Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The 35 day trek

During our 35 day trek, I won't be able to post much. Come back in mid-April to learn all about our awesome trek through Annapurna Circuit, Upper Mustang and ABC!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kathmandu: Week 1!

Lassi and momo galore in Kathmandu!

Food in Kathmandu, Nepal has been really good so far. We arrived in the late afternoon and the first thing we had was a mango lassi from Pilgrims Feed N Read Restaurant in Thamel which tasted like heaven. Lassi is similar to kumis, which is a yogurt drink and you can get it with banana, papaya, apple and other fruit, or just drink it plain/tart. I wanted to help my stomach get used to the new diet and yogurt, with all its probiotic goodness, seemed like a great first thing to have. We also enjoyed some yak cheese and vegetable steamed momos (stuffed dumplings) along with a potato dosa, which is an Indian dish, very similar to a thin, crispy crepe. The yak is like a Himalayan buffalo and is a very useful animal, not only for food, but also for carrying goods up and down the mountains where there are no roads.

Banana lassis with dinner. Candlelight is often used since there are long power outages in the city.
We couldn't stay up past 8 pm the first night as Jet Lag hit us hard so we went to bed very early. The breakfast at our guesthouse is included and is very basic: two eggs and toast with "dud chiya', the delicious spiced milk tea. The eggs here are very tasty and I have had my share of orange yolk eggs, a good indication that the hens we get these eggs from have a good life and diet!

We went to a small Nepali restaurant for lunch on our second day, Thakali Bhanchha off of Z street and we weren't too hungry yet so we ordered one dish and got lemon sodas. Lemon soda is just lemon juice with plain soda added to it. It's really refreshing and it guarantees that your drink is safe: tap water here is not at all potable and it's best not to risk it. The mutton curry we ordered came on a metal plate with a large serving of rice in the middle, a bowl of yellow lentil curry, pickled radish, two spicy sauces, spinach, cauliflower and potato and a side of yogurt. We got free refills once we were done and we felt really bad because we shared only that one plate. The tip we gave at the end was rather large. For dinner, we went to Yak restaurant, which is a Tibetan establishment, and ordered pork and vegetable momos and also got a buffalo soup with clear noodles. We heard about the hot Tunga beer they eat there but we have not really felt like drinking alcohol so we missed out on it. Again, we passed out early as we succumbed to the intense jet lag (it took 36 hours or so just to get here!).

Lemon + Soda water

We started our morning at Pilgrims and had some lassi and we had a potato paratha (Indian dish) for a late morning snack. All the food at Pilgrims is vegetarian and this one was really tasty as it was made to order and took about one hour to come out! We changed it up a bit and met up with our friend Carole and went to an Israeli restaurant, OR2K and ordered some more vegetarian food. There was a special dish served only on Friday and Saturday so we ordered it. Jochnne, I believe it was called, is a pastry that is cooked over night and is served with a green chutney and a really good tomato garlic sauce with a boiled egg on the side. We also shared a large platter of hummus, labneh, falafel, babaganoush, tahini and a tomato eggplant dip. We also ordered mint lemonades to wash down our food and we couldn't really finish it all - the portions were very generous.

Sample platter at OR2K

Believe it or not we had dinner that night at Nepalese Kitchen, a Nepali/Newari restaurant very close to our guest house. For habit sake, we started our meal with a banana lassi, no sugar. We had a candle-lit dinner and tried Bari, which are meatballs with a sweet marinade, vegetable pakoras and a grilled chicken with pulao rice. The pakoras are basically shredded vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, cauliflower that are spiced and dipped in an egg batter and then fried. They are really good and we ate a whole plate of them. The pulao rice with our chicken was also very good, it had peas and some nuts as well as fruit. We were a little skeptical about ordering the chicken since most of the chicken shops we have seen around here have no refrigeration and chickens just sit out there at room temperature for hours... we bit the bullet though and I'm happy to say the chicken did not betray us! We were ambitious and had ordered two desserts but we had to cancel the order, we were too full and tired.

Grilled Chicken with Pulao Rice and Cauliflower side

 Suddenly, the weekend had arrived and it felt like we had already been in Nepal for ages! We had a great foodventure experience during the weekend, I'll detail them all in my next post about our first weekend in Nepal.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Foodventuring: How our 7-month trip came to be

Food + adventure = Foodventure

Part 3. How we ended up pulling the trigger on our 7-month trip to Nepal, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and others


All you really have to do is save some money, organize your finances, leave your job, invest in gear, organize your finances and just go!

