Pre-Trip Reading & Travel Plans for India

At the age of 15, I desperately wanted to attend a party at a friend’s place. Quebec high school runs from Grades 7 to 11, and the event was set to host not only us measly Grade 8 students, but also the older grades in school. My mother was kind enough to say I could go, but she required that I be home by 11pm. In retrospect this seems quite reasonable. At 15, not so much. Putting my hands on my hips and staring her in the eye, I retorted, “Let me get this straight: there are hospital procedures I can get under Quebec law without your consent, but I can’t stay out past 11?”

Let’s just say no one was surprised when I was accepted into law school at the age of 18.

And let’s also say that while I certainly could have been a worse kid, I definitely had a mouth on me, and my mother definitely got the brunt of it. She’s going to have approximately 3.5 weeks to get back at me, as we are about to be thrown together for a few long haul flights and a lot of travel days.

Next up: India

I’m not taking her to India to make amends for being a snotty adolescent, of course. She has always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and has never been to the subcontinent. Nor have I, which many readers from India have pointed out over the last few years. (“Why are you not visiting us! We have soups too!”) While she has traveled a bit since her retirement, she has dreamed of traveling more than anyone I know. With a wonderful but very strict father (my grandpa), she was never allowed to travel alone. Getting married quite young and then having me, and then my brother, meant that she did not have a chance to try before a family came along. In the last few years, she has travelled with my step-dad but is always looking to do more. When I  return from somewhere on my visits home, she sits and ask questions, eyes curious and wistful.

As her 65th birthday approached, I wanted to know if I could take her somewhere she wouldn’t otherwise visit. On a walk back to the car last fall, I casually asked her, “So, where do you want to go that you and Howard (my step-dad) likely won’t get a chance to go?”

High up on the list was India. Of course, I said, “great, I’ll take you!” And she said, “not so fast.”

Copious negotiating later, conditions were set: (1) she wanted to go on a group tour,  (2) she asked that I fly there and back with her and (3) a joint packing effort was required. (She hates packing as much as I do). For the group tour, we are going with G Adventures — a natural fit since I am a brand ambassador for them already under their Wanderer in Residence programme.**

Given that it is my mum’s birthday, I chose a Comfort Level trip instead of G’s standard tour; it has transfers from the airports included, as well as lodging in ancient heritage mansions during several nights in the Golden Triangle.  The trip is called Land of the Maharajas, and it takes us to New Delhi first, and then Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Agra, as well as smaller Rajasthan villages in between.  I’m currently in Toronto for G Adventures’ annual meeting and many people from their Delhi office are in town to attend; I’ve gotten even more excited hearing about the next weeks firsthand from them.

As most midday and dinner meals are not included in the trip, I have made her promise to trust me on food-finding missions, despite my inability to completely guarantee that we will avoid Delhi Belly. We will do our best, of course. But we also happen to be bringing Cipro.

**  For those who aren’t familiar with the Wanderers programme, it is not an extension of a ‘press trip model’ or FAM trip for bloggers, but rather a combination of coverage — stories, food, the usual — with an additional assignment components, depending on the trip. In this case, I’m bringing model releases for others in the group to sign in the event they’d want to be included in photography for the site or brochures, and I’ll be providing additional coverage for a newer project in Delhi (a training school for street kids to fund higher education and specific vocational pursuits).  Part of what made this programme a good fit for me was the combination of writing with more inward-facing value for G in the form of feedback and deliverables. The ongoing partnership/relationship gives this trip a really different feel from a FAM or press trip.   I’m providing these details because I rarely share the more business-oriented info here, with the exception of the “about” page, but more and more of your emails ask about the kinds of projects that support my lifestyle. Perhaps a “how I do this” post is needed?

And Then: Bangkok

Those who are longer-term readers might remember my trip to Morocco with G in 2011, where after the two-week tour was over, I stayed put, rented a car and then high-tailed it to the Algerian border. In this case, in lieu of staying in India, I’m taking my mum to one of my favourite cities on the planet: Bangkok. After hearing me go on and on (and on and on) about the markets and the food (and the coffee) and my friends Bangkok, I figured why not take her with me. I’m speaking at a conference just after our trip, and there was no arm-twisting involved — she readily agreed to join. (Of course, I have vowed to feed her, provide her with copious options for foot massages and show her around a place I called home.)

I’m also happy to be providing actual proof for all the street food vendors who would immediately ask how old I am after I ordered my food, and then not believe me. I’d pull out my phone, show a photo of my mum and say “guess how old SHE is?” and they’d guess about 20 years too young and I’d say “It’s in the genes!”

So now I can just point to her and say SEE I TOLD YOU SO.

For those thinking about a Delhi-Bangkok trip, our flights on Jet Airways were 350$ return, tax in.

Stories and Photos from India

I’ll be sharing stories and photos from the India trip on Legal Nomads, as well as on G’s Looptail blog. On this site, I’ll be tagging those posts as “WIR” — much like those first weeks of my Morocco trip in 2011. As always I’ll be posting real-time updates on Instagram and Facebook. G Adventures has wisely given me their login for their Instagram feed, so I’ll be posting there occasionally as well. Food might just figure prominently.

In addition, my mum has also asked if she can write about it here – both what it’s like to travel with a globe-trotting daughter for a month, and also about her thoughts and feelings in the chaos of India.  If there are any questions you have for the mother of a long-term traveler, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

So that’s my October.

Pre-Trip Reading List

I tend to skip the parts about pre-trip reading and research on this site, as I’ve focused on narrative in-country instead. But people often write about how I prepare for a place I’ve never been. Since India is a first for me, I wanted to put those readings and resources here.

I haven’t used guidebooks in quite a few years, opting instead to read historical fiction or non-fiction books, history entries from Wikipedia and pore through food blogs, making notes about what I want to eat. With a wonderful network of friends who love food and travel, I’ve been sent lists of what to eat from many, with special thanks to Cameron (who lived there for years) and Earl (who has been a dozen times).

In addition to general introduction reads on Wikipedia, we are reading or have read already:

  • Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Tahir Shah  (Kindle version is only $2.99)
  • The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (Kindle version)
  • A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
  • Shantaram, by David Gregory Roberts (Kindle version)
  • A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
  • City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, by William Dalrymple
  • The God of Small ThingsArundhati Roy (Kindle version)
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, & Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (Kindle version)
  • India: a Million Mutinies Now, by V.S. Naipaul (Kindle version)

These were suggested by readers after I posted this blog entry on Facebook:

  • A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur, by Devi Gayatri (Kindle version)
  • The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (Kindle version)
  • A Strange and Sublime Address, by Amit Chaudhuri
  • Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure, by Sarah Macdonald  (Kindle version)
Biryani from Yangon, Myanmar

Biryani from Yangon, Myanmar. Looking forward to trying it in India!

We’ve also been pouring over these blogs about Indian Food:

  • Ruchik Randhap (Mangalorean food)
  • Aayi’s Recipes (Konkani food)
  • Tongue Ticklers (Vegan food)
  • Veg Recipes of India
  • Sailu’s Kitchen (focuses on Andhra cuisine. More on that here.)
  • Preoccupied
  • Mad Cooking Fusions
  • Sharmi’s Passions
  • eCurry
  • And Mark Wiens kindly sent over a copy of his Delhi street food guide too.

And for general history/background of region and country:

  • Manas: History & Politics of India
  • The Ancient History Encyclopedia‘s India entry
  • Fordham University’s list of online sources for history of India
  • Anecdotes and legends about the history of Indian food
  • Texas A&M’s “Worldroom” site, with a brief overview of regions in India and their foods (PDF)

Finally, In Case You Missed It…

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And for those not interested in any of those things, thank you for reading and back to regularly scheduled programming soon.

A Lisbon Welcome

In the throes of speechwriting for next week’s World Food Tourism Summit, I realize quite suddenly that I am starving. It’s a beautiful sunny day, so I leave my notes on the table and wander around the corner, down the cobbled alleyway and its yellow, faded buildings, past the neighbour who stands at her window, watching everything. I walk and I walk, waiting for my sense of smell to dictate where I ought to eat.

I come upon a small, family run restaurant with no name. Inside there are half a dozen old men wearing felt fedoras or newsboy caps. Their faces are deeply lined, eyes crinkled from too much smiling. Cautiously, I walk in and lean over someone’s table to look at the menu, which is predictably in Portuguese.

