Articles in Travel

The Biryani cart offers flavor-packed kati rolls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nicole Litvak

New York City is a prime destination for gastro-tourism. It is home to some of the greatest chefs, restaurants and culinary schools in the country. The variety, the deliciousness, the sheer volume of good food here is incredible.

There are more than 24,000 restaurants in New York City, according to the Department of Health. While the quantity is impressive, the quality is as well. I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, or if cooks in New York City are just better, but you might be hard-pressed to find a bad meal in this town.

In the spirit of pursuing good food in unconventional ways, here are 16 street eats that capture the diversity and scope of NYC cart food. I invite you to transcend the halal cart and the hot dog, and join me for homemade tamales, fresh-cut durian, hibiscus doughnuts, and yes, a hot buttered lobster roll.

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Main photo: The Biryani cart offers flavor-packed kati rolls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nicole Litvak

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The buttery orange broth of Secret Soup hides a plethora of fresh vegetables alongside lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and chicken. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

In a recent stroke of luck, I was able to join my parents on a last-minute trip to Laos. Naturally, the first thing on my mind was: What will the food be like? Never having encountered Lao cuisine in the United States, I had no idea what to expect. So my palate was piqued when we arrived in Luang Prabang, the country’s former northern capital at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

A foodie adventure

The Bamboo Tree restaurant lures with the enticing scents of coconut and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

The Bamboo Tree restaurant lures with the enticing scents of coconut and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Once settled in we immediately sought out some local food and stumbled across a restaurant off the main road, named Bamboo Tree. Lured by the enticing scents of coconut and lemongrass and by a menu on which we recognized nothing — always a good indicator of foodie adventure — we sat down. The menu told of the restaurant’s Lao chef and owner Linda Moukdavanh Rattana, who was raised cooking in her family’s Lao restaurant and whose favorite dish was something called “Secret Soup,” which combined classic local ingredients. Ordering it was a no-brainer.

Coconut milk and chilies

Chili and garlic, on display at the local market, are two crucial players behind the spicy heat of many Lao dishes.  Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Chili and garlic, on display at the local market, are two crucial players behind the spicy heat of many Lao dishes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

The soup arrived with a handsome buttery orange color that foretold of coconut milk and chilies, with green hints of basil and kaffir lime leaves. One slurp later I was in gastronomic exotica, floating through a savory journey of creamy coconut offset by tangy lemongrass, spicy ginger, citric lime, aromatic basil and kicking chili heat, rounded out by a rich harvest of vegetables. Somewhat to my culinary embarrassment, I am not usually a fan of coconut- and chili-based food — Thai, mostly — since I tend to find it too cloyingly sweet, spicy or oily. But this soup opened my taste buds to the complex yet comforting flavors these ingredients can have when plucked fresh and combined in a meticulous way that allows each subtle flavor to come forth. If this was Lao food, I needed to learn more. When I heard Linda offered cooking classes, I signed up.

Three key ingredients

The three key ingredients of Lao cuisine -- lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal -- alongside chili, garlic, and onion, which are common to many Southeast Asian foods. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

The three key ingredients of Lao cuisine — lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal — alongside chili, garlic, and onion, which are common to many Southeast Asian foods. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

As our class visited the local market for ingredients and choose dishes to cook (obviously my vote was for Secret Soup), I took my culinary questions to the source. According to Linda, the three key flavors of Lao cooking are galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime. Although these ingredients also appear in Thai and other Southeast Asian food, Linda affirmed they form the triumvirate base of Lao cuisine.

Among these ingredients I became particularly fascinated by galangal, which I had never seen before, and coconut milk, which I usually find too overpowering. Linda informed us that while related to ginger, galangal is much harder in texture and has more earthy and citrus flavors — so the two should never be substituted. As for the fresh coconut milk, it is easily found in Laos and its freshness is crucial for creating a dish that isn’t too creamy or sweet. But where fresh milk is hard to come by (as in the United States), one can substitute pure canned milk that avoids sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives. Either way, adding coconut milk at both the beginning and end of the cooking process is key to balancing the chilies’ heat without veering toward overly sweet.

