Read these: Hungry Planet: What The World Eats & What I Eat: Around The World in 80 Diets + What I Ate 21.October.2015

Food is (obviously) a big part of my life – it always has been, for various reasons, both good and bad, but probably more so now than almost any other point in my life; I’m currently dancing along the delicate tightrope of enthusiastic world foodie/food blogger/home cook & baker and disordered eater.

Part of my love for all things food is a great interest in what people eat; cultures and traditions centering around food really fascinate me, as do the different ways people look at their food – what it means to them (fuel or enjoyment or anything between), where it comes from, how they prepare it, the costs (ethically, financially) of their food, other people’s levels of disordered eating (because a lot of people are, to some extent), all that jazz. Which brings me to finally posting about two of my absolute favourite books, and I cannot believe I haven’t told you guys about them sooner – the incredible work of freelance photojournalist Peter Menzel and TV news producer/editor/writer Faith D’Aluisio, Hungry Planet: What The World Eats (the 2006 James Beard Book of the Year), and follow up What I Eat: Around The World in 80 Diets, are completely fascinating accounts of exactly what is eaten around the world.

Hungry Planet: What The World Eats is a stunning photographic and written representation of what families around the world eat in a week – photos of their week’s intake, along with grocery lists including the costs of that food and beautifully written interviews with the people who offered up a glimpse into their pantries, cultures and lives.  You can grab a copy here, and I really recommend you add this book to your shopping basket before you keep reading!


They followed that book up a few years later with What I Eat: Around The World in 80 Diets, which followed a similar format, but instead of the weekly intake of a family, they looked at the daily intake of individuals. Again, a completely fascinating and eye-opening account of not only the diets, but the lives and cultures of people around the world, a lot of whom told of their own struggles which always intertwined with their food; from restricting models to the desperately poor, the overweight, the rich and the very health conscious. I hope you kept your shopping basket open; add this one in there, check out, and then carry on reading 😉



So, with that inspiration in mind, I thought share what I ate today! an can be just as useful!

What I Ate: 21st October 2015

07:00 breakfast: Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club (his turn) – sourdough toast + hummus + mortadella + eggs

11:00 morning snack (my food doesn’t look this pretty every day, I’m just working from home today!) – yoghurt + kiwi + bits

12:50 lunch – left overs from last night – flour & polenta coated grilled fish + wild rice + stir fried carrot and bok choy with ginger, sesame seeds and oyster sauce
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14:00 tea time – T2’s Lamington

15:10 afternoon snack – carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus (I don’t usually have hummus but there was a bit left over from breakfast club this morning!). And yes, I’m one of those weirdos who actually like raw carrot and cucumber sticks.

18:30 dinner – taco salad bowl – wild rice + chicken + lettuce + tomato + cucumber + charred corn off the cob + spring onion + coriander + mayo

22:00 tea time – T2’s Melbourne Breakfast
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Back to reality, observations of Tokyo oddities & what I learnt about myself

There’s no place like home 🙂 as much as I absolutely LOVE being on the road and living out of a suitcase and being in completely foreign situations and places, I’m always grateful to return to Melbourne. I’m glad to come home to my home, my husband, my dog. I’m thankful that I’m in a position (particularly as a female, because there are still a lot of oppressed women out there in other countries and cultures) that I can work hard enough to be able to travel as much as I do, and I don’t take that for granted.  
Although I travelled there and back with a friend, we were interested in quite different things while we were there, so we spent a lot of time solo. As a single female traveller, Tokyo was the perfect place for me! It was easy enough to navigate, people are friendly and helpful to almost unbelievable standards, and it is the safest city (including Melbourne) that I’ve ever been in. 

Accommodation aside, it was also a lot cheaper than I expected – I went away with around AUD$1000 worth of spending money, and spent only just over half of it!
 

One of the best things about travel is how much it opens your eyes to things that aren’t your norm, and while Tokyo was a very modern city, there were a few curiosities and oddities I noticed…

– early morning cafe breakfasts and brunches aren’t a thing.