Going on a long-term trip as a couple sounded a lot harder than it was. Eliot and I had always wanted to do a long trip and we thought we would do it after we got married. The idea was something like a 6-month honey moon full of adventure (trekking, diving, rafting, etc) in exotic places. We gave ourselves about 3 years to plan for it and figured we'd go sometime around late 2014. Around the fall of 2012, we started thinking about possibly accelerating that timeline to the beginning of 2013: Eliot's job was slowing down and I had just been notified that my company wasn't going to give raises to anyone that year. By the end of 2012 we had pretty much committed ourselves to making this trip happen, and by February, it was all a done deal. I will go into much more detail about finances, packing, plane tickets and other trip logistics in future posts, but for now, this is the detailed story about or food and adventure-themed journey.

We love to travel and we love exploring the world so, why not? We never really let ourselves get comfortable in any situation and travel is a great way to accomplish that. We are also not resortists or fans of very touristy destinations so we usually end up going places and doing things that most people would never even consider. We are flexible, adaptable and extremely adventurous with our physical activities and of course with food (I think I'm even more adventurous than Eliot, I would actually eat tarantulas if they were served to me but Eliot said he'd refuse!). Traveling allows us to push our sense of adventure to new and undiscovered levels so we need a healthy dose of it every once in a while.

A very fine Tamal establishment in Angeles Valley, Honduras. Most good food places don't have to look like a restaurant!

Nepal, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Sumatra, how come?
The road less traveled is usually the most attractive to us. Barring Nepal, our destinations are not exactly 'popular' and you won't hear too many people talking about how their dream has always been to travel to Addis Ababa or Colombo. This is how we prefer to travel. We picked four countries over a 6 month period so that we have the opportunity to really get to know the local culture.

We also wanted to go to places that were very budget friendly, had ample opportunities for outdoor adventure and, of course, offered delicious food! All four countries are very affordable and, once you get there, the cost of living is extremely affordable: 2 people can easily eat a very filling lunch with a drink included for less than $2USD TOTAL.

Nepal. We were least excited about Nepal from a foodie point of view but we heard from several friends that the momos (steamed or fried dumplings), chiya (masala-style tea), daal bhat (traditional lentil dish) and even fresh fruit juices were really good there. We also heard that Thamel, the backpacker/trekker place in Kathmandu had a some of the best food in the city. Still, we don't have a lot of Nepali food in California so we were very excited about trying our Himalayan cuisine.

Steamed Vegetarian Nepali Momos - Spicy, Healthy and Delicious!

Ethiopia! The absolute highlight of our culinary expedition will definitely be Ethiopia. Ethiopian food is amazing and we cannot wait to eat it all the time during the 6 weeks that we're there. Ethiopian food, just like its history and culture, is very unique and I have never had anything else quite like it. Ethiopians are very proud of their food and for good reason! The Injera, a spongy, pancake-like sour bread absorbs so much of the flavor of the various curry-esque servings. I am a big fan of the cardamom-spiced curries and they definitely know how to do lentils right. We are also very excited to see some of the coffee ceremonies and will pretty much be caffeinated night and day as Ethiopia is the birthplace of this wonderful bean.

A Coffee Farm in Nicaragua, where coffee is also grown

Sri Lanka. Tea and Curries. I actually don't think I've ever had Sri Lankan food but I imagine that sipping on tea and eating curries is basically what we'll be doing on the tear-drop island. Ceylon tea originates from Sri Lanka and we hope to visit a tea plantation while we're there. I hear the seafood is also very good and if it is at all similar to South Indian seafood, then I think we're in for a treat.

Sumatra. We've both been to Indonesia before but only to a handful of its thousands of islands. Honestly, we picked Sumatra because of the relaxed vibe, the opportunities for diving and trekking in jungles with orangutans. We were not sure about the kind of food there but as soon as we heard about Padang, we got really excited! For us, the spicier the food, the better and Padang is supposed to have the spiciest food in all of Indonesia. Padang food has been highly recommended to us, especially by friends who frequent Indonesia.

