About Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.


Latest Posts by Jessica Festa

What Does It Mean to Travel Responsibly & Why You Should Care

August 28, 2015 by  

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Ultimately, since the rise of ecotourism in the 1980′s, there has been a shift in travel habits — a move from the all-inclusive resort to seeking out natural environments to witness natural wonders. In addition to being sure your travel excursions are culturally respectful and economically ethical — supporting the local economy and its employees — a crucial factor to keep in mind is one’s physical impact on the natural environment. This is especially important for ecotourism in fragile ecosystems. Here’s a quick rundown on what you need to know:

What makes an ecosystem fragile?

Fragile ecosystems are ones that are extremely sensitive to environmental changes and shifts that result from outside influences and presences. They commonly suffer from the loss of biological diversity, climate change, poverty and human infringement. Examples of fragile ecosystems include wetlands, deserts, mountains, coral reefs and certain coastal areas. Instances of suffering fragile ecosystems include the desertification of semi-arid lands and the significant reduction of coastal wetland areas.

ecotourism

Photo courtesy of jo Crebbin via Shutterstock.

Post-earthquake Haiti has been a fairly recent area of concern. The country’s rainforests contain more endangered species than any other location on earth, and yet because its citizens continue to face dire poverty, the forest is mined for its resources, long-term effects coming second to immediate need. As a result, reforestation efforts are being made, among other key projects.

How does tourism impact fragile ecosystems?

Human interactions with fragile ecosystems often lead to pollution, trampling/physical harm to the environment and the introduction of harmful invasive species that disrupt or permanently damage ecological homeostasis.

Just look at Antarctica, considered by many to be the “last frontier.” A 2014 report published in PLoS Biology states that between scientific programs and recreation tourism, both of which have spurred the construction of necessary infrastructure, noticeable harm has been done to this ecosystem:

Growing instances of unintentional damage are also being recorded, such as the establishment of harmful nonindigenous species, sewage spills, point source pollution, and destruction of vegetation. All human activities, be they tourism- or science-related, have increased considerably over the last 20 years and are predicted to continue to do so.

ecotourism

Photo courtesy of Volodymyr Goinyk via Shutterstock.

Coral reefs are another fragile ecosystem impacted by human infringement, including tourism. According to the International Coral Reef Initiative, unsustainable tourism can negatively impact this ecosystem in a variety of ways:

Tourism generates vast amounts of income for host countries. Where unregulated however, tourism pressures can cause damage to the very environment upon which the industry depends. Physical damage to the coral reefs can occur through contact from careless swimmers, divers, and poorly placed boat anchors. Hotels and resorts may also discharge untreated sewage and waste water into the ocean, polluting the water and encouraging the growth of algae, which competes with corals for space on the reef.

What is/can be done to protect fragile environments in regards to tourism?

The Global Development Research Center lists financial contributions, stronger environmental management and oversight in environmental tourism, and stronger regulatory measures for protection and preservation as the broad strokes solutions to the issue of fragile ecosystem destruction.

Essentially, the key thing that responsible travelers can do is be mindful of their choices, do their homework to ensure the choices they make are responsible, and encourage fellow travelers to do the same.

Get Involved

Because “eco” and “green” are trending marketing terms, travelers should always read the fine print of organizations that present themselves as environmentally-friendly but may have unsustainable practices. Further, Responsible Travel recommends travelers seek opportunities to travel by low-carbon means, from hiking to biking to kayaking in environments that will not suffer from such physical interactions with nature.

ecotourism

Photo courtesy of Jolanta Wojcicka via Shutterstock.

The International Ecotourism Society also has concrete recommendations for planning a responsible trip, including doing research on your accommodations and the efforts they make to be sustainable, supporting conservation efforts by paying to visit protected areas and national parks, and never buying crafts or products made from endangered or protected animals. From home, we can all support initiatives to protect fragile environments via monetary support, volunteer work, and community engagement.

How do you think travelers can more responsibly explore fragile environments? Please share your opinions in the comments below.

By Paige Sullivan

Eating Ethnosh In Of All Places, Greensboro North Carolina

August 28, 2015 by  

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Greensboro, North Carolina. Uninformed people like myself might envision a whitewashed culinary scene centered around coleslaw, cherry-flavored Cheerwine and pulled pork sandwiches. Surprisingly, this city of 275,000 residents houses an immigrant population representing more than 140 countries of origin who speak over 120 languages.