With French and Spanish in my arsenal I’ve been able to get by, but not without embarrassment. Like Greece, people seem to assume that I am Portuguese, which makes two countries where I seem to fit in within Europe. Many of the women here are of short stature, joking to me that I will feel at home. When I inquired about my apartment, my landlady enthusiastically replied “I too am small and love soup!” A match made in heaven.

Bracing myself for miscommunication, I stammer a question about the plate of the day, since the menu indicates that it is available in half portion. The lady of the house is confused. When I’m nervous about offending someone with language, my voice softens and becomes almost inaudible. One of the grandpas bellows “metade porção!”  to compensate, letting her know that I wanted the half plate. At least someone understood me, even if he’s staring at me suspiciously from his position under the menu.

It’s a grilled pork chop, and it comes with fried potatoes. Since I am new to Portugal I don’t yet know if the fries are safe for celiacs, as my limited communication skills do not yet include “so how contaminated is your oil, exactly?” Instead, I ask the woman of the house for salad with my half-portion. “Sem batatas?” she repeats, incredulously. I nod my head. “Yes yes, no potatoes. Just salad and pork, half portion please.” She gives me a lingering side eye and then spins on her heel and huffs into the kitchen.

Her husband cooks in the kitchen, shooting me bemused glances. When the meal comes out, the half portion is enormous. Three large pork chops smothered in garlic, and a giant salad on a separate plate. Dubious, I ask if this massive plate is truly the half portion. Laughing she says it is.

At this point all of the old men in the joint are turned around and watching me, yelling out that I am teeny now but I will have to eat more than I am used to here in Portugal. “Cuidado,” they say, watch out — your waistline will improve.

Blushing, I dig into my lunch under the gaze of the entire restaurant.

I make it through one of the pork chops, and the salad. The rest, there is just no way. I’m used to many small meals, an ideal for Saigon’s streets — not the norm here, I know. Long ago I trained myself to stop eating when I am feeling full, and I felt full.

I timidly walk up the counter, brandishing my plate. Can I take it to go, I ask? Faux pas. She looks at me, eyes wide. She looks over at all the old men. In unison, they all crack up. One of the men comes over, leaning heavily on his cane.

“Where are you from?” he demands.

“Montreal,” I reply, “but not for some time.”

He wants to know why I can’t eat more. “You are elegant,” he tells me, “but you need more food.” Smiling I reply that when I am full, I stop eating.

“Practice harder,” he tells me. “You can eat more.”

After fumbling around in the kitchen, the lady of the house emerges with a tiny plastic container, shaking her head at my ineptness. I put the remnants of my pork chops inside of it, face burning. I try to explain to my audience that I’m here for a month, and that I live nearby.

“Come back,” she says, “but bring someone with you. So you can actually eat the rest of your meal.”

Everyone laughs.

I’m offered mint chocolate candies, which at first they take away thinking I am on a diet. I try to explain it’s not a diet, it’s just the size of my stomach. No one seems to understand. Hopefully when I return later in the month I will have a better grasp of Portuguese and can be a bit more communicative.

I wish everyone a great afternoon, and then wander home to put the pork chops in my fridge.

Hours later, profoundly lost in a separate part of town, I see someone walking up the stairs toward me. It’s the old man who told me to try harder and eat more. His eyes must be weak with age, because it isn’t until we are almost face-to-face that he realizes who I am. Shocked, he inhales sharply and then throws his head back and cackles loudly. Patting me on the arm he says, “boa tarde e boa sorte“. Good afternoon and good luck.

I might need it to eat here.

First afternoon on my own in town and it is already extremely entertaining. I’m really excited to get to know Lisbon better in the coming weeks.

* * *

And finally, my Portuguese food maps are complete and in the shop!

Hand-drawn map featuring all the delicious Portuguese foods you love, placed around the shape of the country itself. Check it out here! While a bit more complicated than my map for Vietnam, we did include the Azores and Madeira on the maps. I am currently using the tote bag for my food shopping.

food map portugal

I hope everyone has had a good long weekend. Happy Easter, or Chag Sameach, as the case may be.

Fishing for Socks in Lisbon

It all started, as many mistakes do, with one too many glasses of wine. I found a tiny little cafe near my apartment that served very cheap glasses of Setúbal moscatel as well as a delicious plate of baked cheese with oregano. They had no problem with me bringing friends to meet me for a late afternoon vino, nor with my self-carried corn cakes to hold dripping strings of piping hot cheese.

I walked home with a skip in my step, marvelling at the winding alleyways and cobbled wonders, the buildings that were long abandoned but now coming back to life. I felt fortunate that a conference brought me here but my lifestyle enabled me to stay longer and explore.

Losing my socks in Lisbon

When I got back to the apartment, I realized that my laundry was not yet fully dry. In true Lisbon fashion, there is no dryer in the place. Instead, a clothing line runs across the width of the two windows, from kitchen to living room, housing the laundry as it dries. As spring moves into summer and storms come though, I’ve watched from my window as other buildings have set up amazing contraptions to protect their drying clothes from the rain. Long sheets of plastic propped up on thin sticks of wood to keep the water away or tiny awnings fashioned from tarps that are unfurled quickly as the rain starts to fall.

In my case, I had no fashioned rainjacket for my clothing line. But a perpetual traveller like me has less clothing than most inhabitants of Lisbon. Worst case I could just hang them indoors. Of all the clothing, I held my wool socks in highest esteem. Ever since I got dengue, my circulation has not been the same. I’m constantly cold, and my feet are almost permanently clad in wool.

Until they weren’t.

Giddy from the moscatel, my socks slipped out of my hands and fell down to the ditch below. Now, I live in an area of Lisbon full of teeny passageways and many of them are gated and abandoned. This includes the place where my socks now resided. Looking down I saw a plethora of clothespins and other detritus from similarly clumsy people, left there for eternity. But I couldn’t do that to my socks. Of all the packing suggestions I have on my travel resources page, my socks are highly prized.

I did what any human in an age of new media would do: I posted a mournful status on Facebook. “It’s all fun and games until you lose your wool socks.” My friends found this funny. My feet did not. And then I was whisked away to Estoril for the World Food Tourism Summit, with only one pair of socks in my possession. AND THEY WEREN’T EVEN WOOL.

Lisbon

Despite having cold feet — literally, not figuratively — the conference went well. I enjoyed my time in Estoril, I met many colleagues that I had previously only communicated with online and my speech seemed to go over as I had hoped. I talked about the importance of storytelling in culinary tourism as a way to get people deeply invested in the food and not merely ‘liking’ a photo on social media. I also cautioned that tourism boards ought to research well before working with bloggers to ensure a good fit of both communication style and audience. (If there is interest, I can do a separate post about the speech and the slides. Yes, there was soup featured in them.) And the organizers of the conference made me a great speaker’s gift: cookies with my face on them. So while I cannot eat them due to the gluten, I can actually tell people “you can eat my face” and mean it. Thanks guys!

I digress.

Upon my return, I washed my sad and thin cotton socks and peered below at the bright green wool so far beneath me, dirty from many days of rain. Given that I cannot seem to find SmartWool socks here in Lisbon, I emailed my landlady asking after a key to the gate to retrieve them. Instead, she suggested I go see my neighbour.

Both of my neighbours look to be in their 80s. One gentleman is deaf and mostly blind, a huge lumbering man who spends his days at the window with giant earphones covering much of his head, peering out at the movement below. “He looks scary, but don’t worry – he is very kind,” my landlady told me when I moved in. She wasn’t mistaken. He now blows me kisses when I leave the house, waving at me upon my return. Across the hall from him is a lovely woman, also alone as her husband passed away years ago. “She has a tool for this,” my landlady assured me, “ask her.”

In my terrible mix of French and Spanish, I took her to my window and showed her my beloved socks below. Breaking into a smile she rushed back to her apartment and returned with the most intrepid of contraptions: a fishhook secured to a wooden stick, tied to twine, attached to an old electric cord, attached to another wooden plank that served as a handle.

Lisbon fishing

Sadly the socks could not be retrieved.

The wind kept blowing the fish hooks to the wrong side of the divide, and I just about lost it trying to hold my 80-year-old neighbour in the window as she leaned so far out that I thought she would topple forward. I could see the headlines: Canadian kills wonderful elderly neighbour by forcing her to fish for socks.

