I had a moment yesterday in Budapest…a food moment. And I’ll never forget the feeling.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve ever been quite as floored by something I ate, where the flavors of a region and the world’s passion for food all just made so much sense.
It was our last night in Budapest and Teagan and I went to a spot called Cafe Kör on the recommendation of The Cipher Podcast Producer Josh Kross. “If you don’t eat at Cafe Kör in Budapest you’re doing it wrong,” he commented on a FB post. “Ok buddy,” I thought…”Let’s see what you got.” We walked by Kör in the afternoon to peek in and it seemed traditional, if not touristy – just around the corner from St. Stephen’s Basilica – but too nice for the quick lunch we were shooting for in the moment and planned to come by at night.
We came back at around 9:30pm, after a rejuvenating end of the day at the Rudas Baths. We ordered a bottle of Cuvee from Eger. It was dry and tart, typical of the area just outside of Budpest and the way I like it. We ordered salmon carpaccio as an appetizer, that covered the plate to the edges. It was excellent and substantial. The waiter, sensing that I wanted something traditional, was pushing me towards the beef tenderloin goulash as my main.
Here’s the thing though: I know it’s Hungary’s most famous dish, but whenever folks talk about goulash, I’ve never felt very excited about it. Stew with vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices? It’s always sounded so…pedestrian.
I’d had an outdoor market’s goulash the day before, but it was served in a fresh bread wrap and it was chicken-based. I dug it, but it was as memorable for the heavy metal music blasting from the stand I bought it from as it was for bold flavors that lingered on my breath for the next couple hours. In short, pedestrian.
Grudgingly, I ordered the Goulash at Kör and questioned that it was served with potato croquettes rather than noodles. But when the food arrived and I started eating, something amazing happened…
As I got into my second and third bites, I started to notice the temperature of the beef. It was hot when it first touched my tongue and my instinct was to back the fork away and blow on my food to cool it off. But then I realized that the heat quickly quelled and that this was in fact perfectly hot. (Hot food?! What a concept! It’s crazy to consider what a lost art this is at many restaurants.) I found confidence in knowing that even though the first touch was hot, it would never be too hot. Again, it was perfect.
And I got to dwelling on the optimal temperature that lasted nearly through the whole meal. I marvelled at how difficult this must be to maintain in a dish that while essentially braised for hours, was spread on the plate, in optimal fashion for cooling. And how did the beef attain such a pleasant chew within this process??
Then I thought about the spices, the sauce and the over-arching confluence of flavors that was before me. Cubes of beef simmered in a brown sauce of onions and peppers, seasoned with paprika and other spices, with the soft and crispy croquettes on the side. My amazement for how perfectly cooked this dish was, then was overcome by how distinctly it tasted and I began to realize that perhaps this is why goulash is so globally ubiquitious whenever the topic of Hungarian food comes up.
So I just kept eating, and sipping my wine and the intensity of the experience kept building. My brain was slowly unfolding into a complete understanding of everything contained within this dish…how the croquettes soaked up the thick stewy sauce, how tender the beef was, the balance that the paprika and the braised vegetables operated within and how it was STILL hot!
It was fairly powerful and I got emotional. My eyes got watery at the thought of this incredible experience as it was happening. I thought about the formative moment Anthony Bourdain describes in Kitchen Confidential, when an old fisherman in the South of France fed him an oyster right out of the water when he was a boy and how a light bulb went off in his nascent culinary mind (these days, I take Bourdain’s work with a grain of salt, but there’s no denying the impact of Kitchen Confidential.) This felt like my culinary moment of the same kind.
My loving partner smiled and laughed as she watched me go through the motions I just described above and it was just a spectacular affair. It felt good to be this affected by food and it re-ignited a passion inside of me. I want to replicate that moment again – badly – and it’s only been 14 hours since it happened.
But this is why I travel. To experience how people live around the globe…And from the standpoint of food, to step outside of my delightfully rote Whole Foods, Mexican food and sushi intake. And now on a train to Prague, I’m inspired. Three days into this trip and I’m in love with the world again. Oh how I’ve missed it.
I’ve been going back to my birthplace of São Paulo, Brazil every year since I first left Brazil in 1989. And the place where I was born, is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been in the world.