The area has historic roots in a Quaker community and has welcomed refugee resettlement for the last 30 years. My jaw dropped in surprise when I learned Greensboro hosts the largest population of mountain tribe Vietnamese outside of Vietnam as well as people from the Middle East, Bhutan, Mynamar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ethopia and more.

Greensboro

Sampler at Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Felicia Perry Photography.

I was ecstatic to learn an organization exists to introduce Greensboro residents and visitors to cuisine made by immigrant-owned businesses: Ethnosh. The company takes guests, lured by $5 dinners, into strip malls on the fringes of town and quiet side streets in pursuit of off-the-beaten-path, down-home global cuisine. Guests learn about the owner’s story as they munch on seaweed salad from a quiet sushi joint, greasy empanadas from a food truck parked outside a brewery or barbequed duck from the Vietnamese joint that decorates its strip mall windows with hanging carcasses.

Greensboro

Ethnosh Founder, Donovan McKnight poses with  Slices Pizza Co.’s Owner Antonio Fortezza and his wife and daughter. Photo courtesy of Jacqui Haggerty of Paper Bridge Media & Production.

Origins Of Ethnosh

Ethnosh grew out of founder Donovan McKnight’s passion for engaging and growing community. Prior to Ethnosh, McKnight ran a non-profit that hosted a range of formal and informal events designed to get townspeople meeting their neighbors and increasing civic engagement. Through his wife who works with refugee resettlement McKnight started meeting immigrants and started to get to know a whole new sector of the Greensboro community.

Since many of these immigrants owned restaurants, McKnight and his wife started exploring eating establishments around town. They headed to spots hidden away on the fringes of town and were impressed by the high quality authentic cooking and the interesting stories behind these entrepreneurs. McKnight recalls thinking,

What if I can take this formula that has been successful getting people together, what if I do that around these food businesses? You have the social engagement of coming together and eating in these local businesses then the cultural exchange. What if I could build on my humanities background and explore these cultures a little more intentionally? And, of course, it promotes economic development tool for these businesses, these areas of town that are underserved and this population which is also underserved.

Greensboro

Brother, Father and Sister who own King-Queen Haitian Cuisine Food Truck. Photo courtesy of Jon Black Photography.

McKnight wanted to inspire a social exchange surrounding the diversity of Greensboro. McKnight worked together with Triad Local First to form directory of local, immigrant-owned restaurants. From the beginning, he wanted Ethnosh to have a strong online presence with social media so people who attend Ethnosh could connect with each other outside the events. He reached out to local photographers and writers to create a portrait of the family behind the local business. Before the event, Ethnosh shares articles and professional photography to educate attendees about the people behind the restaurant, their origins and the story behind the food they will eat. Greensboro News & Record found the stories inspiring enough to print before events, reaching a whole new demographic.

Greensboro

Noshup at Agni Indian Kitchen & Bar. Photo courtesy of Carolyn de Berry.

What do these events look like?

With Ethnosh, every event is a new experience. You may end up at a well-established space with an atmospheric interior or a parking lot of a brewery eating off a paper plate from a food truck.  McKnight elaborates,

It’s a simple formula. $5. Immigrant owned business. 6-8 PM on an off-night once a month.  But each time it’s different…the food is different, the family is different. Some of times it’s a nice space where everyone has room to sit, other times you are crammed together, elbow to elbow. Sometimes we have to pull tables into the parking lot to make room.

Greensboro

Food at Empanadas Borinquen, Puerto Rican food truck in Greensboro. Photo courtesy of Jacqui Haggerty.

Wherever the event is hosted, Ethnosh encourages guests to enjoy their predetermined sampler plate in seating designed to start conversations and build community. The writer who researched the family introduces the owners who can speak as much or as little as they wish. Since McKnight makes a conscious effort to choose authors with a connection to the culture, some times the writer has a story to share in addition to the family.

For example, the man who wrote about the Vietnamese restaurant moved to Greensboro from Queens, one of the most ethnically diverse places in the United States.  Disappointed by the initial lack of the diversity in his new home, the writer followed the immigrant trail to restaurants and was relieved when he found the Vietnamese restaurant which was a nostalgic taste of home.  In this way, the events celebrate not just the restaurant owners, but also the people who have reconnect with themselves or their roots because of the opportunity.  McKnight provided another example of a guest at the Haitian food truck event who claimed to be the only Haitian in Greensboro.  Other attendees overhead him, and before he knew it, a half-dozen people emerged out of the crowd having some connection to Haiti.  Ethnosh helps remind event-goers how small the world really is.