My landlady, who had come by to fix the clothing line, tried her hand. Wrapping the handle around a broom for extra leverage, she pushed the cords outward and retrieved my wool socks for me in a matter of minutes. I would share a photo of them with you but they’re currently on my feet and I refuse to take them off. Laughing, she wrapped up the fishing hook contraption and told me of other tenants who had lost items in that same ditch. Towels, clothes, all needing to be fished from below my window.

I’m sharing this story because, like the prior one about food, it showcases two of many similar interactions in these early weeks in Portugal. Friendly neighbours excited to see someone new in their beloved Lisbon, and strangers who insist I experience as much of the city as I can. The other day, I went to a restaurant near my house and sat down waiting to order with a former colleague from my New York lawyering days who was in town. Almost immediately the elderly gentleman at the next table foisted a plate of grilled sausage at us. “Please,” he said “I cannot finish it — you must try!” Looking at him, at the sausage, and then at each other, we both said “yes!” and grabbed a piece. By the end of the meal, we shared our gargantuan plate of grilled meat with him, and toasted each other with glasses of wine.

I arrived on April 1st and I am already sad to be leaving at the end of the month. It is the first city in Europe where I think “I could spend a lot of time here.” With delicious fresh seafood, a long and fascinating culinary history, and incredibly warm people, it has been a true pleasure to discover Lisbon.

If only they had more noodle soup.

ps. Finally, my Portuguese food maps are complete and in the shop!

Hand-drawn map featuring all the delicious Portuguese foods you love, placed around the shape of the country itself. Check it out here! While a bit more complicated than my map for Vietnam, we did include the Azores and Madeira on the maps. I am currently using the tote bag for my food shopping.

Thrillable Hours: Kate Jackson, Entrepreneur

What made you decide to leave the practice of law? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?

I was fortunate to have an amazing boss and I generally I enjoyed the work, but for me, when assessing the future and what I wanted to achieve, I wasn’t going to find it in a law firm.

Firstly, when I looked at the partners, especially the women, this wasn’t what I aspired to be. How hard they had worked and the things that they had potentially sacrificed in their lives to get there — this was often reflected in their personalities and management styles. Secondly, I never enjoyed the perception clients had of their lawyers; second only to accountants, we were always viewed as a necessary evil, an annoying bill, rather than something that provides value to a business. Thirdly, it was all change at my firm post-merger and not an environment I was enjoying. It was this combination of factors that gave me the final shove.

I had always wanted to run my own business and had an idea brewing, so decided to go for it. I now run TableCrowd, which is a platform for business networking dinners for entrepreneurs and professionals. Through the site, you can grow your network through intimate networking dinners based around different industries or after dinner speakers. Our focus is on providing a relaxed format that people can enjoy that allows deep connections to form. TableCrowd is the second project I co-founded and was sparked by the first – a meeting and parties website, ClickTonight, where we took a large online network offline through regular events. We saw the success of this online to offline trend and wanted to capitalise on that.

Since then, I have also co-founded SilkFred, a platform for the best of independent fashion brands to sell their products online and for shoppers who love cool, unique clothes, to discover them.

I haven’t looked back since leaving law!

TableCrowd

What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?

It’s always different. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. There certainly is drama on a daily basis, good, bad  and ugly, but there is never a dull moment, and there is only ever ‘reverse clock watching’ – wishing the days would be longer not shorter!

There’s so much happening every day, I’m constantly excited about what I’m working on and what we’re achieving.

Do you have any practical advice for professionals who are interested in branching out from traditional private practice but concerned about what is out there?

Plan a bit.

I was a little fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants – I don’t have the risk-adverse trait that characterises many lawyers. I did a simple calculation and made a call on how long I would need to find something else to tide me over financially if it all went wrong.

I decided that one month would be sufficient, so I just needed to make sure I had at least a month’s money, enough to cover mortgage and bills, in the bank at all times. Work out what you are comfortable with and then get stuck in. You won’t regret doing it, you’ll always look back and regret not doing it if it’s on your mind now.

Joining business networking dinners is an easy first step. We actually arrange a few of them on TableCrowd. They will give you a chance to grow your network and see what other people are working on.

Do you still identify as a lawyer or use the skills you developed in your legal training?

I use my legal skills all the time and have saved my companies thousands of pounds in legal fees over the years. I have found that I have had to become a master of all legal trades as everything legal falls into my remit. Most commonly it’s corporate law (the seat I skipped in my training contract!), reviewing contracts or looking at tax schemes like the Enterprise Investment Scheme.

I don’t at all regret the time I spent in law and I really value the skills I gained. However, I find that unless you have a legal background, employers don’t really value those skills or see them to be particularly transferable, which I think is a mistake.

What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?

Well, I’m an ex-lawyer, but I’d say that meeting hundreds of people on TableCrowd and seeing exciting upcoming independent fashion brands selling through SilkFred, certainly floats by boat when I’m working!

Kate Jackson

 Kate Jackson is an ex- commercial lawyer at a top City practice, now turned entrepreneur. She is co-founder of tech startups TableCrowd, SilkFred & ClickTonight and founder of EIS-SEIS.com. She has held CEO and COO roles since 2007.

Recipe for Marinated Tremoços (Lupini beans) from Portugal

’ve now been in Portugal for a month and a half, mostly in Lisbon where I lost my socks and found my appetite. This spring is my first real stay in Portugal; I spent a few days here in 2012 when I spoke at a conference in Porto and subsequently wound my way up along the narrow roads that line the Douro river. Ever since, I have wanted to return.

Madeira, a tiny island not far from the Canary Islands, was my choice to write, eat, and hang out with friends. I spent a month there, renting a place in Funchal, the capital, and enjoying time with friends on the island.

Following my recent arrival, I’ve consumed my fill of specialities, many of which I’ll write about later. Marinated beef cooked on skewers of bay leaf stems, grilled black scabbard fish, angry and slimy but delicious, and limpets, gastropods that come to the table sizzling on a flat platter, smothered in garlic and lemon juice and parsley.

Of all the new dishes, however, tiny lupini beans were the ones I wanted to share first, called tremoços in Portuguese. Lupini beans are high-protein legumes that originated in Egypt or the East Mediterranean, cultivated since the days of ancient Egyptians but expanded in geographic reach once they became a staple of the Roman diet. The Romans used the beans both for themselves and for their animals. As the Roman empire grew, so did use of the lupini beans.

“No kind of fodder is more wholesome and light of digestion than the White Lupine, when eaten dry. If taken at meals it will contribute a fresh colour and cheerful countenance”

– Pliny 

Large and flat, they resemble giant kernels of corn with a much thicker and tougher skin. (Fun fact: when you eat them you’re supposed to take that skin off, but I did not. I ate a bag full skin on. No ill effects this time but I’ve been schooled that it’s not good for digestion to leave the skin on.)

Because of this outer layer, and the alkaloids found in the earlier Roman era version of these beans, the lupini are usually prepared by cooking and preserving them in a salty water marinade. While modern lupini beans are not as aggressively alkaloidal, soaking them overnight, boiling, and then re-soaking for days is a necessity. Once most of the bitterness has left the beans, they taste delicious with beer or wine. It’s no wonder that I’ve seen these snacks in bars around Portugal, Italy, and Spain.

While lupini beans are popular as snacks in the Mediterranean, they are also available in Egypt and Syria and other parts of the Middle East. A source of protein that is second only to soy beans — 100g of lupini have approximately 36g of protein in them — they are a healthier snack than potato chips or other bar food. Forget greasy bar snacks: eat lupini instead.

There are many uses for lupini beans but I wanted to start with the simple yet lengthy recipe for the lupini I found at bars in Funchal. Marinated, salty and bitter, and tangy all at once, they were a satisfying bite to accompany any salad or meal.

Lupini Bean Recipe: Marinated Tremoços from Portuga

Ingredients:

  • About 1 cup (240 ml) dry lupini beans, rinsed. (Available via Amazon here.)
  • Large pot of water, at least 4 cups (1 litre).
  • 2 cloves of garlic, vertically sliced into thin slivers.
  • Olive oil.
  • Black pepper.
  • White pepper (optional).
  • Handful of chopped fresh parsley.
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) salt.

To Soak the Beans:

This is a recipe for patient people. But your patience is rewarded with delicious and healthy snacks!