– most stores don’t open until around 11am, but they stay open later into the night, around 8pm (as opposed to Melbourne’s general 9am – 5pm hours).

– there’s a system and procedure for everything, everyone knows them, and everyone obeys them.

– ATMs for international cards pretty much only work in 7/11.

– cuteness is EVERYWHERE!!  

– that said, they are truly elegant ladies and dapper gentlemen in Tokyo – heels, pearls and full suits are standard.

– public transport is quiet time. No talking to the person next to you, no talking on the phone, no eating.

– litter doesn’t exist. Anywhere. People are literally employed to sweep the streets and walk them with giant tongs to remove rubbish!  

– there are designated smoking spots outside, and people actually stick to them. There are “no smoking on the street” signs and they are strictly adhered to without the need for enforcement.

– people line up for EVERYTHING. Especially food. And locals really don’t seem to mind waiting over an hour in (a very orderly) line for their favourite eatery… Incredible!

– one of the things that surprised me the most was the amount of people who refused to use tissues!! I find the sniffing thing pretty disgusting (I don’t understand why anyone would want to sniff the snot back up their noses and down their throats rather that just blow it out into a tissue), and was really surprised at the amount of people who would rather just sniff incessantly and occasionally use sleeves to wipe snot on rather than just blow their noses…?!

– while a lot of the older buildings are in the grey/beige/brown 70s styles, the modern architecture is incredibly impressive. Buildings just keep going up!  
I also learnt a bit about myself… 

– my organizational skills are one of my biggest assests and truly help me see and do more than a lot of other travellers.

can read a map like a boss.

– observing and writing and recording has always been (and will always be) what I love to do most.

– anxiety attacks followed me but depression didn’t.

– slowing down, taking time to breathe, and just stepping away mentally for a few minutes helped the anxiety attacks.

– I’m happiest when I’m in new places surrounded by strangers speaking in foreign tongues, where I can just slip into the background and explore and observe at my own pace.

– knowing how to say “excuse me” and “thank you” in the local language is indispensable. 

– I think I’m actually a bit smarter, stronger, braver and more resilient than I’ve given myself credit for..

 
 

No doubt over the next few weeks I’ll write a lot more about my time away, but for now let me just say that I had the most amazing time there and would happily jump on a plane back tomorrow 🙂

An interesting encounter at the Temple of Karnak, Egypt

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We arrived at the Karnak Temple complex after a quick visit to the Colossi of Memnon, and bang in the middle of a sandstorm. It was one of those things you see in movies or travel documentaries that looks kinda cool, but is actually just crap in real life. The sandstorm, not the temple.

An absolutely stunning, staggeringly enormous open air museum of sorts, it’s the second largest temple complex of it’s type in the world (Angkor Wat takes the title). While it’s hard to pick favourite parts, some of the more impressive sections, in my eyes, included the great Hypostyle hall of columns, the rows of ram-headed sphinxes lining the entrance to the complex, and the few obelisks scattered around.

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It was a really amazing complex, quite large and diverse compared to a lot of other sites we visited. It stood out for another reason though; I had quite a confronting experience there.

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Our tour group was comprised of myself, husband, another young lady and two other guys, all of us being around the same age. Us two girls hadn’t had too much trouble during the trip, which we were very thankful for, but what happened here certainly tested our nerves. While we were looking around the lake, we became quite conscious of the fact that we were being circled by a few young Egyptian men. They’d have been somewhere between 18 and 25 years old, if I had to warrant a guess. Anyway, I guess the cockiest one, with the oiled, slicked back hair, tight fitting singlet and gold neck chains got a little bored of staring from a distance – I hadn’t really registered that he’d disappeared from my sight until I turned around to look back at the lake to find him only a few inches in front of me and my fellow female travel companion, camera pointed in our faces, clicking away like a possessed paparazzo.