Complex flavors

A variety of spices are used in Lao cuisine to produce different levels of heat and add flavor complexity in balance with ingredients like coconut milk and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

A variety of spices are used in Lao cuisine to produce different levels of heat and add flavor complexity in balance with ingredients like coconut milk and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

As with many Lao dishes, Secret Soup embodies a larger theme of Lao cuisine: years of mutual culinary influence with neighboring countries. For example, Laos and northeastern Thailand (Isan) were once part of the same country, leading to a shared culinary heritage. The Secret Soup contains items typically associated with Thai food, such as coconut milk and chilies, while also emphasizing the complex umami flavors, aromatic fresh herbs and spicy edge apparent in both Lao and Thai dishes. Yet the soup also displays typical Lao spicy-sour-bitter notes — from the blend of galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime and chili — instead of classic Thai sweet-sour flavors. Other Lao dishes might delicately indicate that the Lao originally migrated from China, carrying Chinese techniques with them, and many foods in the Laotian capital Vientaine still carry the legacy of French Indochina.

Authentic Lao cuisine

Local market vendors display their many varieties of sticky rice, a Lao diet staple. Lao people eat more sticky rice than anyone else in the world. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Local market vendors display their many varieties of sticky rice, a Lao diet staple. Lao people eat more sticky rice than anyone else in the world. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

These similarities, according to Linda, often make it difficult to identify “authentic Lao” cuisine. In fact, the close correlations between Thai and Lao food are the reason for the seeming lack of Lao restaurants in the United States. Many Lao restaurants are established under the guise of Thai, since the latter have achieved more mainstream popularity. But a number of Thai places can actually be identified as Lao through traditional Lao dishes such as sticky rice — the staple food of the Lao — papaya salad, fermented fish paste, or others, such as Secret Soup, based on the three key Lao ingredients. Ultimately, Secret Soup was not only my first taste of Laos — it also gradually expressed the country’s elaborate history of culinary exchange, appropriately lending the dish’s title new meaning. Just as I pass on the recipe from Linda here, you can carry on the tradition by translating the culinary complexities of Laos to your own dinner table.

Bamboo Tree Secret Soup

Fresh coconut milk sits side by side with oil -- which is used sparingly in Lao dishes -- surrounded by fresh vegetables and a variety of pastes used for umami flavor and spicy kick. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Fresh coconut milk sits side by side with oil — which is used sparingly in Lao dishes — surrounded by fresh vegetables and a variety of pastes used for umami flavor and spicy kick. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Ingredients

5 stalks lemongrass

10 slices galangal

1 handful each of shallots, onions and garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons sunflower or soybean oil

5 kaffir lime leaves

3/4 pound of chicken filet, sliced

2 cups coconut milk, separated

1 to 2 teaspoons chili paste, amount to taste

1 handful mushrooms, jelly, oyster, maitake or combination

1/4 handful potato, cubed

1/4 handful green beans or long beans

1/4 handful eggplants, cubed

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons soybean paste

1 teaspoon chili powder

Red chilies, to taste, crushed

2 cups water

5 basil leaves

3 tablespoons lime juice (kaffir or regular)

Extra coconut milk (optional)

Directions

1. Finely chop lemongrass, galangal, shallots, onion and garlic.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat in wok, then stir-fry lemongrass, galangal, shallots, onion, garlic and kaffir lime leaves until golden brown.

3. Add chicken, stirring over high heat. Stir in 1 cup coconut milk and the chili paste, cooking for a couple minutes.

4. Stir in the other ingredients, finishing with the rest of the coconut milk and the water. Cook for 10 minutes.

5. Just before serving, add the basil leaves and lime juice, and more coconut milk, if preferred.

Notes:

  • Galangal, kaffir lime and lemongrass can be ordered online or found in specialty Asian markets. Do not substitute for any of these ingredients as they are crucial to the soup’s flavor — but they’re also just for flavor, so don’t eat them!
  • For the chicken, I would suggest sticking with white meat, which works very well.
  • Add the rest of the coconut milk, and the water, gradually — you can use less than the recipe calls for, depending on how much of the coconut flavor you prefer. But also make sure to taste the final result after everything cooks, since you may end up wanting to add in that extra coconut milk before serving.
  • If your wok isn’t large enough for all of the ingredients, transfer to a pot on high heat after the first cup of coconut milk and the chili paste are added.