When I come back home to the US following a visit, everyone always asks “How was Brazil?” And there’s only so much I can convey with words. I feel like everyone’s idea of Brazil is forged on images of Rio De Janeiro, yet São Paulo is a much different place. I sought to provide a glimpse into My Brazil and My São Paulo.
With these photographs, I looked to juxtapose the old and new parts of the city of São Paulo with the beach getaways of mid-to-upper class families from the city. The city and the beach are very different places and holiday weeks at the beach are comfortable refuges for city-dwellers like my family. Where daily life is filled with the grandeur of skyscrapers and the urban sprawl & accompanying poverty of the city, weekend homes on the coast of the state of Sao Paulo seem a world away. With these 3 galleries, this is My São Paulo.
(Click anywhere on the tiled mosaics below to open the full gallery)
Old São Paulo
These photos were all taken in the Republíca area of São Paulo. It’s the historic central part of the city and just feels like a mish-mash of every aspect of São Paulo in one place. This is where poverty is the most prevalent and homeless kids riddled the streets amongst open shops, buildings, restaurants, the Municipal Theater and a major artery into the city’s core.
I looked to highlight themes of the typical Brazilian family and male/female roles within the household. Hopefully, you can feel the difference between one house and the other and the moments of relaxation versus potential conflict. Technology as a theme is reflected on the outer edges of the frames, reminding us that no matter how far outside of the city the family may be, technology remains ever-present.
New São Paulo
Avenida Paulista is the most important thoroughfare in São Paulo. The wide 6-laned avenue houses major financial institutions, museums, parks, shopping malls and is towered over by giant radio antennae on the top of it’s many tall buildings. New and polished public transportation is peppered throughout it’s nearly 2 mile stretch and it’s been developed into a modern hub to showcase the cosmopolitan city.
Parque Ibirapuera is the city’s largest urban park. It’s the Brazilian equivalent to Central Park, showcasing the country’s rich history, smack in the middle of a metropolis.
Cusco is an interesting city….It’s population has nearly doubled over the last decade (think about that mind boggling stat for a second) and boasts a beautiful historic city center, emanating from the Plaza de Armas, where many prominent Incas were executed by the Conquistadores in the 1500’s. But it’s the the commerce-driven outskirts that truly represent the sprawl of Cusco. When i say “commerce-driven”, what i really mean, is that people are selling EVERYTHING, often times aggressively and there is no better example of this commercial cesspool than the Baratio market on Saturday mornings.
Call it dumb luck, but the day after i arrived in the small Peruvian village of Ollantaytambo for two and a half weeks, the most important annual festival in the town’s history kicked off for the next 4 days. I was in Ollanta (for short) to spend time with some some old friends who were living there as they neared the opening of their new craft brewery (Sacred Valley Brewing Company). Ollanta is a village of 2000 people, that you can’t get to Machu Picchu without passing through. But despite the heavy influx of tourists it sees as a result, the festival de Choquekillka is a prime example of how local tradition triumphs above all else and how when given the opportunity, the locals will out-party the visitors while dancing into the wee hours of the morning.
The festival celebrates the legend of when the christ of Choquekillka cross miraculously appeared at the head of the Incan road, ending days of spiritual strife. The spirituality of the event permeates the celebration throughout. 17 dance groups, ornately dressed with everything from bead art capes and handmade knit masks to whips and even dead baby llamas, pay homage to the local deity with parades, dances and a non-stop celebration. The whole town comes out every day to witness the festivities and leaders of the dance groups set up private parties (cargos) throughout the town as well. I had the pleasure of attending a few of these cargos and ate until i couldnt anymore, had a beer in front of me immediately after i finished the previous one, drank an intoxicating corn brew called chicha, ate guinea pig for the first time and danced with reckless abandon.
