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Part I of my Forthcoming Food Education, November 7, 2005  Sometimes it's embarrassing to be so food focused. As I've mentioned before, I really have no qualifications, no education, and no expertise. It's just that life is short, and there are so many wonderful things to experience in the world, that there's no reason to waste time on things that aren't memorable. Often, aspiring chefs (i.e. people who really do typically have qualifications, education, and expertise) go through their own period of time where they do things to expand their perspective and experience when it comes to food. They do stages (internships) at restaurants, they take classes, and they travel. We'll see whether I'm able to do all three, but for now, it's time to do the third - travel.

Part of being employed in the high-tech industry is dealing with the expansions and contractions of the high tech industry. I worked at one company that was having a tough time and got laid off. I can't say I was thrilled about it, but I had always wanted to take a trip to Asia. I'd only been to Tokyo once for a few days up until that point and spent almost all of the trip stuck on a trade show floor. I was pretty confident I could get another job, but I knew that I would take a month off to travel alone across Asia before I went back to work. Turns out that my new employer wanted me to start immediately and my trip would have to wait. That was almost nine years ago. In the coming months it's time to take that trip.

For me Asia is filled with possibility. I have had a fascination with Asian culture, and especially Asian food for as long as I can remember. While I've been all over Europe and spent time in the Middle East, to date I've been to Tokyo several times, Kyoto once, and Seoul once for a couple of days. Asia is so rich with diversity and opportunity to see new things, and eat great food, that even though I love the time I've spent there, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Actually, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the surface.

This is Tokyo after dusk.

I love how because of the high cost of land the city is built vertically. A friend said to me once, Tokyo is ready for the day they invent flying cars. They think nothing of putting a restaurant on the 10th floor of a 50 floor building. I don't know why this is so intriguing for me, but it is. I guess it's kind of an iconic representation of a different set of core assumptions about what goes where and how things should be. And even though the skyline of Tokyo and the markets in Phnom Penh bare little visual resemblance, the amount of exciting opportunity contained in every compressed nook and cranny in both cities is what I'm looking forward to exploring.

So, please consider the suggestion box open. I am traveling to:

and I need your thoughts. I apologize if this is boring, but let me remind you. I am not looking for eating experiences that you enjoyed or found fun. I am looking for food that is simply amazing. I don't care about atmosphere. Bad service doesn't bother me. I am not biased to only expensive restaurants - I love street vendors. The only thing that bothers me is food that isn't memorable. I have way too little time in each place to waste it eating somewhere that has a great view or a fantastic atmosphere. Those things are fine, but I'm going for the food.

As an aside, I've been scouring the web for weeks trying to find recommendations that I can trust for where to eat, and frankly, I'm super disappointed. It's not that this site is so great or brilliant. We're not. But the one thing we try to do well is a) have high standards, b) describe our experiences in detail. That combination exists in very few places that I have found on the web. I need more sites to do what we do here. What other way will I find out where to eat? This is where you come in.

Before you send your suggestions, I'm not going totally blind, I do have some restaurants and markets cued up in each city, but I'm not sure yet that I'm really going to be spending my time wisely. I do have somewhat of a strategy though:

  • Hong Kong - trying to eat at the speakeasys (the "private" restaurants in people's home kitchens). Dim sum is a priority as well. This might be the city in which to try an interpretation of another cuisine like French or Japanese.
  • Bangkok - I think I'm going to focus mostly on street food and one dim sum. I'd like to eat at one or two restaurants, but I worry about choosing well. Not sure if I should make time for some Indian food.
  • Phnom Penh - Street food.
  • Siem Reap - Not focusing on authenticity here. The high-end hotels compete on the food front. I think I will try that.
  • Tokyo - It's going to take everything I've got not to go back to old favorites here. I have no plan yet.

Don't be swayed by my focus in each city. I am open to changing my mind based on good advice. Just don't be hurt if I don't heed your wisdom. I'll do my best to weed through everything I get and try to choose as best I can. And yes, you can also feel free to tell me I'm dopey for picking the itinerary I did, and going for as little time as I'm going.

And no matter where I go, I promise to report back as best I can, and of course in as much detail as possible. Thanks.










Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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