Main photo: The buttery orange broth of Secret Soup hides a plethora of fresh vegetables alongside lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and chicken. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

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A sample of Supriatna’s work. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Just as artists work with paints and canvas or clay, chefs create masterpieces with everything from carrots to crayfish. But whereas painters and sculptors have museums to display their creations, most chefs only have plates; their “displays” are limited to the short stretch during which a diner admires their meal before digging in. Endang Supriatna may have found the perfect solution, however. He’s taken his art to sea.

The hallmark of garde-manger

Carving

Endang Supriatna. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

I met Supriatna as an invited guest on a week-long cruise to Alaska aboard the Carnival Legend. Working with some of the same items that are probably sitting in your kitchen, he turns ordinary edibles into eye-catchers; you could say he has all the ingredients for a dream job. “I am the only culinary artist on board, and I carve vegetables and fruits and create ice carvings from huge blocks of ice. Sometimes I create paintings for special occasions,” Supriatna said in an e-mail interview.

Working magic on melons

Honeydew details. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Honeydew details. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

For the average home cook, cutting watermelon can be a messy chore. But Supriatna does not see the awkward fruit you and I see. He sees potential.

Supriatna carves two dozen or so watermelons on every week-long cruise. His carvings vary in shape and size, just like his juicy, circular canvases. From salty sea creatures to detailed portraits, the results often decorate the ship’s Lido Restaurant. It’s common to see cruisers struggling to balance a loaded plate in one hand and a camera in another as they attempt to snap photos of the sculpted spheres.

Carving demonstration

Supriatna demonstrates his craft. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Supriatna demonstrates his craft. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

You can see Supriatna at work firsthand during a weekly demonstration at The Golden Fleece Steakhouse. Silently and swiftly, he creates melon magic in less than an hour. There is thought and precision with each graceful cut, but Supriatna has a knack for making his skill look effortless. What might be even more impressive, however, is his ability to create in a wide variety of mediums. Though I saw more watermelons than anything else, every now and then a new showpiece would pop up.

Early inspiration

Produce in bloom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Produce in bloom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Red onions and radishes cut to create colorful blooms, then perfectly arranged in a prickly pineapple vase: Supriatna’s edible bouquet decorated the buffet area surrounding the chocolate fountain on our last day at sea. You might have mistaken the arrangement for real flowers, especially since it sat somewhat in the shadow of a glistening ice sculpture, which also happened to be Supriatna’s handiwork.

As an adult, Supriatna has worked hard to develop his craft, but he says he had inspiration to create from an early age.

“My father is an architect, and (he) influenced and motivated me when it comes to carving and art,” Supriatna said. “Besides creating/designing houses, he often does artwork, such as sketches, paintings, drawings and wood carvings. … I’d always watch and try to learn from him.”

From the visual to the culinary arts

Ice carving on deck. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Ice carving on deck. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

In fact, Supriatna pursued an art degree in college. After graduation, he worked in several hotels as an artist. It was there that food became part of the plan. “I became more interested in seeing how the chefs worked to create beautiful and delicious dishes. To me, that’s a form of art,” he said.

So off to culinary school he went. He graduated one of the top three in his class, and in 2000 he set sail with Carnival Cruise Lines as an ice carver, fulfilling his dream of seeing other parts of the world in the process.

“I’ve also gotten the opportunity to see real works of art from some of my favorite maestros, like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Dali,” Supriatna said.

Cooking at sea and at home

Art on a plate aboard the Carnival Legend. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Art on a plate aboard the Carnival Legend. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

When he’s not wowing cruisers with his carvings, Supriatna also cooks. Responsible for cold-food production and presentation on board the ship, he has nearly a dozen chefs working under his supervision.

His work schedule is demanding. Supriatna typically spends six months at sea before getting two months at home in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, with his wife and two sons.