  • Put the beans in a pot of water and soak overnight, for a total of 24 hours. Ensure that the water covers the beans completely. After twelve hours, check on the beans to make sure they are fully submerged and add more water if needed.
  • After the 24 hour period of soaking, bring the beans to a boil and simmer for 2 hours.
  • Drain and rinse the beans.
  • Place the beans in a large container and cover with cold water. Let them cool and then stick them in the refrigerator.
  • For the next 14 days, change the water once a day with new cold water. This soaking is what removes the bitterness from the beans.
  • After 14 days, add 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of salt and the sliced garlic to the beans. Place back in the fridge to soak overnight.

On the 15th day (I know, I know):

Once you are ready to eat your lupini beans, you simply remove the amount you would like to eat, and toss with olive oil, a pinch of black pepper, the chopped fresh parsley, and some white pepper if you would like a punch of heat.

Store the rest of the beans for future use in your airtight container in the fridge. They will keep for approximately two weeks.

The easy method for the less patient snacker:

If you would like to make these without the 14 day process, you can buy ready-to-use lupini beans that are pre-cooked and de-bittered. For this quicker method, empty and drain the beans from the jar and soak overnight in cold water and garlic. The next day, serve as you would above on the 15th day.

For another recipe see this one with garlic and olive oil.

Don’t forget to remove the husks of the beans when eating!

For more food from Portugal or recipes to try and home…

I recommend the following books to read and cook from at home. Ingredients aren’t difficult to find outside Portugal, and the history of the dishes are extremely interesting.

  • Authentic Portuguese Cooking: More Than 185 Classic Mediterranean-Style Recipes of the Azores, Madeira and Continental Portugal, by Ana Patuleia Ortins
  • My Portugal: Recipes and Stories, by Chef George Mendes
  • Taste Portugal: 101 Easy Portuguese Recipes, by Maria & Lisa Dias

And finally, my Portuguese food maps are complete and in the shop!

Hand-drawn map featuring all the delicious Portuguese foods you love, placed around the shape of the country itself. Check it out here! While a bit more complicated than my map for Vietnam, we did include the Azores and Madeira on the maps. I am currently using the tote bag for my food shopping.

Where to Eat in Barcelona

I first visited Spain in 2001, and I had no idea where to eat in Barcelona. I also had no clue how to navigate a city that seemed bewilderingly alien. France, where I was based for the year, already struck me as foreign despite being a Montrealer who spoke French. The fact remained that it was my first time away from Canada on my own, and even the little details and the inherent formality in my fellow students stood out as confusing.

Spain was far more casual. Dining hours were shifted, with lunch served late and dinner even later. During my first of several visits to Barcelona, I struck up a conversation with a man at a cafe after he ordered in melodious, smooth Spanish. Amazed, I asked him how he had learned to speak so fluently. It never occurred to me that I could do the same. “Nothing is stopping you!” he said, decades ahead of me in confidence. Me, with my wide eyes and confusion about why eggs were kept out of the fridge, stared at him blankly. “You just decide to learn, and you take the time.” And then, leaning in conspiratorially, “The best way to learn is between the sheets.” My face flushed red. He threw his head back and laughed, hands rising in surrender. “Ok, perhaps not just yet. Start by learning through your tastebuds and your stomach. Food is the key to everything.”

I have no idea what his name was or where he might be, but that one line from an American in Spain stuck with me. During my year in Aix-en-Provence I skipped quite a lot of classes, arms curled protectively around my backpack as I opted instead to take the evening train from Marseille down to Barcelona. I can still hear the clicking of lighters flicking on throughout the night as the cabin filled with smoke until the train spat me out at the Spanish border at dawn. The next leg, the shorter train that took me into Barcelona itself, was my favourite. I would press my face against the window as the light began to glow from behind the hills at the sides of the tracks.

I returned again and again during my year in France, drawn to the joy and expressiveness, an open appreciation for existing that I felt was missing in Aix-en-Provence. But I have not returned since, until I finally made it back to Barcelona earlier this month.

Where to eat in Barcelona, with notes for gluten-free dining:

As many of you know, I have celiac disease. While I have to be extremely careful as I travel – even frying foods in oil contaminated with wheat remnants will get me sick – I don’t seek out restaurants that cater specifically to gluten-free eaters. Instead, I choose to research as much as I can, arming myself with information versus relying on a place that claims to know what I can and cannot eat.

The restaurants below were all successful for my stomach. They were delicious, they were reasonably priced, and they were able to feed me without getting me sick. It merits stressing for those with celiac disease that I had to ask each time and for each dish what had flour in sauces or was dredged first; the one time I forgot to ask about a dish it turned out to be lightly battered, so lightly that I only realized it when a few minutes into my meal I started to feel drugged and dizzy, sharp stomach pains following shortly thereafter.

Basically: this is a list for anyone who wants to eat. I’ve included specific tips for celiacs at the end of the post.

For newer readers, the rest of my gluten free travel guides are here, and I have a whole chapter of my book devoted to travel with food restrictions.

The restaurants

 

Daily menu, written by hand and photocopied, often with the prior day’s menu on the flip side with a giant “X” over it. Small plates for the entrées, with larger mains that we shared at the table. If the black rice is on the menu, it’s well worth a try. In its place on a different visit was paella, also delicious and at 4 euro per small plate, a great way to try what usually requires a large purchase for two.

Mains were beautifully cooked and very fresh. For celiacs, be sure to tell the waiter or waitress exactly what you cannot eat. (“No puedo comer harina de trigo. Soy celiac(o/a)“, i.e. I cannot eat wheat flour I have celiac disease.) The restaurant was happy to cook dishes with corn flour instead of wheat, but if I did not ask for every dish they forgot what had wheat in it vs. not. Provided you ask, this is a great and homey place to visit. It’s only open for lunch, so arrive any time after 1pm.

After your meal, don’t miss a stop into Vila Viniteca – great wine shop.

 

Obsessive about pork, this restaurant revolves around all things pig — as its name would suggest. From cured plates to baked dishes that are cooked in an in-house clay oven to sandwiches of pulled pork and homemade bread; the menu is a full tribute to the pig in all its glory and not a part of it goes unrepresented. Staff was very helpful once I said I had celiac disease, and they have gluten-free bread in order to serve pork sandwiches for those who cannot eat the regular stuff.

Try the pork ribs cooked in the oven, and the ear stew with beans, which is far more appetizing than it sounds.

Oh, Mosquito. I enjoyed its cozy corners and smiling bartender, its packed bar and reasonably priced dim sum. Most of all, I loved the rice dumplings that assuaged my growing craving for the delicious steamed treats I used to enjoy before I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

There are plenty of small dishes available for non-celiacs, but if you have a gluten-free diet and dine at Mosquito, the staff will happily circle what you can eat on their paper menus. Don’t miss the eel bao (eel soup dumplings), tasting just as I remembered from years and years ago, when I last ate them. Eel and pork, steamed in rice instead of wheat casing — an impossibility almost everywhere else I have traveled. They were so good I returned again to savour them before I left town.

The fried duck was also delicious, savory and crunchy, and ideal with a side of rice. The starter eggplant dish was a cool contrast to the warmer steamed meals, and the chicken salad with sesame oil and vegetables was a perfect appetizer to kick off the meal.

I’m still dreaming about those dumplings.

For those interested in more substantial plates, their sister restaurant RedAnt ($), Tiradors, 3-5, is another option and it’s right around the corner.

My first meal in Barcelona wasn’t tapas and it wasn’t paella: it was sushi. I was craving salmon sashimi, and nothing would stop me from finding it. Luckily, SushiYa2 was nearby and they had a huge sashimi plate for 10 Euros, as well as a mixed salmon and tuna version for a few euros more. The staff were well-versed with celiac disease and had special gluten-free soy sauce kept aside for customers. The sashimi was fresh and delicious.

For those without any eating restrictions, the restaurant has a good value lunch combo menu, with both bento boxes and donburi bowls on offer. They come with miso soup, salad, and the main meal.

 

I have an arepa problem. Specifically, I cannot stop eating them. Made with corn flour and hearty, they are safe for celiacs and a fast, cheap meal on the go. This small areparia is low on ambiance but a good option if you are in the Gothic Quarter or the Born and need a fast snack in between meals. Many people used to earlier dinner times find themselves desperately in need of a snack around 6, and La Taguera can accommodate you.