On one of the days i attended a picturesque bullfight, on another the evening ended with a dangerously intimate fireworks display, on another we walked down to the pampa to celebrate the afternoon away and every day ended in Ollanta’s central plaza, where my friends at Sacred Valley Brew Co were pouring beers amidst the crates and crates of the local Cusqueña lager that were littered throughout the entire town. The dance groups would march into the plaza and entertain the crowd while paying tribute to the Señor. The parties were fantastic, but it wasn’t until i started gaining a better understanding of what the traditions and the dances meant that i truly began to appreciate Choquekillka as a timeless local tradition and a unique display of faith and solidarity…
I met one of the dancers, William, from the group Qapaq Qolla, who closes out the celebration each year and he began to describe the details of his outfit and of the festivals traditions to us. He talked about how speaking Quechua (the ancient Andean language) and understanding the history of Choquekillka are major prerequisites for being in a dance. I was amazed at how much William revered the Q’achampa dance group, who are considered to be the most sacred and traditional of all of the groups. During their performance he pulled me aside and gave me the type of play-by-play of their performance that i would give to someone who didn’t understand a baseball game. When members of the Q’achampa square off in the middle of the dance circle and exchange whips to each other’s legs, it’s a male proving ground that serves as a model of piety to the Señor and is just flat out entertaining:
The whole time, William was so enthused…and i likened his giddiness of the dance to the way i feel about my “religions”: baseball and music…the two things that make me fly up out of my seat and vibe out on the regular and it started putting the festival, the town, the celebration and their faith into perspective. How a small town like this who doesn’t live at the pulse of amenities like baseball stadiums, concert halls, gastro pubs and gasp…supermarkets, finds a purpose to their simple, yet sustainable lives in the spiritual traditions in which their livelihood’s were founded. It was incredible. Watching the closing ceremonies on day 4 and seeing William and Qapaq Qolla so reverently chant and move with deliberate grace as the cross of Choquekillka bowed to every corner of the crowd of thousands, i was silent…as was everyone else. We were mesmerized by the ceremony and i was overcome with the memory of the last 4 days. Thinking about all of the people i met and of the exposure to a remote culture that i could’ve never imagined i’d have when i arrived in the town.
Until next time….i’l be prepping for my trek into Machu Picchu and bumping the new First Aid Kit album on repeat!
You MUST press play on the new Damon Albarn album before going any further:
Ok…so I’ve tried my damndest to give every post a “hook” so far, but this time, i just gotta wax….I gotta wax on how anxious i’m feeling right now on the evening before heading to Peru. It’s been a lovely last 4 days in San Francisco, but there’s been a certain emptiness to it all…Like a big fucking purgatory. You see, it’s an interesting life i’m leading right now. Cause while i love traveling and being on the move more than just about anything,..I’ve had my share of moments where i wonder what the next long term step will be and it’s hard to detach from that.
I found myself talking to a couple at a bar this weekend about living in the moment. How it’s a truly beautiful thing, but it’s challenging at the same time. Especially for someone like me who has so many ties to so many people and cares deeply about them all. And yeah, traveling cross country and then to Hawaii and then to South America for months requires a certain ability to detach from that next step to be able to live in the moment. I just chuckled thinking about how “first world problem” that might sound, but it’s a real emotion..and i’m bracing myself for it. I’m ready to arrive at this village in the mountains of Peru and just breathe and NOT think about the next step for a while….In fact, it IS the next step as far as i’m concerned and the “boundless belief in the future” that John Wooden spoke about is the confidence that lets you enjoy it all.
So here’s to the next month and a half+ of living in a village in Peru and then going to Brazil for the World Cup. Here’s to my lofty goal of starting the “I Believe That We Will Win!” chant in a bar in Peru during Team USA’s opening game against Ghana and then doing it all over again from the stands of the stadium in Manaus against Portugal. Here’s to a wedding for someone i have yet to meet the day after i arrive in Peru where according to my friend “they’ve ordered 40 pigs slaughtered” for the occasion. Here’s to seeing Machu Picchu just before i leave Peru to head home to Brazil. And finally, here’s to all the time in between where i have no fucking clue what i’m gonna do and who i’m gonna meet, but that’s the part i’m most excited about. Cause that’s the essence of this madness. That’s the heart of this trip…the great unknown and living in the moment.
One simply cannot drive cross country without meaningful music to set the tone every day. Below is a collection of the tracks that got me through the 4,200 mile drive from New York to New Orleans, across to Southern California and up to San Francisco. This is largely an indie rock and old school hip-hop compilation, with no shortage of Modest Mouse tracks sprinkled throughout. I added some stories from the trip and assorted morsels below as well. Press play!