“At home I give command of the kitchen to my wife, but once a week I’ll cook for them. I usually make my special mushroom and shrimp risotto, which they love,” Supriatna said. “And yes, sometimes I’ll still do carvings, but I try to limit it to special events only.”

Main photo: A sample of Supriatna’s work. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

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Classic meets contemporary at the 56th Biennale di Venezia. This year’s theme is “All the World’s Futures,” and one chef in Venice has taken that inspiration to create a spectacular menu.

The international art exhibition, which runs until Nov. 22, takes place in the Giardini and Arsenale venues and other locations throughout the historic city, making a marvelous encounter between history and avant-garde, where classic meets contemporary art.

In the spirit of this convergence, Chef Luca Veritti created an original menu for the magnificent Met Restaurant at the Metropole Hotel in Venice.

The spectacular menu, called “Tra’Contemporary Cuisine,” combines two philosophies — the traditional Italian and Veneto recipes and a futuristic style through which the same recipes are elaborated and proposed in a creative way.

While different from the current gastronomic trends, the reason for such an original choice lies in the intention of giving value to the regional products — often neglected on behalf of food from faraway countries — elaborated with exotic styles and cuisines.

Hors d’oeuvres the traditional way

Traditional capesante gratinate, baked scallops with bread crumbs and aromatics. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

Traditional capesante gratinate, baked scallops with bread crumbs and aromatics. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

A perfect example are the capesante gratinate, a typical hors d’oeuvres in the Veneto tradition, consisting of baked scallops covered with bread crumbs, aromatized with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.

A delicate update

A contemporary capesante adds passion fruit and a delicate beetroot cream. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

A contemporary capesante adds passion fruit and a delicate beetroot cream. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

In the contemporary version à la Oriente,” the capesante are breaded and cooked with coconut rapé and served with a delicate beetroot cream, hints of passion fruit and a wafer of bread flavored with parsley and garlic.

Home cooking from Carnia

Macaròns di còce is made with pumpkin gnocchi prepared by hand, using a spoon, which gives them their shape and weight, then served with melted butter, sage leaves and some grated smoked ricotta cheese. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Macaròns di còce is made with pumpkin gnocchi prepared by hand, using a spoon, which gives them their shape and weight, then served with melted butter, sage leaves and some grated smoked ricotta cheese. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Another traditional home-cooking dish from Carnia: Macaròns di còce is made with pumpkin gnocchi prepared by hand, using a spoon, which gives them their shape and weight, then served with melted butter, sage leaves and some grated smoked ricotta cheese from Friuli.

An innovative update

The innovative cream of pumpkin and ricotta cheese.

The innovative cream of pumpkin and ricotta cheese. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

This traditional recipe is transformed into a cream of pumpkin and ricotta cheese with a hint of sage. The smoked trout with mountain herbs enriches the dish, which is finished with a morchia sauce — a typical sauce of Friuli prepared with melted butter and cornmeal.

Trendy and traditional

Inspired by the Venice Biennale, Chef Luca Veritti created his Tra'Contemporary Cuisine menu for the Met Restaurant in Venice. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Inspired by the Venice Biennale, Chef Luca Veritti created his Tra’Contemporary Cuisine menu for the Met Restaurant in Venice. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

The high quality of the raw materials will be the centerpiece of the Tra’Contemporary Cuisine: The lamb comes from the Alpago; the vegetables from the Venetian island of Sant’Erasmo; and the fish from Rialto market in Venice. Speaking of fish, in Luca’s menu the classic Venetian baccalà gets a trendy look. The stockfish cooked at a low temperature is accompanied by a rosemary-flavored olive oil foam. A delicate Bronte pistachio sauce and air of Aperol Spritz add a further touch of refinement.

Chocolate gets an update

Chocolate revisited, with passion fruit, caramel and bourbon vanilla. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Chocolate revisited, with passion fruit, caramel and bourbon vanilla. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Couldn’t chocolate get a “futuristic” treatment? Veritti designed a “chocolate revisited,” in which a heart of passion fruit mousse enriches a sphere of plain chocolate sprinkled with white chocolate cream flavored with alchermes. Chocolate with savory caramel and Madagascar bourbon vanilla crumble complete the dish.

