The City

From Vagabondish.com: Wild Food Foraging in Asheville, North Carolina


There is something to be said for finding a fungus growing from the earth, plucking it and then putting it into your mouth. Wild food foraging and morel hunting with Wild Food Adventures out of Asheville, North Carolina is a curious and often delicious experience and one that you can read more about here in this link! 

morel

 

oaxaca, mezcal, mexico, travel, food, drink, fiesta

From 405 Magazine: The colorful spirit of Oaxaca and the magic of mezcal

From second-story balconies, families watch and wave as I step into the Oaxaca night – A frenzied parade of colorful skirts, twirling giants and brassy horns fill through narrow cobblestone streets. Wherever such a kaleidoscopic parade goes, an exponentially larger fiesta will begin. To read more from this story, click from 405 Magazine HERE.Jimedor

What the Float? An afternoon at LA Float Center

After much debate as to how to state my intention for arriving to the LA Float Center in Woodland Hills, CA, I finally go with the simplest possible version… “I’m here for a four o’clock.”

“For your isolation chamber float?” asked the bright-eyed millennial behind the desk.

The pod

The pod

He is a rather sporty looking guy. Far more an “I-give-wedgies-to people-who-do weird-shit-like ‘float in a densely concentrated Epsom salt water pod kept at 98.6 degrees to achieve a heightened state of harmony…’” than the more new age-y “How-can-I make-your ‘float in a densely concentrated Epsom salt water pod kept at 98.6 degrees to achieve some state of harmony’-experience-better…” than I had anticipated, but nice none-the-less.

“Yes,” I finally say.

I haven’t felt this weird about an activity since a “healer” with rancid coffee breath once told me that she could tell that I was a writer because she saw little tiny letters crawling all over my skin like ants, then called me lazy and charged me fifty bucks. I hope the outcome here is better.

“And are you doing ninety minutes or just an hour float?”

I wish this kid would stop saying float. “An hour,” I answer.

“It is Tuesday,” he says. “On Tuesdays, you can float an extra half hour for free.”

“Hour is fine.”

“Sure you don’t want the extra float?”

The word float is starting to have the same skin crawling effect as the word moist. An hour “float” seems far too long but I don’t want to argue nor do I want to hear him say the word float again, plus this is supposed to feel like being in space, so I conceit. “Sure. Why not?”

“Okay then. An hour and a half float it is. We just need you to sign a waiver then watch a five minute video about the float and then we’ll get you to your float.”

“Excellent.” I say.

“You’re gonna like your float,” he reminds me as he leads me into a four seat theater room and queues up the video. “Sounds moist,” I mutter as he leaves me to the short film.

In the video, I learn that “pods” are filled with eleven inches of water, heated to 98.6 degrees and then loaded with 1200 pounds of Epsom salt. The temperature matches that of the human body, making the water nearly unnoticeable and the enormous amount of salt added to the water creates unrivaled buoyancy. When the pod lid is closed and the “floater” gets into the pod, it creates the effect of being in zero gravity.

With the help of dim, colored light and gentle music, one’s mind is said to wander away from the every day worries of the world until it stops all together and you just float. The health benefits are as profound as the experience of weightlessness, they tell me. My circulation will be better, my immune system will improve, my senses will be heightened and there is a detoxifying element as well, and given my passion for wine and rich dinners, if a float will help me detox, bring it on.

Once the video is finished and my curiosity peeked, I return to the desk and am instructed to select music from a playlist on an ipad. The salt water amplifies the sound, enhancing the experience.  Determined to make the most of my time in the pod and have this out of body-like experience, I settle on “Journey to Dreamland.”

A lady escorts me to my pod room and reminds me that before I get into the pod, I need to rinse off under a shower head in the pod room, and upon leaving the pod (ninety minutes later!!!!), I should rinse the salt off. I hadn’t thought about what I’d wear. She tells me that nothing is the preferred method. Not really a naked person, this gives me pause… but whatever. If I’m gonna float into the spirit world, I’m doing it the way God made me.

The pod itself fills half the room. Gentle purple light seeps out of the pod, which looks like a very sterile cross between Pac Man and a giant toilet. “You guys clean these things, right?” I ask. She assures me that they are cleaned after each use. She wishes me well and leaves me alone with my pod. I stop her before she leaves…. “And you can’t drown right?”

“Nope,” she says, “but people do fall asleep.”

“In water?”

“Sometimes. You’ll see,” she says with a smile and closes the door.

I strip down, eyeing the very low level of water in the pod and can’t fathom how this will work. I remind myself that I can leave at anytime, as I rinse off under the shower head. Once clean, it’s go time.