Sylvan Esso – Hey Mami – I’ll admit, this wasn’t the first song i added to the list, but it’s the perfect opening track. It builds immaculately and sets the stage for Sylvan Esso’s incredible debut album. Do yourself a favor and peep the whole album here.
Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener – Man…i love this girl. Think of her as the Aussie Sharon Von Etten, but not as melodramatic. Courtney, who’s voice is eerily reminiscent of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, has a penchant for the playful and Avant Gardener is deliciously addictive.
Wye Oak – Logic of Color – I was a skeptic of a Wye Oak album without guitars, but they pulled it off. Jenn Wasner’s voice is just too good.
Clipse – Hello New World – I was in bumper to bumper traffic at midnite coming out of Washington DC on night 1 of the drive and this jam came on when i was stopped under a bridge. I jacked up the volume and lowered my window, only to be outdone by some dude bumping Pharell’s “Happy”
Gang Starr – Mass Appeal – One of my favorite old school beats.
Modest Mouse – Gravity Rides Everything – Thus begins a long drive for someone with nothing to think about…..
Sylvan Esso – Coffee – This was the first song i added to the list. It was the jam of the trip. I pretty much started every single day listening to it. It’s perfect and this band rules. Get on it!
Led Zeppelin – Going to California – Cause after all, that’s where i was going.
Kid Ink – Hello World – Shouts to my family at GrungeCake Magazine! They did a bomb video interview with Kid Ink that just made me wanna throw this on and it got me super pumped up.
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message – Timeless
Salt-N-Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex – I always laugh thinking how much this song would make my Mom cringe.
Damon Albarn – Lonely Press Play – “I did a record for me” — Damon Albarn. Killer track.
Sun Kil Moon – Ben’s My Friends – My favorite track on Sun Kil Moon’s BRILLIANT new record, Benji.
Courtney Barnett – History Eraser – More from Courtney Barnett. Peep the record here.
The War On Drugs – Under The Pressure – Spoiler alert. This is my favorite album of the year so far. It’s the evolution of American rock and roll paying respect to the sound of it’s beginnings. I love everything about this band, this song and this album.
Givers – In My Eyes – When i arrive at a new destination, i always like to throw on music from a local band. Givers met my Louisiana fix.
The National – Mr. November – This was the first song that came on as i hit the highway leaving New Orleans and i sang it at the top of my lungs. Felt like 2 hours had gone by before i knew it.
The Preatures – Is This How You Feel? Some new bumps that were super smooth
It’s an overwhelming idea, to think about visiting one of the most culturally significant and tumultuous cities in America for the 1st time in your life. The thought of “How the heck have i not been here yet?” lingering in your conscious. When people you’ve met all over the country and the world always say “That’s one of my favorite cities,” it makes you wonder what exactly makes it so wonderful. And in all honesty, it builds a bit of anxiety, cause you don’t want to go to NOLA and end up missing whatever the charm is or whatever that ONE thing that makes New Orleans so awesome is. This anxiety (fear?) is likely what led me to decide to make my first 2 day stop on a cross country drive, where everywhere I’d been up to that point was for a one day trip.
Not knowing much about the city, i logged on to AirBnB and booked an apartment in the French Quarter, a block away from Bourbon Street. “That’s where you’re ‘supposed’ to stay, right?” I thought to myself, whilst keeping the promise of figuring out what “it” is in NOLA with every decision. I fired off a few texts to seasoned NOLA veterans with “send me your recommendations” and off I was, rolling in just in time for dinner following the 8 hour drive from Atlanta. My apartment was a quaint unit, tucked away in a courtyard that despite being near the loudest street in the city, was pleasantly quiet. My host pointed out the hurricane doors on the unit:
I strolled out onto Bourbon Street amidst a mass of drunks enjoying themselves following the week’s annual Jazz Fest. I walked around the French Quarter for over an hour, trying to understand how Bourbon St breathes in relation to the surrounding area. It didn’t take long for me to realize that unlike most of these people, I wasn’t really in New Orleans to get blitzed, but rather to get a glimpse of a city that i was sure i would hope to visit again and catch up on my writing & upcoming travel plans. I retired into a large seafood house on the outskirts of Bourbon St and drank Jefferson Rye and Voodoo Bengal pale ale over oysters and Creole shrimp.