Ethnosh events attract a cult-like following of a diverse crowd. You can find culture-hungry world travelers hungry to vicariously travel the world, ESL teachers who work with immigrants, immigrants themselves, writers and photographers in search of a story or students in search of a cheap meal.
Not only does Ethnosh expose visitors to new cuisine and cultures but it also supports the people who have propped up a layer of Greensboro’s economy that may have laid vacant.

In the 20 dinners they have hosted in the past two years, they have grown local businesses by generating over 2,000 patrons for the restaurants and created awareness by enlisting local writers and photographers. The model has spread to North Carolina’s capital city with Ethnosh Raleigh and inspired other places to start something similar.

Have you tried Ethnosh or explored the local Greensboro culinary scene? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Adventurous Island Excursions From French Polynesia’s Tahiti

August 26, 2015 by  

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While the name Tahiti is often synonymous with French Polynesia, the truth is there are more than 100 islands that make up the destination — each with something special to offer. To help you plan a well-rounded trip to French Polynesia, here are some islands near Tahiti worth checking out.

fakarava

Photo courtesy of Piotr Gatlik via Shutterstock

Fakarava

As Fakarava is located only an hour and 10 minutes from Tahiti, visitors have an easy daily option for visiting this island. The island is a protected atoll that is part of a UNESCO classified biosphere reserve and is touted as the mecca of diving. In fact, the island’s northern pass of Garuae that connects the lagoon to the ocean is the largest in French Polynesia at 800 metres wide and is known for having the island’s highest density of fish. It is perfect for spotting big fauna and colourful corals during a drift dive. Additionally, the island’s southern pass of Tumakoha is accessible for all levels of divers and allows for excellent marine spotting. Expect hammerhead sharks and eagle rays from November to April, manta rays from July to October, grey sharks and mating grouper from May to June and dolphins, oceanic sharks, turtles and barracuda all year long.

Unlike the more opulent islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora, most of the accommodations on Fakarava include homey and basic pensions, with the island having a laid-back, culturally rich feel. While you won’t be living in the lap of luxury, these accommodations do allow you to essentially live with a family for a local experience. Those wanting a more upscale option can stay at Fakarava’s only hotel, White Sand Beach Resort, which blends in seamlessly with the natural environment while also providing comfortable amenities.

On the island itself, spend your days kayaking in a tranquil lagoon, cycling around the small village (most accommodations rent them from about $10 to $15 for a half day) and taking boat trips to the northern pass. Visiting a pearl farm like Dream Pearls or Hinano Pearls is also an interesting experience. You can see how the pearls are harvested, analyzed and grafted to produce the perfect Tahitian pearl, as well as buy some for yourself. And in the old village of Tetamanu, backpackers can visit one of the first Catholic churches built of coral, dating back to 1874, as well as a beautiful pink sand beach.

raiatea

Hiking on Raiatea. Photo courtesy of Ethan Daniels via Shutterstock

Raiatea

Known as the “Sacred Island,” Raiatea was the first island to be settled. As it is one of French Polynesia’s lesser-traversed islands, it has preserved its unique history and culture; the residents cater to tourists who want to experience something truly unique. You won’t find giant tour buses filled with 30 people or enormous luxury resorts here; instead, you’ll need to have the desire to explore in order to experience Raiatea’s offerings. There is one main road that partially goes around the island, and those who want to see the interior will need to hike through jungle or take a boat down French Polynesia’s only river, the Faaroa River.

One main reason people visit Raiatea is to explore its unique history, which can be done by visiting Marae Taputapuatea. The archaeological site was already established by 1000 CE, and was the first royal marae — a sacred place where ancient Polynesians believed priests could call on gods to come to Earth to give them strength — in French Polynesia. This particular marae was very important; as a ceremonial hub, offerings were given and priests and navigators from all over French Polynesia came to have deep discussions about the origins of the universe. It’s interesting to note Marae Taputapuatea was dedicated to Oro, the god of war who demanded human sacrifices. Because ancient Polynesians believed there was no greater gift for a god than human flesh, many of these were carried out there. Today, visitors to the open-air temple can view seven marae sites beautifully constructed from coral and stone.