I put my feet in the water. The temperature is not that of a hot tub but certainly not lukewarm… In fact, it feels exactly like the temperature of my body. An odd sensation. Not quite as odd, however, as the when I sink back into the water, assuming that I will come to rest on the bottom of the pod, but instead SHOOT to the surface of the water and begin to spin around floating freely. This tiny little pod of water feels, at first, like floating on a runaway rapid.

I close the lid of the pod and wait to see if claustrophobia will rear its ugly head.  I’d been told that if it does, one can always float with the lid open, but it is not the preferred method… Lucky for me I’m fine and the world slows.

The music begins to play and I lay back, floating effortlessly. The sensation is so strange that it makes me laugh.  I’m sad that there is no one there for me to share my bewilderment with. I drove thirty miles to sit naked in a pod full of water and giggle to myself. Dear God.

I lie back onto the water, close my eyes and begin to breathe. The sensation is overwhelming. For a moment, I wish I was in a whole pool of the stuff but soon I begin to relax and drift off into my thoughts, until, as promised, they begin to slow down, then kind of stop.

When the hour and a half is up, I’m surprised. It isn’t quite like waking up but a strange feeling as all of your senses return. The air feels funny on my skin. The objects in the room seem fixed and strange. When my feet hit the ground, it is like returning to a place you haven’t been in years. As odd as the float sounded, it somehow worked.

After rinsing off the salt, I walk back into the lobby where the millennial fellow asks me how my float was. I notice I’m walking a little bit slower, easier. The world, as promised seems a little brighter. “The float was really good,” I said, and this time, the word float didn’t bother me one bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A non-foodie’s journey into the world of Korean street food

Pohang Fish Market

For four days, I’ve been trekking across South Korea exploring the country’s delightfully diverse array of culinary expression. And while bibimbop (veggies, rice, thinly sliced meats and chili paste) and Korean barbeque (thin slices of beef cooked table top)  are the nation’s flagship dishes, it is in the hyper-stimulating markets of Korea that the country’s cuisine truly begins to reveal itself.

bibimbop

From the exotic street food of the Kwangjang Market located in the heart of Seoul to the implausibly fresh seafood of the Jukdo Fish Market in Pohang, even those with the most educated palates will find their imaginations running wild with the varying textures, flavors and temperatures of the fare of this frenetic Asian gem.

JUKDO FISH MARKET

Even with a small cushion, at 6’2″, sitting shoeless on the floor in front of a long table in a tightly packed seafood restaurant located at the Jukdo Market in Pohang is a claustrophobic exercise. But despite my constant readjustment in effort alleviate pressure on my aching legs, I find myself squirming not from discomfort but in guileless anticipation of the fresh multi-course seafood extravaganza that is about to turn me from mild-mannered travel writer to ravenous leviathan.

Shellfish, shellfish, shellfish!

When I ask the restaurant’s name, the look from the waitress suggests it is without. The menu is written in colorfully smeared Korean characters on a dry erase board on one of the peeling pea colored walls. Next to it, a television plays Korean baseball, capturing the attention of the majority of the clientele, most of whom are male, nursing a bottle of soju deep into the evening. Three generations of women bustle over boiling pots of seafood soup and rice in an open kitchen in one corner of the one room restaurant.

Just outside of this mom-and-pop shop, which I later learn is called Seong Jin Heotjib, are more than 200 other raw fish stores and restaurants that make up this open air market. The inescapable pulse of Psy’s Gangnam-Style wheezes through various blown speakers. Scale-covered purveyors clean their catch amid giant blue, halogen-lit tanks abounding with live mollusk, mussels, oysters, squid, octopus, crustaceans and fish otherworldly enough to make even George Lucas recoil.

Crabs!

Soon, along with an ample amount of the Soju (sweet rice wine) and Kimchi, Korea’s national dish made of seasoned, fermented cabbage, radish and cucumber among other vegetables, I will try a sampling of each one of these curious sea creatures immediately after it is taken from its respective tank, cut, cleaned and served. When they say that the seafood at the Jukdo Fish Market is the freshest in Korea, they mean it.

The meal begins with a giant tray covered in conch, mussels, oysters, soft shell crab, crab legs, sea snails, sea food salad filled with crustaceans unknown, roe, abalone, octopus, freshly sliced persimmon, and a rose for color. Served with a side of freshly made soy sauce and wasabi, the meal is a joyful exercise in extraction and exaltation and is only just beginning.

Shellfish, shellfish, shellfish!

Next, the waitress brings a selection of large raw prawns. We each select the ones we would like barbequed. She takes them to the fire outside, where they will be cooked on a bed of sea salt in foil over an open flame. As soon as she is gone, an assortment of sashimi arrives to the table. I ask what kind of fish it is and the waitress shrugs her shoulders. “Fresh. Caught today.” she says. Having earned my trust with the shellfish course and fortifying myself with a generous serving of soju, I dive in. She tell me to save room. The soup, rice and the prawn are still to come.