The Creole flavors were out of this world, the type of sauce that balances spicy and bold flavors impeccably and lingers on your palette long after you’re done. I left relaxed and a bit parched, but felt content to discover the ups and downs of Bourbon St for another hour with a “big ass beer” before turning in.
I had a full day ahead of me on Monday and my quest to understand the NOLA paradigm began. I settled into Stanley Cafe on Jackson Square on a recommendation from a friend who called it “the best breakfast i’ve ever had.” A bold statement which had to be investigated.
Jackson Square is a bustling plaza, likely the French Quarter’s largest and it boasts a colorful population of artists, fortune tellers (yes, fortune tellers…lots of em), performers, tourists and vagrants. A lone stool at the end of the breakfast bar helped me circumvent the line immediately, which looked to be a 30+ minute wait. I ordered eggs benedict with fried Louisiana oysters. Yes please:
The hollandaise sauce was light and agreeable along with the three thinly sliced Canadian bacon discs on each english muffin, but the fried oysters…oh the fried oysters! THIS was a Benedict and something about having oysters for my last two meals in a row put a huge smile on my face.
As for the coffee, I couldn’t even tell you how many cups I had. In New Orleans, it’s customary to infuse the coffee grounds with a plant/herb called chicory. The result is a creamier bodied blend, with a smooth chocolatey taste which feels far less acidic.
I talked to a couple at the counter who told me to check out Frenchman St, which was in the Marigny neighborhood that was also on my radar. Frenchman St was littered with restaurants, music stores and jazz clubs and even on a sunny Monday afternoon, the music was playing everywhere from the street musicians along my walk, to the clubs/eateries along Frenchman. While there were clearly tourists perusing the area, (likely spillover from the nearby Farmer’s market/bazaar along the water) it felt like I was somewhere between where the touristy French Quarter tapered off and a pseudo-suburban village picked up.
I ventured deeper into Marigny to a coffee shop for the next few hours, only to arise with the hunger of a thousand southerners. After dilly-dallying up and down Frenchman St looking for the right spot to eat, i decided to go back to that Farmer’s Market and hunt down the local favorite, a Po boy sandwich. The market had a food boulevard of sorts and I posted up at a stand called N’awlins:
I sat by the kitchen and listened to the cooks talking about cooking, paying rent, saving money, their families and having a few laughs. I had a bowl of seafood gumbo with andouille and a sautéed crawfish Po Boy sandwich that’ll go down as the best thing i had in the city. The “CEO” of the place, Arthur “King Creole” Humphrey, came out and asked me “How you doin’ oer there son?” I nodded and put a thumbs up as i took a bite of the buttery sandwich with the sexiest balance of mayo to hot sauce. Right on cue, King Creole replied with “We Got Da Kind Dat Stop Da Baby From Crying!”…I didn’t really get it and he must’ve noticed the look on my face cause then he asked “You know how to stop da baby from cryin’, right?” I made another puzzled look and in perfect rhythm, the King said “Put food in his mouth! Hahaha!” What a cool dude and a helluva sandwich.
I was spent and it was barely 6 o’clock so I strolled along the river and made my way back to my room. But in a turn for the best, I decided to go on a run instead of sitting around. I’d been eating like a pig for the last 3 days and hadn’t exercised a lick.
My run took me along the Mississippi and then i got lost somewhere in the CBD (Central Business District). I looked down on my phone’s map and realized I wasn’t far from the historic Superdome, so to there I ran. When I arrived, the surrounding area was a ghost town. With football season over (The Saints play in the Superdome) and no major events on the horizon, there was no reason for anyone to be around. The nearby Smoothie King Center (yes, that’s what it’s called) where the NBA’s Hornets play, was also empty and i felt like the last survivor in a zombie apocalypse in that moment.