Needless to say, we were pretty freaked out! We turned to face each other as closely as we could, so that he could only see our backs, and our amazing local guide, Medo, stepped in pretty quickly to get rid of him (thank goodness!). Once he was gone and we’d gotten over our initial shock, we asked what the hell it was all about. Medo explained that the big temple complexes attracted a lot of young guys coming from the “country side” (remoter areas) where they don’t get Western tourists. They come to the big tourist spots with their cameras to capture the foreign women they see, so that they can take the pictures back home to their friends and brag and exaggerate about what they’d seen and their holiday conquests. Because I wasn’t already feeling like enough of a zoo animal, being porcelain doll-white, auburn-haired and freckled.

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While it freaked me out, it was also a really interesting experience; I think I’d kind of expected to encounter this sort of thing the whole time we were in Egypt. But this was the seventh day of our eight day trip, and it was the first confrontation of that type we had. I think I was also so taken aback because us Melbournians aren’t really all that surprised or intrigued by different cultures to that extent. Melbourne is a stomping ground for any and every culture under the sun – Fijians, Chinese, Americans, Italians, Vietnamese, Indians, Brits, Greeks, Jews, Muslims, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks… They all coexist in our city without any of the outlandish curiosity we were shown in Egypt. Hell, I’ve seen a mature-aged gentleman of what seemed to be eastern European descent standing in the middle of the CBD dressed in a skirt and heels, holding rosary beads, and no one blinked an eye at him as they walked past. It made for a very interesting social experiment, and really made me wander about my own upbringing and how much I’ve completely taken for granted exposure to other cultures from such an early age. Even as a kid, with friends who looked so clearly physically different to me, I don’t think I ever really wandered (or cared) why, yet here were these young adults making special trips from their quiet, secluded home towns to see what foreigners looked like and take home proof that they’d seen these fantastical creatures…

Anyone else ever experienced something like this on their travels?

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Egyptian feasting – now THAT’S what I call lunch!

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I really wish I’d paid more attention on arrival here and taken down the name of the place, the street it was on, something, anything to remember it by! We had a lunch stop between sights on one of the final days of our amazing Egypt tour last year, and we were taken to this amazing rooftop location for lunch. Unfortunately there were details, like the name of the place, that I don’t remember. But there are other things that have vividly stayed with me.

1. The food itself. It. Was. INCREDIBLE!!! We were served up a veritable feast by our very hospitable hosts, plate after plate appearing in front of us. I remember the super soft flat bread, unlike any I’d ever had before. I remember the smooth, rich baba ganoush dip. I remember the incredible stew of vegetables and goodness knows what meat, flavours I’d never had before, and ones I wanted to eat over and over again.

2. I remember my group’s wonder and awe, I remember everyone’s faces as we fell suddenly silent, devouring everything, looking at each other, smiling appreciatively and whispering our excitement over how good it all was.

3. I remember the other group we met up with, from the same tour company. We had crossed paths and our two leaders had us lunch together. We sat at opposite ends of the long table. While our little group devoured our food and sang the praises of the unfamiliar cuisine, I vividly remember some of the girls in the other group scrunching their noses up and complaining that they couldn’t possibly eat more carbs and rice and bread – they’d have the salad, thanks. Decidedly unconcerned about our figures at that point, and wanting to throw ourselves head first into this unbelievable experience, we exchanged glances of disbelief across the table, silently asking each other “why on earth would you travel to Egypt of all places if you weren’t willing to try the food?!”

4. I remember being happy, really and truly happy. I had successfully thrown myself into a culture and country that was as different to the one I came from as possible. I was sitting there, on a rooftop, having made it through a sandstorm, and was thoroughly enjoying food I was very unfamiliar with. It was a really happy day.

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Real tacos. In Mexico.

For someone who hates spicy food, I actually really love Mexican food. I’m still a sook and don’t put any hot sauce or anything on my meals, but I do very much love the flavours and freshness of a properly prepared, legitimate Mexican meal. You can’t get many of those in Melbourne, where sugary fish bowl margaritas at Mexican-by-numbers restaurants seeming to be what most people think of when you mention Mexican food.

I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Mexico through a work thing last year when I was still working in the travel industry. Mexico is a really freakin long way to go for only a weekend when you’re travelling from Melbourne – the flight from here to LA alone is around 14 hours! But we eventually landed in Cancun at around 6am, and after checking into our hotel, were granted a free day before the non-stop official obligations and conferences started later that evening. So a group of the girls I worked with hopped on a boat and headed off to Isla Mujeres, one of the most stunning places I’ve ever visited. You can see some of the photos I took that day right here, but this post is about the food. After a morning of traipsing around this precious little island, we naturally got pretty hungry. An A-frame sign advertising 3 tacos and a beer for 85 pesos seemed like a pretty decent lunch venue (for those of you playing along at home, 85 peso is around AUD$7.00 – that’s amazing for those of us who usually pay $7.00 for a beer, or around $5 per designer, hipster taco at home!).

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In we piled, a pack of Aussie girls delirious after 26 hours on a chartered flight full of other travel bunnies, which was the equivalent to a flying party bus. We’d boarded the flight after working a full day, had a few (or more) drinks and chocolate chip cookies on the flight, no sleep, and nothing but a mango margarita on arrival for breakfast. We were handed menus by a bemused Mexican, who probably wasn’t sure whether to call his mates around for a laugh at us, or the cops to get rid of us at that stage. Shenanigans ensued, laughs (by both parties) were had, and food was somehow ordered.

Best tacos of my life.

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The tortillas were soft and fresh and tasted like nothing I’ve ever had called a corn tortilla. The fillings were so ridiculously simple and at the same time so full of flavour. Everything seemed to just work magically. Including the brown slop on the side – re-fried beans. Make friends with this stuff when you’re in Mexico. It’s not like the crap you get out of a tin at home. This stuff is unbelievably good.

It’s a real pity that so many people conjure up images of cheap, shitty food and bad tequila experiences when you mention Mexican food, because it’s not all like that. It’s also funny that so much Mexican food you get in Australia is smothered with greasy melted cheese, because over a table full of tacos ordered by us 8 ladies, not one taco had cheese on it! I blame the Americans (sorry!) and their Tex-Mex for this generalisation. Real Mexican food is fresh and light, it shouldn’t make you feel sick and heavy and greasy and disgusting! If it does, you’re doing it wrong!

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It was a big weekend and we didn’t really get a chance to stop and breathe after this meal and the quick visit to the beach that followed. But it’s stayed with me as one of my best food experiences while travelling, because it really changed the way I looked at Mexican food.

My challenge now is going to be to find it again when I go back in January with husband! I’m very much looking forward to my few days on this little island slice of heaven after 6 weeks of non-stop travel, and plan to eat my weight in tacos in that time!

Read this: Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen

Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table
by Sara Roahen

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Another day, another travel book finished (my obsession may be growing out of control – I regret nothing other than the fact I don’t have more time to read!). Except this is no ordinary travel book. Nor is it regular foodie journalism. It’s a bit of both, and it is anything but ordinary.

This is an ode to the culture in New Orleans that has been brought about by its very unique food, and the traditions and stories surrounding it. Sara Roahen, an ex-line cook, a restaurant critic, a Wisconsin native and a New Orleans transplant, found herself living for many years in New Orleans (pre-Katrina), and quickly became submerged in a city where the food culture runs deeper than most of us could possibly imagine.

Clearly a woman besotted with her adoptive city and it’s food, she writes beautifully and tenderly about a different, traditional New Orleanian dish in each chapter, covering everything from gumbo to po’ boys, oyster to Sazeracs, red beans and rice to the slightly more unconventional turducken. But more importantly, she writes about the characters behind the dishes, the New Orleans stalwarts like Leah Chase, Chef Paul Prudhomme, and the Hansen family, among countless others. She tells of their histories, their traditions, how they each left their mark on the city so profoundly, that not even Katrina could take that away.