Try the plantain and cheese arepa if you’re looking for something different. Fresh passionfruit juice also on premises, to wash down the dense corn deliciousness.

Located at the edge of the Santa Catarina market, I enjoyed a less touristy version of market eats compared to La Boqueria’s chaos. At La Torna, the patatas bravas (the potatoes shown above) were spicy and garlicky, and I enjoyed how the sauces were kept separate, allowing me to eat them bit by bit. Most bravas I had eaten mixed the sauces together into a rosé carpet. This was far more fun. For celiacs: the staff noted that their current menu did not deep fry breaded products so the potatoes were safe to eat.

In addition to these, we tried a great tripe and chickpea dish with chorizo, salty and spicy and gooey. Good grilled vegetables to accompany the meal, and if you ask for your squid grilled instead of fried, you will receive a non-breaded version, safe for celiacs. I’d go back for the tripe alone.

 

I wish I had a chance to explore the menu in full here at this Carlos Abellan restaurant, a recommendation from a food-loving friend who said not to miss it if I could avoid it. The dishes are beautifully presented, divided into sea, land, and a mixture of the two, with an emphasis on cooking techniques that bring out the flavours of the base ingredients. Don’t miss the barbecued octopus with chickpeas (pulpo a la brasa con garbanzos sofritos) or the beans with poached egg crispy pork (judias con huevo y papada Iberica).

Cal Pep is in just about every guide to Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean you should skip it. We showed up at 7:15pm to get a coveted place near the front of the line. Since the restaurant opens at 7:30 and has very limited seating at the bar only, we got one of the few first seatings for the night. If you head there for dinner, try to arrive between 7-7:15pm.

The staff will try to serve you their “everything” menu, a 30 Euro per person extravaganza that allows you to sample everything in the house. Since I have celiac disease and we also wanted to tapas hop, we demurred. At first the waiters were annoyed, but one of the waiter’s nephews has celiac disease too and  he swept in to take our order with smile. Everything was fine until he jokingly told me that my tortilla was full of wheat, then promptly cracked up. (It wasn’t, but he thought it was hilarious.)

For those with unencumbered diets and big appetites, by all means go for the whole shebang. For those like me who are limited, or if you just want to get a bit of food, I’d recommend: grilled squid (it is served breaded and fried usually, but they will grill it for you if asked), the tortilla (soft and firm all at once, filled with great jamón and eggs), spinach and chickpeas (sautéed quickly – simple and delicious), and the Catalan flan (enormous and gluten-free, shown above).

 

Pork trotters and baby squid alongside a menu of tuna tartar and croquettes? Welcome to the creative Bar de Pla,  located not far from Santa Catalina market. Recommended by Legal Nomads reader Vanya, the bar is long and narrow, with a huge wine list and a rotating by-the-glass menu to accompany it. As Culinary Backstreets notes, “the menu is familiar in content – bravas, anchovies, croquetas – but the dishes that arrive at the table have been reconceptualized, and there’s a clear Asian influence.” Worth a visit for the Secreto Ibérico alone, though non-celiacs have insisted I mention the squid ink croquettes for those who can digest them.

Another popular guidebook favourite, but ambiance alone makes it worth a visit. Beer, wine and cava flow freely, plates of cheese, jamón, and many other delicacies abound, and it is located smack in the middle of the Born. If you have to skip one place on the list it would be this one, but I do think it’s a great place to try. I enjoyed the busy, cheerful environment and the plentiful tapas. Best for groups, after a few glasses of vino. Prepare to stand as seating is very limited.

The Mercat de San Josef de la Boqueira

La Boqueria is the always-packed-with-tourists market located just off of La Rambla. With a long history dating back to the 1200s, it bustles with food and noise and a lot of movement. I’ve listed two options for a bite, but the entire market is worth a visit, a sensory overload of food and fun.

– El Quim de la Boqueria: Right in the middle of the action. Try the fried artichokes if you’re not gluten-free. The pimientos de Padrón (photo below, fried tiny peppers) are addictive, as are the baby squid sautéed with egg.

tapas crawl barcelona

– Bar Pinotxo: So busy, but so good. Friends recommended a visit for breakfast, which I second. Their tortilla de patatas (fluffy potato omelette) shouldn’t be missed, nor should the garbanzos (chickpeas) as they are served with tiny pieces of morcilla sausage and the simple dish bursts with flavor.

 

Known for its paella, this restaurant was recommended by a gluten-free reader, and its menu specifically notes what is suitable for celiacs. Their special paella would be my recommendation, full of seafood and their homemade fish stock. If paella isn’t your jam, they’ve also got a hearty sea and mountain stew.

If you have overdosed on

jamón 

and need a more classic brunch as your midday fare, head over to Copasetic. With an emphasis on seasonal, organic ingredients, their

menu

 offers something for everyone, from burgers to crepes, to salads, and more. They can also make just about everything gluten-free, including the crepes. For lighter fare, Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit is an option.

 

Thin crust pizza, made to order in a wood-fire oven right in the middle of the city. It’s a fun option for lunch — try going early, around 1pm, if you want to avoid a wait. Their lunch special includes a pizza, a drink, and a dessert.

Decor was simple and sparse, but the food kept my dining companions quiet and munching thoughtfully. I had a salad, so for those who are gluten-free there are options. But you’ll sit and drool over the pizza throughout the meal, whether you want to or not.

However!

If you’re celiac and want pizza, head to:

This Italian restaurant has an extensive menu for celiacs, one that includes not just pizza but pasta and risotto too. With family members who have the disease, the owners took the time to ensure their menu was safe and lengthy, and Il Piccolo Foccone was the only place I could find in Barcelona that made their own pizza dough for celiacs. The rest had pre-frozen dough that was not worth a try — once they said “frozen” I was out.

Lovely family and good for celiacs and non celiacs alike.

Founded in 1945, this tiny bar in the Gothic Quarter keeps its menu simple. It serves only a few things: fried anchovies (dredged in flour), grilled sausages, an olive, tomato and onion salad, bread with fresh tomato spread, and wine. If any or all of these sounds enticing to you, please give it a visit. Simple can be better.

Tips for gluten-free eating and celiac disease in Barcelona:

The beauty of eating in Spain is that the base ingredients are so important to locals. The quality of the meat or the cheese, the freshness of the bread — all of these building blocks of food play a big role in recommendations. I went to a coffee shop and the owner recommended a bar specifically because the owner “cares about the ingredients.” Even smaller restaurants are noted for their attention to food quality.

As such, meals can be built out of simple components, which is great for celiacs. Other than sandwiches (bocadillos), fried squid (calamares fritos), bread (pan) and croquettes (croquetas) most of the dishes were safe to eat.  From grilled fish or seafood to black rice and squid, many of the dishes in town were safe.

However, some tips:

  • The magic words: soy celiaca for a woman, and soy celiaco for a man. If you want more: no puedo comer gluten (I can’t eat gluten). I did not have to explain further as almost every restaurant understood the nature of the disease.
  • Be sure to ask if the fish or seafood has been dredged in flour. A simple ‘tiene harina de trigo?’ (Does this have wheat flour?) sufficed for me. Often restaurants can and will swap out the wheat flour with corn but if fried the contamination will still be an issue.
  • Ask to have your fish grilled, limiting cross-contamination changes.
  • Fried artichokes were mixed with flour without fail, lending them a thin crispness. I found this out the hard way.
  • Many of the salamis and sandwich hams had flour or gluten in them, but cured jamón, waiting for me on a wooden stand to be carved with care, was gluten free, as was most of the home-made sausage at the restaurants.
  • For a full meal of gluten-free options, many have recommended La Luna restaurant, though I did not have time to make it there myself.

Happy eating!

Thrillable Hours: Jonathan Morse, Artist

What made you decide to move away from pure private practice into practicing law with room for art creation? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?

I’m coming at this from a different perspective, as someone who obtained an MFA in Photography prior to law school and once starting to practice continued on in both genres, so to speak. At the time it was thought there was a left brain/right brain dichotomy, and that creative people used one side while the other was used for logical and detailed thinking. That turned out not to be true we now know, and both sides of the brain communicate and correlate in the processing of every problem including and maybe especially with the creative ones.

I was awarded the Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Foundation Photography Fellowship a month before starting law school. My first year therefore included a major photographic project using those funds for a year-end exhibit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We must not limit ourselves or put boxes around our various skills; let them flow together and become more than the sum of their parts.

Having spent a summer in Santa Fe, New Mexico I decided to relocate to what was considered a creative city and even now is bolstering its reputation as part of the “creative economy”. This choice was made because I knew I would be wearing two hats, as both artist and lawyer. While now we are familiar with the idea of being a hyphenist, it was important for me to know at the outset that I could do it all in a town that prided itself on its creative inhabitants, where actors might be realtors, doctors made music, artists ran their own businesses of all kinds, and stockbrokers produced theater. After trying several small firms it made sense to become a sole practitioner, enabled of course by the omnipresence of digital technology.

My message is that we are all capable of doing many things and there is time in the day to make a buck and pursue our calling, whatever that may be. Many artists, actors, musicians wait tables, design websites, work as production assistants or in galleries and museums, drive for Uber or…lawyers can multitask too! Remember Wallace Stevens, insurance executive but also one of the most profound and renowned poets of the twentieth century. Don’t let your day job keep you from your calling, and you can do them both well.

Do you have any practical advice for professionals who are interested in private practice or working on passion projects but who are concerned about what is out there?

My suggestion is to take career steps that enable your self-control, meaning that notwithstanding the understood needs of clients and the system which any remunerative situation entails, find your niche where you are always reminded about your creativity: be a solo, make your workspace your artspace, engage with fellow professionals in both fields on your own terms. In your choice of employment make sure your boss or colleagues know who you are and what else you must do creatively; if there’s no fit work somewhere else.

Many states (New York, California and New Mexico I am familiar with) have Lawyers for the Arts programs that benefit everything you are doing, so take a class or teach one. Join an art group that meets to discuss and enlarge your ongoing work, and make sure each day you have done something that advances your vision.

I have taught Digital Imaging for Fine Arts and Studio Practice at the Santa Fe Community College. Community colleges provide many opportunities for adjunct teaching (yes, the pay is not great) and that gets you out into an art or media department. Structure your work week so you can carve out this time which is important to you. Or curate a show or turn your office into a gallery/studio where you can invite the public to see what you are doing, have an opening, or be an intern at a museum or arts organization.

By interacting with the arts community you will be prepared and know if or when it’s time for you to take your next big step, which won’t feel like re-invention but more like going live. And by surrounding yourself with your artwork you will always be in inspiring surroundings, and everyone coming to your office from the UPS driver to a client, a gallerist or the local arts reporter, will be touched by your creations.

What do you find most fulfilling about your current work?

Getting to do it all, solving all sorts of problems creative and business, mixing creativity into the blender of everyday experience. Move from an adversarial mindset into an alternate dispute resolution mindset. Meet all kinds of people through all your activities, and you will be surprised how that boring person down the hall turns out to be a writer, a composer, an actor or maybe just a thinker.

The creation of art and the insistent pressure of its attendant monetization can be reconciled…stay true to your goals while expanding the path towards them. For me, when I sit down at the computer (my iMac collaborator) with ideas but without intention, letting the images develop in real-time, creating an image that’s never been seen before, that’s the most true and connected I can be.

Do you think the skills you developed as a lawyer / in your legal training helped when you started working on your art?

Artists must spend a lot of time on “the business of art”, and the organizational, communications and research skills that lawyers use every day are invaluable. Essentially you are running two businesses, and wearing your art hat you still need to present a clear and persuasive view of who you are and what you are doing, work with galleries and make submissions, keep records and do your taxes.

Art and law intersect all the time, most notably in the areas of copyright and fair use, contracts and general business law. Galleries appreciate artists who get their work in on time, prepare their resumes and artist statements clearly and concisely, and if you host your own exhibitions the complexity of publicity and self-promotion will come easily. That “real-world” part of your experience is invaluable in fostering the creative success you wish to achieve.

What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?

Well I guess I would say they are talking to the wrong lawyers! I know some who are mountaineers, art collectors, actors, singers, travelers and artists! And wonderful parents of course. Keep smiling.

Wanaka, New Zealand in 35 Photos

I first met Liz in Spain when I presented at a workshop for travel bloggers. She sat next to me at dinner, her eyes bright, her hair long and blond and distracting; she would curl it around her fingers when she talked animatedly, explaining her plans for her site and her work. This was in 2012, and I was starting to get into public speaking, conquering the overpowering fear of getting onstage and trying to teach something of value despite feeling like I wanted to throw up. At the time, Liz was resolutely working toward the goal of building up an audience for her teaching in Spain website, and was taking the workshop in order to learn more about how to do so more efficiently.

In the years that followed we stayed in touch, and I watched as Liz went from teaching in Spain to travelling, to exploring New Zealand, to getting a long-term visa there and making Wanaka her home. Along the way, she built a huge and vibrant community around her expansive posts, the long photoessays and how tos, and — it has to be said — the occasional rant that got her into hot water. One thing was certain from her writing and photos: she loved her New Zealand, and she wanted everyone to experience it as she did.

To that end, when I visited the South Island, fresh off my traumatic learning to sail extravaganza that reminded me why conquering your fears with extreme immersion is not always the best idea, Liz put me in touch with Carla at the Lake Wanaka tourism board, and together they built a package of activities to showcase their beloved part of the country. There were plane rides in WWII planes, eco-adventures, and boat trips along the river.

Carla knew that I was obsessed with trees (I have a Pinterest board called Trees that Look Like Broccoli for a reason), and ensured that I stayed at a guesthouse right in front of the famous lone Wanaka Tree, right at the edge of the lake and photogenic in any light.

The activities are ones Liz and others have written about, but the WWII plane ride in Tiger Moths truly stood out, as my grandpa used to fly them in the war. It felt surreal and quite jarring to be in the front of one of those planes and their minimal controls, imagining how terrifying it must have been for him to be doing so not over a gorgeous lake in the middle of New Zealand, but in battle.

The following are a series of photos from my time visiting Lake Wanaka. Unlike most of my travels these were all provided by the Lake Wanaka tourism board and their partners, meaning that I did not pay for the activities.

I hope you enjoy the photoessay!

lake wanaka tree

It’s hard to believe how much was packed into 5 days in Wanaka, not including the many meals and great conversations with Liz and Carla. Growing up on the east coast of Canada, with much smaller mountain than the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and no turquoise waters or lakes within lakes within lakes like Mou Wapo has on offer, I found my time in the region pretty damn wondrous.

I wanted to end on nostalgia. After years of travel that kind of wistful affection is something I struggle with. I used to think that everyone felt as I did, leaving pieces of myself in places that I visit. I realize now, after many long discussions with fellow wanderers, that it’s not the case for all of us. Many do feel similarly, but many simply move on. In my brain, however, I create this diorama of places and feelings, and drag some of it with me wherever I go.

In the case of Wanaka, what stood out was not just the landscapes and the flowers and the great conservation efforts, but also that feeling of being in a Tiger Month and being able to imagine only a small part of what my grandfather must have felt and gone through. He met my grandmother during the war, and proposed to her on that very day — it was, as he always said, love at first sight. Us grandkids have heard this story time and time again, and it always brings us joy. But at least for a moment I felt like I was even more transported into that memory, despite being in Southern New Zealand, flying over a very different landscape.

Though ideally I would have done what Liz did – plonk myself down and get to exploring for months on end – I only had five days. So I am grateful for Liz and Carla and all the businesses mentioned here for planning out my schedule for me and covering costs, and ensuring that I sampled some of what Wanaka has to showcase as their own.

Currently in NYC and heading to Toronto next, followed by family time in Montreal.

A Lesson in Staying Still

During the past 7 years of travel, there have been many instances where I’ve managed to get hurt in the most spectacular and occasionally comical of ways. Falling off a motorbike and over a cliff  when a truck full of cabbages broke down in front of me, raining cabbages down the steep road to Pai in Northern Thailand. Eating a llama empanada that gave me giardia and salmonella, karmic retribution for chowing down on an animal I love. Dengue and a respiratory infection in Saigon. Getting teargassed in Bangkok. And much more.

As I move around, I speak with my parents frequently. Communication with loved ones, be they friends or family, is something that has become far more simple since I set out in 2008. My parents are always happy to hear from me but remain in a state of vague dread for the next phone call that begins, “So the good news is that I’m alive. But…” To their credit, they’ve always remained calm — uh, except for that teargassing one — and I can almost hear the sound of their heads shaking at my newest misadventure.