I walked around the building, admiring the changing colors on it’s facade with the sunset sky in the foreground and i couldn’t help but think of the thousands of families who came to the Superdome for safe harbor when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005. My mind was blown when i replaced the lasting image of this building during Katrina in my head:
with this image that was now before me:
The breathtaking grandeur of the Superdome started opening my eyes to a rebirth and the strength of this city & its supporters following a devastating Hurricane which claimed nearly 2,000 lives, flooded over 80% of the city and caused over $81 billion in property damage. Think about that…$81 billion?!?! When I juxtaposed the idea of a city in shambles with this beautifully renovated facility, it represented a Renaissance and a transformation of a city that i would learn more about later that night…And with the emotional visit to the Superdome under my belt I ventured home, showered, packed to leave the following morning and readied myself for a walk to the finest beer pub in the state of Louisiana, Avenue Pub.
Avenue Pub is a bit Uptown, well off the French Quarter on St. Charles St and came highly recommended. I hadn’t realized what a craft beer mecca it was until i was reading about it on my 35 minute walk, but suffice it to say this beer geek was happy. I felt like most everyone I had talked to so far was also a tourist and I really wanted to post up at a bar top and meet some locals. Turns out this was just the place for that as I sat at the bar drinking Envie Pale Ale’s from the fantastic Parish Brewing Co in Broussard, LA. I met a dude named Phil, who grew up in St. Louis and had lived in NOLA for the last 6 years working as an attorney. Our interests were similar: beer, sports, cities and it was cool to compare living in New Orleans with life in the last two cities i had lived in, New York City and San Francisco.
The bartender was cheerful from the moment I walked in and there was a chef whipping up southern pub grub (I had 5 small crawfish pies. They did not suck.) In fact, everyone at this bar was cheerful. There were people watching playoff hockey (LA Kings fans?!), other folks who wanted to talk about beer and random barflies who clearly knew the ropes at Avenue Pub.
Phil took off and this older biker looking dude had moved into the stool next to me. We started telling our stories to each other, like where we’re from, where we’ve been, you know… typical bar fodder and he soon introduced himself to me as Beast. Beast was a bartender at a new Italian restaurant down the road and had moved to New Orleans 8 years ago, a few months after Katrina hit. Naturally i was curious about the role that Katrina played in his arrival and Beast had a wealth of modern history to tell. He arrived here a seasoned bartender and applied for a job at the House of Blues. They hired him on the spot and asked him if he could start that night. Turns out a lot of the food service industry had been hit hard following Katrina. The House of Blues company for one, offered a job relocation to any HOB NOLA employee at another HOB location across the country to get away from the Katrina aftermath along with their families.
Beast was part of a food service and culinary landscape that had been drastically altered after Katrina. Up and coming chefs who had to claw to get positions on the line of New Orleans’ finest restaurants were now finding it easier to slide into a notable spot in the years following the disaster. As a result, the beautiful food of the city was blossoming; mirroring the city’s growth into 2014 during my visit.
But as people came to New Orleans following the disaster, even more people left. The metropolitan area’s population had dropped from 489,000 pre-Katrina to 369,000 post-Katrina. Low income families had relocated to other large cities like Houston, Atlanta and Dallas. The crime rates in those cities grew as the rate in New Orleans dropped historically. And through this conversation with Beast, I finally started to understand this city. Namely the transition and subsequent Renaissance that it’s been undergoing since the tragedy that struck 9 years prior. The dead space that I saw on my walk between the French Quarter and the heart of St. Charles St to the pub made more sense now as there were clearly areas that had yet to be re-developed. And the whole time, everyone who was there couldn’t be happier. This city withstood a catastrophic hurricane, but it’s people and culture had shown the strength to carry on and tout the things that endear the city to them and make it what it is: Food, music, culture, the people themselves and a prevailing attitude that’s as steady as the bridges that bind the city from end to end.
Even though I’ve left New Orleans, I’ll be thinking about how full of life the Superdome looked even in the absence of people. I’ll be thinking about oysters, that crawfish sandwich and sublime coffee. I’ll be thinking about Beast, that Pub and what lies in the outer extremities of the city that I didn’t get to know. But that’s what makes a great city so great…that it leaves you with a feeling that you can’t wait to go back. One love.
The RoadTrip Soundtrack has new additions from the last post: