urban supermarket.
At the side of every road there are colourful stalls with all sorts of fruits which simply make you want to stop and buy; today we have bought a massive ripe pineapple for £1.50 to eat in our hostel. Fruit is the perfect convenience food for travellers giving us lots of vitamin C, energy and fibre.
We’ve been gorging mostly on watermelons, mangoes, pineapples, guava and coconuts but there are dozens of other unpronounceable species we have yet to try. No other pineapple we taste in the future can be as good as the one we’re having this morning. No food miles, straight off the tree.
Eights blocks south of the centre, the San Telmo area has Bohemian charm – mixing glittery antique shops with artist studios.
The elite of Buenos Aires lived here until the 1880s, then a series of epidemics drove them northways to Recoleta. Left behind was a grocer’s shop that also sold alcoholic drinks and it’s still here today.
Now called Bar Plaza Dorrego, the original espresso coffee maker is still on display, also the glass windowed cabinets that used to store bulk items such as mate-tea, corn, beans and noodles. The dark wood surroundings are covered in graffiti – words of love and football.
We took a window seat, enjoyed a light lunch and people-watched. Highly recommended.