Veritti’s experiment could be a great culinary experience for a couple who can share dishes, while indulging in the past and adventuring into the future.

The Venice Biennale art exhibition will run until Nov. 22. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

The Venice Biennale art exhibition will run until Nov. 22. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

Main photo: Classic Venetian baccalà gets a trendy look from Chef Luca Verriti. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

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The memorable scallop ramen at the roadside restaurant found on the way north to Wakkanai. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It began at 3 a.m., a bursting, loud, rumbling noise that broke the rural silence and my sleep. It came and went continuously. I couldn’t take it anymore and got up to investigate.

I was staying at a Japanese resort hotel next to Lake Saroma on the northeastern coast of the island of Hokkaido. Little did I know that the jarring racket in this usually quiet town would lead me to discover one of the most memorable meals of my trip and one of the area’s most lucrative food industries: scallop farming.

Scallop farming starts with a perfect lake

The calm and beautiful Lake Saroma. This is the view from my room at the hotel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The calm and beautiful Lake Saroma. This is the view from my room at the hotel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Lake Saroma, the third largest lake in Japan, is adjacent to the Sea of Okhotsk, separated from the sea by a narrow sand spit. It was once a freshwater lake. Every year in April and May, snow melt from the mountains gushed into the 13 rivers that empty into the lake and flooded the area. Aside from destroying homes and villages, it also ruined the livelihood of the fishermen. To prevent future floods, locals dug out a bit of the sand strip to create a channel.

The narrow passage not only let the freshwater out to ease flooding, it also allowed seawater to come in, especially during high tide, leaving much of the lake brackish.

The passage frequently closed because of moving sand during winter storms, and locals worked to reopen the channel every year. People soon discovered other advantages to keeping the passage open.

New fish come to the lake and scallops, too

Kuniyoshi Ooi, a scallop farming fisherman. Credit:  Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Kuniyoshi Ooi, a scallop farming fisherman. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Fishermen could now easily catch salmon, herring and ocean trout that swam into the lake. Scallops and oysters that thrive in brackish water also found a home. In the 1950s, Japan studied the idea of introducing scallop farming at the lake, and it has been very successful. Today the lake has two permanent, man-made concrete passages to the sea.

When I checked into the hotel the day before, I found a pair of binoculars in the room and admired the calm, silent lake and the sea beyond. The next morning I rubbed my drowsy eyes and tried to reconcile two very different experiences: the prior day’s calm with the early morning noise. Soon I saw the source of the racket: boats moving at high speed on the lake. I noticed that the boats raced out, stopped for a while and then raced back to shore. They looked as if they were competing. I quickly dressed and went to the reception desk to find out what was happening. “They are scallop farmers at Sakaeura Fishery,” I was told. Without having breakfast, I dashed to the fishing port about a mile from the hotel to get a firsthand look at the operation.

Fishermen work day and night bringing in scallops

Boat that retrieves scallops on Lake Saroma in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Boat that retrieves scallops on Lake Saroma in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Fishing boats were still coming in and leaving the port every few minutes. I approached a senior fisherman, Kuniyoshi Ooi, who seemed to be overseeing the operation. He told me that 90 fishermen in this port are licensed to farm scallops. Each fisherman has his own boat, and each employs an average of 10 part-time workers — students from a nearby university — at this busy time of the year. Students are attracted by the good pay, $25 dollars an hour for work from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., Ooi said. The workers, dressed in bright colored uniforms, work as if part of a conveyor belt operation inside a long shed, extending several hundred feet along the quay.

Baby scallops are retrieved from the sacks

A scallop farmer removes 1-year-old chigai from the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

A scallop farmer removes 1-year-old chigai from the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallop farming in Lake Saroma is a sustainable, environmentally friendly business. The first year of scallop culture begins in May when the fishermen drop a rope with a knitted sack to collect natural scallop larvae in the lake. Scallop larvae in nature affix themselves to the grass in water. In farming, it’s different. The larvae attach to the ropes lowered by the fishermen.

In August, fishermen remove the ropes with larvae from the water, transfer them to a larger, roughly knitted square sack and drop it into the water again. By the following May, the scallops in the sack have grown to about 2 inches. The boats retrieve the sacks, 200 at a time, with 1-year old scallops, called chigai.

Mostly students work on the scallop harvest

Workers harvest the scallops. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Workers harvest the scallops. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It was the roar of the boats engaged in this process that woke me from my deep sleep.  The part-time workers removed the scallops from each sack, cleaned and sorted them, and transferred them into large, blue plastic bins. After unloading the sacks for processing at the dock, the boat again sped back onto the lake to fetch more.

No words were exchanged among the workers; each silently and rapidly did his job — on the boat, on the pier and in the shed. Neither did anyone show any interest in the visitor watching them and snapping iPhone photos so early in the morning. I learned that the year-old scallops are then transported through the channels to the sea and remain there to mature for 3 years before being harvested and sent to market.

Scallops go back to the sea for three more years

Scallops are in the sack, but other sea creatures cling to the outside. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallops are in the sack, but other sea creatures cling to the outside. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

According to Ooi, the scallop harvest from the lake is about 44,000 tons each year. Fresh, frozen and dried scallops from this port not only satisfy the market in Japan but are exported to China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the United States. The 90 fisherman are part of a cooperative that provides for all of their needs, including food and housing allowances, funds for boat upkeep and crews, and generous retirement benefits. Ooi said last year’s profit from the scallop harvest, after all expenses, was more than $250,000 for each member of the co-operative. Not a bad catch; these fishermen are not poor.

The sustainable side of scallop farming

Scallops out of the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallops out of the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In addition to their sustainable scallop farming operation, the Tokoro Fishery Association, of which the Sakaerura Fishery is a part, helps maintain the health of the local environment. In the past, cutting trees for opening the nearby land upstream from the lake for commercial development created problems at the fishery. Eroded sand and soil entered the lake and suffocated the fish. And the chemical contamination from the developed land degraded the water quality, which also affected the fishery.

The sustainable side of scallop farming

The uploaded chigai in sacks are stacked up and waiting to be processed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The uploaded chigai in sacks are stacked up and waiting to be processed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In 1959, seven years after the establishment of the scallop culturing industry, the association purchased 1,500 acres of upstream land and planted 600,000 trees. The Tokoro Fishery Association is one of the pioneers in recognizing the important connection between healthy land and a healthy fishery. You might say the noise from the early morning fishing boats woke me up physically and mentally; the experience educated me on one of the most successful, sustainable and ecologically sound aquaculture systems in the world. And, of course, it stimulated my appetite for Lake Saroma scallops.

The next day on my way north to Wakkanai, the northernmost city of Hokkaido, I stopped at a roadside restaurant to sample the “scallop ramen.” As I devoured the delicious dish, vivid memories of my early morning visit to the fishing port flashed back to my mind. No scallops ever tasted better than the ones in my ramen.

Main photo: The memorable scallop ramen at the roadside restaurant found on the way north from Lake Saroma to Wakkanai. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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At Venissa restaurant in Venice, fresh squid is served on a bed of black risotto. Credit: Copyright 2013 Carla Capalbo

From dining on a romantic island in the Venetian lagoon to feasting on handmade pasta in Bologna, northern Italy’s gastronomic capital, this list guides you to the best places to eat in Italy’s northeast. Award-winning food writer Carla Capalbo has spent more than 20 years eating her way around Italy and has uncovered its best-kept secrets, from new-wave pizza to the elegant restaurant of one of the world’s top female chefs. She’s brought together great food for every budget, from take-away noodles to three-Michelin-star refinement.

With this list as your guide — the first of a series — you’ll have a fabulous eating holiday in Italy — whether you go in person or just dream from your armchair.

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» 6 tips to finding fabulous authentic food in Italy

»  Tasty Italian hospitality

»  Tuscan cuisine remains a family affair

» 5-minute pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes

Main photo: At Venissa restaurant in Venice, fresh squid is served on a bed of black risotto. Credit: Copyright 2013 Carla Capalbo

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At the Secret Garden Restaurant, simple yet flavorful southern Vietnamese country-style food is served on handmade plates and bowls, with garnishes and ingredients changing with the seasons. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tu Van Cong

Asia is big, broad and delicious. With a thousand different identities, the food from the world’s fastest rising continent defies categorization. Zester Daily asked its contributors working throughout the world to tell us about their favorite Asian restaurants. They take us from Istanbul to the Far East with stops in Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea, among others.