Given that this book was completed post-Katrina, I found the way she wove that secondary story of loss and tragedy in to be really incredible; she writes about it not with anger or fear, but with reverence and humour. She gives a really beautiful insight into how those horrible events re-shaped the city’s food culture, how it managed to bounce back relatively quickly (comparatively), writing with nostalgia about the places that never had the chance to re-open (at time of publishing anyway) and the changes that occurred to some of the places that were back up and running at the time.  She also really hits home that food has the power to heal, to bring people together, to make the good times so very much better and the bad times a little more manageable – the simple act of sharing a meal is one of the most understated, yet powerful acts there is.

I didn’t want this book to end, truly; I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to something I’ve been reading about as I have to this. Strangely enough, and for reasons I can’t possibly fathom, I’ve always had a bit of an affinity to the city of New Orleans. I’ve never been there (although I will finallybe visiting in January 2015!!!), never actually known anyone who has been there, come to think of it, never had a tangible connection with it, but I’ve always instinctively felt it would be somewhere I’d instantly be at home. And that’s how I felt reading this book; warm, comfortable, familiar. Maybe it’s the food culture that I relate to so strongly, maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the personalities, maybe it’s the macabre of the voodoo and cemeteries, maybe it’s the fascinating history. Hell, maybe it was a past life… Whatever it is, I, like Sara, feel like I’d manage to find a spot for myself at the New Orleans table… hopefully they have room for me once I get over there!

Get your own copy right here, and start reading it immediately!

Somewhere between Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples in Egypt…

Around this time last year, I was getting home from the trip of a life time – I finally made it to Egypt, which was a life dream for me from a very young age (I wrote a bit more about this life-changing trip here and here, and I’m sure will have many more posts to come!). We spent 8 days there, touring the country with a small band of like-minded adventurers – another 2 Aussies and a Colombian, along with our brilliant guide, Medo. At one stage, it kind of felt like we were kind of on repeat – another temple, more hieroglyphs, more sand in our shoes… I think I was the only one still fascinated anew each time!

The photos below were taken on a little sojourn between a visit to Kom Ombo Temple, and our journey to Edfu Temple. After a long day of sight-seeing, we were thankful to be able to rest our weary feet on a horse-and-carriage ride for a while before making our way to Edfu (where the final photo was taken).

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I found it pretty incredible to be in such a different world to the one I had always known – riding through the streets and seeing these ramshackle, corrugated steel and wooden structures passing for shops (and more often than not, homes) was not something us Aussie kids were used to; we’re pretty lucky and privileged, it appeared, compared to a lot of the world. It really hit home for me during this ride. I feel like my privilege also extended to being able to actually experience this as well, when I know a lot of people would sooner sit at a fancy resort all day and turn a blind eye. Is it not a thing of beauty to be able to see a country in its entirety, and not just the shiny, pretty, brochure-worthy parts?

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

The streets were all but deserted, quiet and lonely – they were also, to a young, white female – a little intimidating and scary. You hear and read about the kind of things that can happen on these streets after dark, and again, it really hits home that I’m incredibly fortunate to live in a country where it is not only allowed, but the norm for young women to go out alone. To shop alone, to study, to hold a job and earn (and spend) their income as they please. To wear whatever they want without fear of repercussion, to choose their own husbands, to love who and what they want. I felt suddenly so relieved at the fact I had been born geographically where I had, and not where I currently was – I’d have never survived. I’d have been one of those horrible stories or tales of caution, I’m sure of it… This is not to say that it’s all doom and gloom and bad news over there. For the most part, all of the locals we met and interacted with were absolutely lovely, kind, generous and patient. But they were also all men – the only woman we were introduced to in a week was the lady at the papyrus factory.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

But it’s these experiences that shape us and make us who we are. Without experiencing that, I wouldn’t appreciate my fortunes as much. I would have continued to take for granted everything I had assumed should be an unquestionable right of mine. I’d never have given another thought to the fact that I chose my own husband, and as long as I contribute to our monthly mortgage and bills, he doesn’t care if I buy myself a new pair of shoes with my pay. That ride, as well as opening my eyes and provoking those thoughts, also made me much more culturally aware, and fascinated with the differences that all lives experience. It just fuelled my wanderlust and thirst for knowledge even more.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014