The fish soup is a fiery, fishy red broth with chunks of seafood, vegetables and a fish head floating on top. We cleanse our palate with a bowl of sticky rice and then it is time for prawn, served in their respective beds of salt. They are the size of lobsters and better than any lobster I’ve ever eaten.

shrimp on a bed of salt

By the time we are finished, the table looks like a battlefield covered with shells, scales, tails and bones. My muscles no longer ache and the soju has been as warming as the food was filling. As I wander back through the market, I note again the men covered in blood and scales, the jettisoning squid, the languid octopus, the menacing eel, the sea slugs, the crabs, the conch, and all the other indescribable but delectable creatures, and think… despite their off-putting exterior… they look delicious.

And with a last fleeting glance, I’m off to the next stop.

 KWANGJANG MARKET

Stacks of Mayak Gimbap

The Kwangjang Market is Seoul’s is oldest and largest market, not to mention the busiest. Built in 1904, the market hosts 35,000 people daily with more than five hundred shops and eateries. The size of more than eight football fields, the market is constantly chaotic, but no place more so than the food court.

The food court, located in the market’s epicenter, has long been an after-work gathering place where tenacious suit-clad Koreans line up at dozens of family run small counters. Each offer their own culinary specialty, to sip on rice wine called Makgeolli, chomp on one of more than two hundred varieties of Kimchi, and blow off steam over an incalculable assortment of freshly prepared Korean dishes.

No matter where my over-stimulated eyes try to wander, whether to the amorous Korean couple feasting on mung bean and shrimp pancakes, or to the cook, a short, terse woman, as she hovers over a pan of tiny whole fish as the snap in boiling oil, I can’t help but stare at the pig snout that sits in front of me as I wait for my next dish. While there are many culinary conquests in this market, something about pig nose makes me shudder…. I try to focus on my first dish: soft rice, mashed up into balls and covered in chili sauce almost hot enough to serve as a distraction.

Woman cooks at the Kwangjang Market

Moments later, the terse woman sets in front of me a firm, but chewy rice cake covered in hot chili sauce and a Mayak Gimbap which is loosely translated to mean “Addictive” or “Drug.” It is warm rice, carrots, radish, and crabmeat wrapped in seaweed. While this sounds similar to the standard roll found at any corner sushi joint in any city, when prepared in fresh at this bustling nighttime market, this roll is anything but…

I bite through the brittle seaweed into the rice, soft and warm, and then into crunch of the carrot before finally getting to the fresh crabmeat.  The flavors dance with the chili paste from the rice cake I had just finished, and as the flavors continue to blend, I barely even notice the pig snout staring at me through its nostrils. I savor the roll a moment more, thank the cook, and move through the cavernous, chaotic, night market.

Small trucks and scooters share the narrow, indoor thoroughfare with pedestrians browsing the cases of each of the local vendors. Someone mentions Sundae. And while a sundae sounds delicious, I’ve been in Korea long enough to know that they are not talking about ice cream and fudge.

Sundae is steamed pig intestine stuffed with glass noodles, the market favorite. Though daunting in its appearance and earthy in fragrance, the meat is chewy and its strong flavor yields to the soft noodles (sometimes rice) and a spicy, chili-based tteobokki sauce. It is often served with pig liver and/or heart. While it could be a meal in itself, I take only a few bites and press on.

pig intestines stuffed with glass noodles

 

There are stands everywhere, each with its own specialty. There is yukhoe, a beef tartare mixed with pear slices and egg yolk, and there is Kalmandu, a brothy hot noodle soup with dumplings cooked in anchovy stock. Maeuntang is a spicy fish stew boiled with an ambiguous recipe but usually is made up of assorted veggies and fish cooked with spices hot enough to make you sweat.

There are the surprisingly tender chicken feet, of course covered in hot sauce, and everywhere you go there is Makgeolli rice wine, served chilled and usually in tin cups. Traditionally this milky elixir, similar in taste to sake, is taken in shots, and as my experience has proven, can disappear very quickly.

 

mung bean pancakes

After a broad sampling of some of Kwangjang Market’s most delicious and curious items, it is time to settle down in one of the restaurants on the market’s perimeter. The restaurant, like most places, is packed. Predictably, within minutes, Gangnam style plays and diners do bashful, diminished versions of the dance.

Men crowd around televisions playing Korean baseball, and unlike in the Korean countryside coast, here, I get a chair. After roaming the market, to sit is a relief, and while I’m getting full, this place claims to be among the best. So good, in fact, that I don’t even order. Food just begins to appear.

The waitress first arrives with the most popular item in the entire market, and besides kimchi, as far as I can tell, in the entire country. Bindaetteok is mung beans (similar to garbanzo beans) that are mashed, mixed with various combinations of vegetables, pork, or seafood, then fried. The texture is more hash brown than pancake, but either way, they are delicious and the variations are endless.

Next is a plate full of jeon, which is similar to Japanese tempura. Shrimp, crab, carrots, mushrooms, onions, and meatballs are dipped into a sweet flour-based batter then fried. You can order specific ones, but in the spirit of all things food, I try every last one and go so far as to get seconds of the crab. Each greasy, unhealthy piece is an expression of fried goodness.

By meal’s end, I am exhausted. I exit the restaurant once again into the chaos of the market, narrowly missing a scooter rushing down the corridor. I notice that the pig snout from my first booth is missing. Someone has clearly taken it home for dinner. I am thankful that no part of the pig was wasted and more grateful still that it wasn’t me who had to eat it. Something about a snout I just couldn’t stomach… even if it is just pork.But beyond that, Korean markets are among the finest.

 

A weed in a city of color

I have to be honest. Korean street fashion has always baffled me. Alright… Bothered me. Especially men’s fashion. Loud skull printed shirts with scarves. Dyed and carefully arranged hair. Eye liner. Thick framed (often glassless) fashion glasses. The males, if not in designer suits (which during the day, most are) Urban Korean fashion is a cataclysmic explosion of tight techno-bright, Jersey Shore inspired, pulsing, bejeweled fabrics and metals designed accessories to ensure that no matter what, if there is a God, no one on the planet, or even any other planet  for that matter, will look like you. Even in the fashion conscious Los Angeles, this aggressive form of Gangnam-style, hyper-peacocking stands out in the trendiest of crowds.

In contrast, I am notoriously a simple dresser. Solid colored tees and jeans is the normal and on a Friday night I may dazzle with a collar and some blue stripes. I make every effort to appear as though I don’t give a shit (though occasionally I’ve been known to drop $60 bucks on a white tee shirt because I like the cut).

While I’m certain that such simple style of dress may conjure a snarky glance at a yacht club or golf course, and probably would make it even more challenging for me to get into (god forbid I would ever have to go) a night club, it is, at the very least, non-offensive. So, per usual, when I travel, I toss in a couple of tees (black, green,  blue… purple for crazy days), a couple of long sleeve tees (also black and blue), a pair of khakis, a pair of jeans and head to Seoul.

When I arrived to Bradley International Terminal at LAX  for a midnight flight, I was sandwiched by fashion. Ahead of me, a guy in tight reddish jeans, giant black frame glasses, a shirt that sparkled, and a scarf. His bag had what I could only describe as Stegasaurian metal notches along its back. Behind me, a variation of this man, albeit different colors, jewels, cuts, etc., of the guy ahead of me, only this guy had on eye-liner and his hair was at least three different shades of red and going in several different directions. Keep in mind… This is what these guys are wearing for a thirteen-hour flight leaving at midnight and arriving on the other side of the world at 5am. The ticket line was peppered with these types of fashion savvy youth, leaving me, a weed in comparison, scratching my head.

Recently, I was in Costa Rica and was floored by the birds. Much like the colorful fish that make their homes on elaborately colored coral reefs, these birds have evolved into brilliant reds, cobalt blues, and rich greens with epic plumage suitable only for royalty, not because of a divinely appointed lineage but because they match their landscape. It wasn’t until after my plane landed and I set foot into the immaculate, neon, radiant city of Seoul did the otherwise flamboyant style of dress begin to make sense.

In a word, Seoul is ebullient. The architecture is so other-worldly that one finds it hard to believe that the valet isn’t parking flying cars. The city is mirrored and glowing, exploding with combustible color and this chromatic fervor extends beyond its buildings to the cuisine, its temples, and is ultimately and primarily expressed through its people. There isn’t a crayon box large enough to contain the hues of this exuberant expression of urbanity. And suddenly, in this techno-garden that is East Asia, I find myself walking down Meyong-Dong, the epi-center of this cacophony, and feel like dusty sparrow in a world of macaws and toucan.

The sidewalks and streets are lined with vendors selling elaborate cell phone cases, bejeweled hats, hooded sweat shirts with animal ears and bunny tails, glasses of impossible shapes and sizes and even anime-covered socks. Even on a Wednesday night, stores bustle with colorfully clad teenagers looking for that next great piece of apparel. It is a virtual sea of electric humanity and despite what I had always believed, in this environment, I love it.

The city and its people have a pulse. It is superlative. It is clean, the people are kind, and if ever were an urban hub where hyperbole infectiously reigns, this is it. It is a grand expression and while I don’t find myself reaching for a pair of Gangnam-style Psy-inspired socks or non-ironic, over-sized Harry Potter glasses, I do find myself thinking that maybe it is time to add a little color to my wardrobe. Who wants to be a weed anyway? After all… I live in Los Angeles.