After each injury, I did not stay still. I kept moving, and travelling. It seemed that my life was already quite decadent in that I built it around what most people think of as vacation, so taking the time just to rest seemed silly.

Someone once told me that the reason a lot of this happens is that my brain is always thinking and ruminating, half present and half not. Perhaps that explains part of it. Not the mosquitoes or that damn cabbage truck, mind you. But the mishaps that fall within my own circle of movement can be attributed to this kind of foggy non-presence.

A few days ago I woke up to the sound of something falling off a high surface. Heart pounding, I crept down the stairs and as I did, I imagined the possibilities of what created that sound. Half asleep, my heel landed too close to the edge of a stair and I slipped. I was surprised moments later to find myself on my back and at the bottom of the stairs. If there was an intruder, I’d have had very little ability to do anything about it by then.

Happily it was not an intruder. It was my friend’s cat at my cat-sit in Toronto, being mischievous and knocking off an item from the kitchen counter and onto the floor. While she looked at me with disdain, I curled on my side and waited for the initial pain to subside. I hoped that it was just that — the early shock — but unfortunately it was not. The next day a doctor confirmed that I would need weeks of rest to heal the back rib that cracked against the stairs as I fell.

toronto catsit

As the site has grown I’ve held back from writing about these injuries. I wasn’t the only traveller who had them, of course, and it seemed dramatic to do so when I could still write about food. Ultimately, after a year of not knowing what ailed me I did write about dengue, but the smaller stuff stayed on the DL.

It’s only a cracked rib, but it reminded me of a paragraph in the excellent Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought me Home, a recent release about a woman who suffered a brain aneurysm and had to learn how to be whole again in the new version of who she was. She used to put on huge dinner parties but in her recovering state could not, and had to contend with sitting helplessly while others catered to her for a change.

In my case, thankfully it was nothing remotely as devastating or eclipsing as a brain injury. But sometimes it takes a small thing like this to fully put your rumination on pause and force you to reassess. Earlier this week, when a stranger at the pharmacy offered to tie my shoelaces because I couldn’t bend to do so, it reminded me that I am truly terrible at accepting help. I stood there, flushed red, telling her it was fine, that I could do it. She pointed out that I clearly could not since I just tried three times and failed. She tied my shoes. I stammered out a heartfelt thanks, and left embarrassed.

I love taking care of others, and try to anticipate what friends or family might need. But the people closest to me are the first to say “but Jodi, what about you?” Me? I usually try to deal with the problem by myself, to my own detriment. The times where this has spilled over into a state of overwhelm has shown me that it is most definitely not an effective solution. In this case, unable to actually move in normal ways, I have had to lean on those around me in Toronto. I am lucky that this injury happened in a city where I know many people, and they have immediately come to my aid, feeding me, driving me to the doctor, offering careful hugs for fragile ribs. I feel like a moron. I’m trying not to, because they tell me the only moronic thing is my feeling moronic. Fine, point taken.

I’m not sure everything happens for a reason but I do know that it’s been a bit of a rough year in private ways, and that’s why posting has been even more sparse than usual. I’ve avoided staying put as I pushed hard to try and get through whatever has been on my mind. Instead, I did the things that scared me. A 10-day Vipassana in New Zealand in January. Getting on a sailboat for 5 days despite having almost drowned as a kid, and many other smaller victories against deeply-embedded fears.

While these felt like accomplishments, they did not address the underlying rumination. Movement rarely does. I have no choice, now, but to stay still. Perhaps the lesson here is to re-familiarize myself with my own thoughts and words, something that used to bring me comfort but that I decided was a chore during the last few months.

This injury is insignificant in the grand scheme of things but it has made me throw up my hands and say “enough”. It’s ok to say you need help when you actually do need help. It’s ok to listen to your body when it says “no more” and to stay still as a result. And it’s ok to write about it too.

So here I am.

I’ve spent the day writing by hand and it feels good. Foreign almost, since I had stopped doing so in large part this year. People often talk about routines and how they are important on the road and I truly agree. What I’ve failed to include in mine of late is an outlet of words, even if they remain unpublished forever. When people ask where I learned to take photos I say, “Oh I’m not a photographer – I shoot in auto. I love pictures because they make my true love — words — even better.” To me, the photos are the accessories to the breathless possibilities of prose and yet in the last year I’ve stopped writing even for myself.

I’m going to follow doctor’s orders and take it easy. I can’t climb a mountain this year for my birthday as I normally do, so I will spend it with friends, family, and readers in Ottawa instead. I was supposed to take the train out but since I can’t carry anything — no backpacks for weeks, says the doctor — my brother is going to have to come fetch me from Toronto. As per usual, I felt terrible to put him out in this way. He just laughed at me. “Jodi, please — you get hurt in ALL these far away places and I can’t do anything. I’m just happy you finally hurt yourself close to home. I’ll come to get you next week.”

This is the kind of brother we all want.

I will stay with family until I head to Bangkok in October to keynote at TBEX Asia.

Some housekeeping notes:

– To those who came out to the reader meetups in Toronto and NYC – thank you! I had a great time, and it was lovely to meet you. Props to Amy, who works on boats and navigates them up and down the St-Laurence river, training to be a captain. When I met her at the Toronto meetup she said, “Oh I parked the boat at the beaches and then walked up to your meetup.” Amazing. The best part of these is seeing readers befriend each other, and then they send me photos later of them all hanging out after I leave. Yay!

– Some of you saw the note about my rib on Facebook, and I thank you for the many lovely comments and well wishes.

– There will be a Montreal meetup as well in September, but I’m not sure when yet. As with the others, I’ll be posting it as an event on the Facebook page. You can subscribe to the events for the page here.

– An update about the Word Master position. With close to 400 applications in 2 weeks (!) I hired a wonderful lady named Marloes, who I actually met in person in Chiang Mai in 2011, when she sat next to me for a foot massage. She had apparently followed the site ever since, and her application was excellent, as was her second round submission. She’s been helping update and reformat the resources pages, with the first one – my World Travel Resources page – complete, along with shiny buttons for a new table of contents. We’re working on the gluten-free cards project too, and if you’ve submitted your name to the language translation sheet, she will be reaching out soon.

That’s it for now,

Where to Find the Best Vietnamese Food in Ottawa

When I return to North America in the summer months to visit friends and family, they ask me what foods I missed while I was away. “Did you want me to buy something particular?” my mum emails me before my arrival. “Was there anything you missed?” With the exception of cheese curds, sharp cheddar cheese, grapes, and cottage cheese — there really isn’t much. To the contrary, when I visit Canada I find myself wistful for my favourite soups of Saigon. So it was no surprise that during my recent visit to our nation’s capital, I spent most of my time trying to find the best Vietnamese food in Ottawa.

As with all my other “where Jodi Ate” roundups, this post has been added to my Gluten Free Guides page. For those who can eat wheat, there are plenty of options on the menu too.

History of Vietnamese People in Ottawa

In 1975, the Northern Vietnamese took over Saigon and the city fell, resulting in Communist rule over the entire country and the South’s renaming from the independent Republic of Vietnam to the current Socialist Republic of Vietnam. While much has been written about the Vietnam War (or, as it is known in Vietnam, the American War), I wanted to touch upon what happened to some of the South Vietnamese who fled following or during the fall of Saigon, many of whom made their way to my country of Canada by boat.

Known in the press as “the boat people”, these Vietnamese entered Canada starting in 1975, with close to 5,500 Vietnamese immigrants entering in the years following the end of the war. Due to public outcry, in 1979 the Canadian Government decided that they would match donations from the private sector; for every privately sponsored Vietnamese immigrant, the Government would match with a sponsorship of their own.

According to Radio Canada International,

By 1985, 110,000 Vietnamese refugees had settled in Canada. The “Boat People” were internally diverse: they included a variety of social classes and both urban and rural dwellers. The majority did not speak English or French and had no relatives in Canada. They also arrived during a period of economic downturn in Canada. These factors led to a struggle to integrate into Canadian society and to achieve economic independence.

