(Pita) Pocket Gypsy – Will Write for Food

Papayas

For many “Eat, Pray, Love” types, food guides the roadmap of their journeys. The most fertile of lands and the thirstiest of nations serve as magnets, making historical monuments and natural beauty a secondary concern. For vegetarians, though, traveling abroad often requires a prioritization of other points of interest over food, which in many cultures revolves around meat and fish dishes. Particularly for a Californian – and a Berkeley resident, no less – fruit and vegetable are abundant, vegetarian restaurants are everywhere, and multicultural cuisine is never more than a few blocks away. The incentive to taste foreign foods is dampened in comparison to the typical omnivore, whose options include the famous Argentinean steak and Japanese sushi.

Regardless, I love to eat. Though I’m not the biggest foodie around – and I hardly cook – I hate to leave even a crumb on my plate. I eat slowly, but it’s just to pace myself for the enormous feast I inevitably consume in full (and to match my metabolism – you should only be eating as many calories as you’re willing to burn off before your next meal!). So while international cuisine isn’t a primary motivator for my trip, it definitely serves as a pleasant perk. Here are the five countries I’m most excited to visit in order to fulfill the American stereotype and do nothing but eat and sit on my ass.

  1. Greece
    The beauty of the Mediterranean diet is that I can (and will) literally stuff myself with grape leaves and hummus and not gain a pound. This, of course, will be a hypothesis I will test and report back on, preferably on a beach with a pleasant breeze, a good book, and a jaw-droppingly stunning view. Aside from the constantly evolving nature of their currency troubles, the Greeks have perfected delicious cuisine, and as such, the only thing I’m concerned about is avoiding “feta cheese ass” – a rare, but possible, side effect of eating entire blocks of feta and moving less than three centimeters a day. As far as first world problems go, it’s pretty high on the list.
    Favorite Greek Restaurant in Berkeley: La Méditerranée (on Ashby and College)
    Favorite Greek Restaurant in San Jose: Thea (in Santana Row, on Winchester)
  2. Turkey
    Despite their political differences, Turkey and Greece share a number of mouth-watering recipes that include traditional cucumber, tomato, chickpea, and phyllo dough combinations. What distinguishes Turkish food, particularly for the vegetarians of the bunch, is the amazing Turkish borek, stuffed with spinach and cheese and / or a variety of other fillings. I do wonder whether I’ll get sick of eating borek every day, but it’s a question that can only be answered through empirical research and regular observation. I also have to see whether I prefer Turkish hummus to Greek, and if so, which country I should go to first as to get the most enjoyment out of both (increasing returns, in a way). 
    Favorite Turkish Restaurant in Berkeley: Turkish Kitchen (on University and Shattuck) 
  3. Italy
    Sometimes, I think I’m an Italian living in an Indian body. While my parents hate what they consider “bland” food, I can’t get enough of tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, cheese, and – most importantly – carbs. I can’t wait to eat fresh Caprese sandwiches by day and aromatic tortellini by night, paired on both occasions with a limoncello and some gelato to finish the meal off. I anticipate getting the fattest in Italy – considering Italian food is my Achilles’ heel, I’m going to have to make a vested effort to step away from the dining table and onto the (impossible to walk on) cobblestone streets. I don’t anticipate going to Roma on this trip (too smoggy, touristy, and mean), and have opted instead to spend a majority of my time seaside in Italy in Cinque Terre and shopping in Milano. Thus, I won’t be surrounded by as many fat Americans and will actually need to hold my own against the model-thin Italian beauties. I will resist the American stereotype!
    Favorite Italian Restaurant in Berkeley: Trattoria La Siciliana (on Ashby and College) or Gypsy’s (in the Asian Ghetto, Durant and Telegraph)
  4. India
    Ok, I lied. I’m not an Italian in an Indian body, though Telugu is considered the “Italian of the East.” And despite my attempt to take on another nation’s identity just 200 words before, I do love (some) Indian food and am legitimately excited to be eating it for a full month (or so). Unlike many peoples’ assumptions, India is not wholly vegetarian – the religious South definitely caters more to the veg crowd, but Northern Indian food (i.e. the cuisine most are familiar with) includes chicken, lamb, and even beef. This is due to the influence from surrounding regions and colonizing powers; the Brits, the Persians, and the Moors couldn’t live without making others die, so there you have it – Why Indians Eat Meat.
    However, I’m going to have to find a way to avoid charru and pappu and all of the semi-solid/semi-liquid consistencies that I for some reason cannot stomach. I used to be a lot pickier than I am now – imagine that! – but I still have a few reservations. I’ve never been north of Bombay though, so I’m interested to see how the food of Himachal Pradesh and the mountain regions compares.
    Favorite Indian Restaurant in Berkeley: N/A. Honorable Mention: Udupi Palace (University and Martin Luther King)
  5. Thailand
    I have to be honest – food is my primary motivator for traveling to Thailand. It helps that the country is filled with beaches and sunshine and smiling people, but those were just added perks. Out of this entire list, I’m probably most psyched about eating Thai food day in and day out, particularly as I wash it down with real Thai tea (this time only without tapioca balls)! I am always in the mood for Thai food, so I look forward to the month where it’s my cheapest, most available, and most delicious option around. 
    Favorite Thai Restaurant in Berkeley:
    Thai Basil (in the Asian Ghetto, Durant and Telegraph) or Thai Brunch (Russell and Martin Luther King)  

And for sweets:

  1. France
    Wine and cheese and madeleines – it’ll be like Supersize Me, except I’ll be drunk, fat, and gassy. Yep, sounds like I’m going to have an uphill battle with the French, particularly since I cannot speak a word of the language and probably shouldn’t even try. Maybe I’ll just wear all black and smoke clove cigarettes and pretend I am too aloof to speak to anyone, just so I can eat my sweets in peace.
  2. India
    It took dating someone with Crohn’s to make me realize why Indians are diagnosed with higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes than many other cultures: All of our food includes sugar and carbs. Luckily, I try not to think too deeply about the harm I’m inducing on my body while my metabolism is just fast enough to fight it, so I am going to take full advantage of the millions of buttery delicious treats that I could easily indulge in day and night.
  3. Italy
    One word: Gelato. Plural: Gelatos. As in: I’ll have six hundred gelatos, please.
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