The variety of restaurants is thrilling. There is something for every pocketbook. What unites them all is a sense of adventure. These chefs are creating food that is both grounded in tradition and freed from convention.

We invite you to share our excitement about what’s happening today in Asian restaurants. Whether you are planning a trip, or just dreaming, we think you will find something deeply satisfying in this collection.


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» Persian food shines apart from South Asian ties
» Sweet Asian pandan shrimp gives a new lift to Thai classic
» Review: In the kitchen with ‘Asian Grandmothers’
» Asian street food smarts

Main photo: At the Secret Garden Restaurant, simple yet flavorful southern Vietnamese country-style food is served on handmade plates and bowls, with garnishes and ingredients changing with the seasons. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tu Van Cong

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A woman uses the Bioculture app in the ancient hilltop town of Camerino. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Le Marche is an unspoiled, green and beautiful region in central Italy bordering the Apennines and the Adriatic with which even many Italians are unfamiliar. Although there have been attempts to designate the region as the “new Tuscany” or call the excellent wines SuperMarche (dropped because, hey, who wants to call a top-flight bottle supermarket?), Le Marche speaks for itself. And, what it says is good food and wine, medieval villages, ancient abbeys, silvery olive groves, golden fields of wheat and vineyards as straight as arrows streaking across the rolling hills.

As Federico Bomba, director of the innovative Bioculture app project, says, the landscape reflects man’s attempt to impose order and precision on a naturally unruly terroir. The recently launched app offers an English-language walking guide through the inland region of Le Marche that brings together digital technology, contemporary art and green lifestyle. Where a traveler once depended on Baedeker or Fodor’s, all they need now are a cellphone or tablet and a charger.

Using the app

Federico Bomba, founder of www.bioculture.it, demonstrates one of the original art videos on the app. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Federico Bomba, founder of www.bioculture.it, demonstrates one of the original art videos on the app. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Wine? Check. Art? Check. Walking shoes? Check. Mobile digital device? Check. Did I mention wine? Using the well-constructed app is easy, even for technophobes. Click on the location you are in either before or during the visit to map your route, read about the main points of cultural interest from medieval frescoes to chocolate box opera houses to esoteric museums, view original art works and videos that connect to the locale, listen to stories and contemporary sound compositions, and head for local organic vineyards, restaurants and agritourism farms.

Go on a cultural pilgrimage

Artist Giacomo Giovannetti explains the concept of the www.bioculture.it app against the backdrop of the ancient hilltop village of Elcito, about 2,600 feet (800 meters) above sea level. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Artist Giacomo Giovannetti explains the concept of the www.bioculture.it app against the backdrop of the ancient hilltop village of Elcito, about 2,600 feet (800 meters) above sea level. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

The app follows the walking journey — a kind of contemporary cultural pilgrimage — undertaken by six young multimedia artists to discover the landscapes, traditions, organic food and wines of the region. As native-born Giacomo Giovannetti explained, the aim was not just to reference the past but to “use a contemporary language and our experience of working around the world to tell the story of our land. Le Marche is little and unknown, but big in inspiration.” To video artist Fabrizio Carotti, the landscape brings peace and concentration by allowing artists time to expand and breathe. Carotti makes an interesting point, “Italy is too often bowed down by its historic past, it makes it hard for us to look to the future. Sometimes, we have to go abroad to have a view of what is contemporary, but we want to tell our own stories in that way. Modern art can be a route to rediscover our old art by giving it another point of view.”

Sample the local foods

Typical “zero kilometers” antipasti in Le Marche, as served at the Pietra Maula agritourism restaurant near Castelraimondo. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Typical “zero kilometers” antipasti in Le Marche, as served at the Pietra Maula agritourism restaurant near Castelraimondo. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

The entire trip takes three weeks, but the visitor can dip in and out of the route as they wish, sampling local food specialties on the way. It is a  sophisticated yet accessible concept of “culture” that goes far beyond the mainstream.

One of the most memorable features of the app are the videos made by Carotti and Simona Sala that reference the interaction between locals and visitors in a witty, dramatic and often moving way.

Local artisans

Organic beekeeping near Matellica. The acacia honey is particularly good. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Organic beekeeping near Matellica. The acacia honey is particularly good. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Rachel Rose Reid, the only non-Italian artist among those on the app, is a gifted storyteller who took inspiration from the people and places she encountered. It is a moment of pure Marche magic to listen to her honied tale while sitting on a sunny hillside overlooking the famous Verdicchio vines and contemplating an artisan of The Mountain Beekeepers Cooperative at his work.

Organic traditions

The organic Aurora vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

The organic Aurora vineyards. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Organic food and wine production in Le Marche is amongst the most extensive in Italy. It is an instinctive harmony with the untouched, verdant landscape combined with pride in local traditions and concern for the future. The rugged, mysterious Sibillini mountains are broken with stretches of lush farmland spread out like geometric mosaics; there are breathtaking vistas, villages clinging to the top of precipitous hilltops, forests, farmhouses and pure white roads. Change comes slowly here and local traditions vary widely from village to village: There are more than 200 dialects in Le Marche alone, a reflection of the varied influences on the region for many centuries.

Aurora, the oldest organic winery in Italy, was started by a group of libertarian students in the 1970s who quit their jobs to return to working the land with eco-conscious respect for a sustainable future. Their aim was to create an independent and self-sufficient community in which they could convert social and economic ideals into concrete actions and projects.  They were instrumental in founding Terroir Marche two years ago, an association of small organic and biodynamic wine producers committed to producing good, healthy wines at reasonable prices. As they say, “Each member has their own style, but we share certain principles: No one over-crops, for example, or makes thin, poor wines. We can’t reach perfection, but we’re trying. The key is to know your plants.”

Notable wines

Offida Rosso DOC Baccofino wine from Paolini e Stanford winery, a member of the Terroir Marche organic wine producers group. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Offida Rosso DOC Baccofino wine from Paolini e Stanford winery, a member of the Terroir Marche organic wine producers group. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica put Le Marche on the wine map years ago, although not always in a good way, thanks to the distinctive green amphora-shaped bottles. Since then, however, it has reclaimed its good name and become one of Italy’s most distinctive whites. It is far, however, from being the only fine DOC on the block. It is worth seeking out, for example, Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, as well as Offida Rosso, Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno. Pecorino has also seen a great rise in popularity, made with 100% of the eponymous varietal (no one seems sure which came first, the grape or the cheese).

The app feeds the body as well as the soul and directs the traveler to organic agritourism inns, wineries and country restaurants where you can sample the superb white wines of the region as well as the gutsy, forthright reds that are a fine match for the robust food fortified with rosemary, tomato, wild fennel and garlic. At La Pietra Maula, a gem of an agritourism restaurant located in a hamlet of 16 inhabitants, oenologist Alessandra Venanzoni’s welcoming family aspires to run a “zero kilometers” restaurant using home-produced meat, salamis, fruit and vegetables as well as their own Verdicchio wine.

Meals, family style

The www.bioculture.it artists of Le Marche share a homemade country meal. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

The www.bioculture.it artists of Le Marche share a homemade country meal. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

The wine of Le Marche, as the app demonstrates so well, does not just encourage exploration of the flavors of local varieties but also the taste of local food, which is as immediately likable and unfussy as the people. Meals in Le Marche are always leisurely, convivial affairs.

End of a journey

Sunset from the hilltop town of Maiolati Spontini. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Sunset from the hilltop town of Maiolati Spontini. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

My journey to the interior via the Bioculture app was a discovery of green Le Marche; blue Le Marche lies eastward, toward the Adriatic Sea. The region is a dichotomy between sea and land that defines the two separate personalities. Both beg to be explored further with wine, food, art and walks.

Main photo: Using the Bioculture app in the ancient hilltop town of Camerino. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

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