Ottawa in particular opened its doors to the Vietnamese under former mayor Marion Dewar, who spearheaded what she called Project 4000. The project welcomed 4,000 “Boat People” to the capital through private sponsorship, not simply to fund their stay but also to be matched with people who could help them settle in and deal with the culture shock. Despite Ottawa only housing 800,000 people at the time, Dewar committed to the 4,000 incoming Vietnamese people, and raised quite a bit of awareness for the Vietnamese-Canadian community. When she passed away in 2008, she was honoured by the Vietnamese-Canadian Federation.

I delve into all this in order to give an overview about why there is such a large Vietnamese community in Ottawa. If you’re interested in the individual stories, Multicultural Canada has a database of stories from the people who came to Canada here. I will say that while New York is a thriving metropolis of delicious ethnic eats (I highlight some of my favourites on this post), the one thing it lacks is delicious, cheap Vietnamese food. Thankfully I went to Ottawa swiftly after a New York visit, where I got my fill of my favourite dishes.

Great Vietnamese Food in Ottawa: Restaurant List

Where to find the best vietnamese food in ottawa
I’m going to divide these by dish. Those of you who have seen my 10,000 word street food guide to Saigon know that it isn’t simply about the right restaurant, it’s that each restaurant or street stall has its specialty, and one doesn’t simply go “for the food”. No, one goes because of a specific dish. This is the case in Asia generally, and I love the micro-focussed eating strategy.

You don’t say “where do you feel like eating today?”

Instead, you say “what dish do I want to consume?”

As with Saigon, Ottawa has many a Vietnamese restaurant, all serving staples like pho or goi cuon or bun thit nuong. But that doesn’t mean they taste the same in each. Here are my picks for where to eat based on what dish your stomach desires.

For those unfamiliar with the names of the soups or foods, please head over to the Saigon Street Food Guide where I explain what each dish is.

A big thanks to Mark of Ottawa Foodies, who is just about as obsessed with Vietnamese food as anyone I’ve met, most certainly in Canada. His suggestions were super helpful!

Finally, there is a map of these places at the bottom of this post, with the locations of the restaurants in the city.

I mention bun rieu first because it is one of my favourite soups. Rice noodles in a tomato and crab broth, tofu, fresh herbs, a spicy hint but you can add so much more. I have not found bun rieu I enjoyed in either of Montreal or New York, but I spent my birthday at Authentic Pho Vietnamese Restaurant (250 Greenbank Road, just north of Hunt Club), owned by a Vietnamese family who made a delicious Saigon-style bun rieu.

Also worth trying: their grilled beef satay summer rolls (goi cuon bo satay).

When I was a lawyer in New York, I used to eat at a place called Annam, which was at the corner of University Place and 12th Street. My apartment was right around the corner and I would head here frequently to order what I only referred to as “the number 7.” On their menu as an appetizer, I never knew what these pillowy steamed rice crepes were until I went to Vietnam for the first time in 2012. It was there that I learned they were called banh cuon, literally “rolled cakes” made of rice flour and folded around a filling of wood ear mushrooms and ground pork.

I found these delicious rolls at only one restaurant in Ottawa, and that was Pho Bac (873 Somerset St. W, Tel: (613) 563-0788) a teeny Vietnamese spot on Somerset that reminded me of the restaurants in Saigon. It felt like someone’s living room happened to also be used as a dining room. The owner is from the North, and earnestly explained that I should definitely go to Hanoi if I wanted real banh cuon. I didn’t want to tell him that I had been for that very reason as he already seemed confused about my questions involving mung bean chicken soup.

In addition, their bun cha was delicious, not only because the meat was grilled nicely but also because the spring rolls were made from rice paper (banh trang), as opposed to many of the other places I’ve seen in Ottawa. The other spots often used thicker paper, a mixture of rice and wheat flour, which wasn’t safe for me and other celiacs. Thankfully Pho Bac cooked with the real deal, and like that header photo taken in Saigon, resulted in crispy cha gio (fried spring rolls).

Call ahead as their hours seem extremely random — they were closed on Wednesdays.

Banh hoi thit nuong

Ottawa’s Vietnamese restaurant menus often refer to banh hoi, but they are not truly banh hoi since that dish consists of mats thin rice vermicelli, pressed into rectangular shape and served alongside grilled beef, rice paper, and a place of herbs and pickled vegetables. They aren’t meant to be consumed on their own but as part of a DIY mouthful of all the tastes you’d need: you start with the rice paper, you add lettuce, then herbs, some of the pickled carrots, a few pieces of cucumbers, sliced vertically, grilled meat, and the rice mats — and then you wrap it all up into a roll and dip it into fish sauce.

The beauty of Vietnamese food is its delightful balance on a plate, and each bite of banh hoi reminds me of this dance of tastes. Some of my friends find the process of rolling your own wraps to be time-consuming, but I find the process lets me eat more slowly and mindfully, and I enjoy every bite more fully.

There were many restaurants that claimed to serve banh hoi, though as I noted above it would involve a pile of vermicelli instead of those rectangular mats. Still, a delicious meal and the best I found was at New Pho Bo Ga LA (763 Somerset St. West). The grilled beef was easily the best of the options, though they offer tofu for those who are vegetarian. Note: don’t confuse New Pho Bo Ga LA with all the other Pho Bo Ga LAs out there in Ottawa. Seriously, there are at least a dozen. I put the address here so you go to the right one.

For an at home attempt, see Andrea Nguyen’s banh hoi recipe. (Also if you happen to be from New Zealand, Samwoo Vietnamese cafe in Otahuhu served insanely good, authentic banh hoi. The owners are from Nha Trang and they definitely had the mats of rice noodles that I wanted!)

My favourite memory of bun bo Hue was getting up at dawn to try it in Hue — and I am not a morning person. But the complicated tastes from that lemongrass and beef broth has stayed with me since, and when I can give it a shot elsewhere, I tend to hope for something even vaguely close.

The soup at Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro (359 Booth St.) was one of the better ones I’ve tried in Canada, nice and spicy with good cuts of meat and lots of lemongrass. We went during a huge downpour, which is a perfect time to warm your belly and limbs with spicy, hearty, rice noodle soup.

(Also worth a try at Huong’s is their bun bo la lot, rice vermicelli noodles topped with fresh herbs and beef smoked in betel nut leaves.)

Bo Kho

This is a stew, not a soup dish, and the overall taste is just incredible. When I find a Vietnamese grocer I search for bo kho,  spice mix, because the lemongrass, annatto seeds, star anise, and cinnamon all come together in this slow-cooked beef extravaganza to make you smile.

Mark recommended I try Ox Head Restaurant (790 Kanata Avenue) for the com bo kho (“com” meaning rice), and the braised beef dish didn’t disappoint. If you want to try something a little different I would highly recommend it, especially on a cold day.

I couldn’t leave out pho! Though I did try it at quite a few places in Ottawa’s central Chinatown, the broths were mostly just ok and not as rich as I would have liked. The photo above is from my favourite place in Hanoi, a rich and complicated broth where you can taste all of the spices but still manage to enjoy the taste of the meat despite them. In the background is a purple cup full of homemade hot sauce. You can’t go wrong with homemade hot sauce.

Mark from Ottawa Foodies recommends @36Pho (1600 Merivale Rd) as the best option for broth in Ottawa. It’s outside Centretown/Chinatown area, however, so if you don’t have a car my pick for the bestest of your broth options within downtown is that of Pho Thu Do (781 Somerset St. W.). Good sized portions and the meat was very tender too. I’ll have to give @36pho a chance when I go back to Ottawa.

Map of Restaurants in this Post

* * *

Thus concludes the “Jodi stuffed her face in Ottawa” roundup. The rib that I broke in Toronto is healing so damn slowly, but at least it is healing. I feel a bit like a sloth since I can’t exercise and I can’t sit for long periods of time without pain. The silver lining was a great birthday in Ottawa with my parents and my brother, friends old and new, and lovely readers.

ottawa birthday

My stepdad, me, my mum, and my brother on my birthday in Ottawa

I hope everyone is having a great summer! If you have additional Vietnamese recommendations for Ottawa, please do leave them in the comments.

p.s. If you want to pick up one of the hand-drawn maps of Vietnam’s foods, they are available here.

p. p.s. for a delicious Hong Kong dessert place in Centretown after your meal, head to Honey Town. If you have a black sesame obsession you should not miss their sesame hot soup with almond paste. TRUST ME.