I plan on keeping a detailed visual memory of almost everything I eat and will upload posts full of pictures when I can have internet access. Most of the activities we want to do are in very remote areas so I won't always be connected, which is part of the point anyway! For example, our 35-day trek in Nepal includes very remote areas such as Upper Mustang and we'll also be rafting down the world-famous Karnali river for 10 days.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

California: Healthy Eating Extraordinaire

California - a Foodie's paradise!

Part 2. How Living in California became my personal catalyst for healthier eating, cooking from scratch and foodventuring

My Favorite Beach in California (and my backyard for a while)

I started cooking a lot more in California, probably because I was a starving graduate student and eating out was too expensive while cooking at home was just cheaper. Living costs in California are definitely high but what might be surprising to a lot of people is that the cost of food is actually not that bad! You can get three avocados for a dollar during avocado season, 2 pounds of strawberries for a dollar, a bunch of cilantro for 35 cents, 64oz of local, organic, milk for a little over three dollars and a few jicamas for a buck or two. Eliot and I don't shop at the big chain supermarkets, instead, we shop at stores like Henry's (now Sprouts) for our fruit and bulk items, we subscribe to a CSA (community supported agriculture) where we get the majority of our locally grown, organic vegetables delivered to our house, we sometimes frequent Trader Joe's for arugula, mache, tofu, cheese and sausages and we stock up on frozen fruit, frozen fish from time to time, apples and spinach at Costco. This shopping combo has allowed us to save a lot of money on our groceries while still eating very healthy and less processed foods. For example, we make our own muesli, better known as granola to most, by buying nuts, oats, granola, dried fruit and buckwheat from a store like Henry's where you can buy these items by the pound. It's great because you don't really pay for packaging and what you get is what you actually pay for. We usually eat this mix every morning with our home made yogurt - we stopped buying yogurt and started making our own a while ago. Getting our CSA box once every two weeks has been fantastic and a great way to afford local, organic vegetables. Everything we get is seasonal so we get really creative with our cooking and we don't really shop for vegetables at the store anymore, which ends up saving us not only money but also time. We have made spinach strawberry salsa, fennel salad, baked turnips and pumpkin quinoa just to name a few dishes. In my opinion, Trader Joe's is way too much into packaging (do peppers really have to be on a tray wrapped in plastic?) so we only go there for a few items every once in a while because quality is still very good and prices are very reasonable. Costco has made smoothies really easy and cheap to make! We get their frozen berries and add it to the kale, spinach, and/or cabbage we get in our CSA with perhaps some oranges and bananas and ginger. In a matter of minutes, we have a meal ready to go.

Making a summer smoothie after blueberry picking in Santa Barbara

One of the private events we catered: lentil salad, veggies sticks, Moroccan Kefta, Spicy Hummus, Fruit Kabobs and Chocolate Mousse

Now that we cook more at home (we even cater sometimes!), we rarely cook meat at home and often opt for vegetarian meals just because it is easier. We don't really go out to eat but when we do, we make it count. We have explored many of San Diego's culinary hot spots and have found some stellar restaurants. We have found our favorite spots (at a great bang for your buck!) for:

Lebanese (Alforon), fish tacos (Oscar's), adobada tacos (Tacos el Gordo), French with a California twist (Bo Beau), juice bar (Casa de Juice), Vietnamese/Chinese (Phuong Trang), lobster tacos (only on Tuesdays at Jose's in La Jolla), craft beer (too many to name here since SD is the craft capital of the world right now but Green Flash, Regal Beagle, and Tiger Tiger are all pretty good), pupusas (El Salvadoreno), carnitas tacos California style (Carnitas Snack Shack) and sushi (expensive but oh so worth it at Sushi Ota) to name a few.

Foodventuring in San Diego has been really fun. Unlike other cities, you have to go find good food places as they are not all concentrated on one place. Some people complain that food in San Diego is just okay but I feel that SD has great food choices! When I travel I definitely try not to just eat in the touristy spots, and I'm willing to go explore in order to find good, legit local food.

Cooking at home!

This is the kind of spirit I will continue to have during our 6-month trip, which officially starts now! Follow me in my foodventures as we trek around Nepal, explore Ethiopia, cover every bit of Sri Lanka and walk around with Orangutans in Sumatra, Indonesia and then top it all off with a week at Burning Man in Nevada. Eliot and I will try to co-post as much as we can about our trip so make sure to check out his blog as well at! Before diving into the trip, I'll talk about how this crazy Foodventure trip came to be in Part 3.