As Raiatea remains largely untouched, it also provides an excellent place to explore nature. A trek to the top of Mount Temehani will allow you to see the wild Tiare Apetahi flower, which looks like a white-gloved hand. The top of this mountain is the only place in the world where this flower can grow. Moreover, their lagoon is home to colourful coral gardens, underwater caves and tropical fish, best explored by snorkelling, diving or kayaking to a nearby motu (a small reef island). In the area’s many passes, one can also go drift diving or scuba dive the Norby shipwreck which sank in 1900.

Additionally, you can explore the nearby island of Tahaa, which is accessible by boat in less than 30 minutes (the two islands share a lagoon). Many visitors will spend some time in Raiatea before spending a few days on Tahaa.

tahaa

Photo courtesy of Ethan Daniels via Shutterstock

Tahaa

Known as the “Vanilla Island,” Tahaa is one of French Polynesia’s most fertile islands, filled with sweet-smelling vanilla plants and an impressive variety of tropical fruits: bananas, mangoes, star fruit, coconut, grapefruit, limes, papaya and more. Visiting a vanilla plantation is a must, as over 80 percent of Tahitian vanilla comes from this island. A few of the plantations run organic operations, such as Brian Henderson and his wife Morita Hioe of La Vallee de la Vanille, using rolling hillsides (instead of greenhouses) and coconut shells to fertilize their soil and feed the plants. Interestingly, of the more than 25,000 varieties of orchids, vanilla is the only one to produce something edible. Don’t leave without browsing the onsite boutique, which offers an impressive array of vanilla-infused products, some of which include body oil, soap, shampoo, sea salt, olive oil, perfume, volcano rocks, coffee and sugar.

Tahaa is also known for its abundance of pearl farms, which one can visit to see how the specious beads are cultivated, examined and grafted, as well as learn about the process and the different types of pearls. While pearls around the world are typically white, French Polynesia is known for its black and iridescent-coloured pearls of all shapes and sizes. Most pearl farms also have a boutique where you can shop for your own pearl as well as compare the different grades of pearls.

vahine private island

Photo courtesy of Vahine Private Island

One great reason to visit Tahaa is the opportunity to stay at Vahine Private Island Resort. While separate from the mainland, it’s about a 10-minute boat ride away for easy exploration of Tahaa’s vanilla plantations, pearl farms and authentic villages. Moreover, the resort allows you to have a truly serene experience. Vahine Private Island Resort features three beach bungalows, three standalone beach suites and three overwater bungalows across a 23-acre island of white sand and coconut groves.

Not only is the experience truly relaxing and luxurious, it also allows you to explore an abundance of nature and cultural activities, most of which are free of charge unless you want to go off the island to tour other motus or islands like Bora Bora or the Tahaa mainland (or enjoy an indulgent Monoi oil massage or get a Marquesan tattoo in your room). Included in the room rate is the opportunity to snorkel the island’s otherworldly coral gardens, go fishing, canoeing or windsurfing in the lagoon, kayak to a nearby motu, see the lagoon’s many rays, catch a coconut show, take a naturalist tour of the island, learn how to tie a pareo (a wraparound garment) or weave palm leaves, to name a few. Additionally, their food and beverage program focuses on French cuisine created with local ingredients. It’s the type of place where you won’t leave without a full appreciation of Tahaa and local culture.

This post originally appeared on Travel + Escape

Foodie Alert: Eating Your Way Through Stockholm in the Summer

August 25, 2015 by  

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Stockholm is often called the capital of Scandinavia, and there is a reason to it; it’s the city on fourteen islands. The city on water. The city of contrasts. The city where the new meets the old and creates thus a fascinating ambiance. Stockholm is without any discussion a creative and living city, pulsing with life and ideas, a place that attracts artists from all around the world. City with fresh air, healthy lifestyle, equal rights and liberal thinking. Above photo: Stockholm. Photo courtesy of Adisa via Shutterstock..

Taking all that into account Stockholm represents yet another quality.

When it comes to food, Stockholm is a trendsetter who cares what they eat, wanting to eat fresh and light and according to ecological principles. They eat seasonal products because they care about the planet, the environment and their own health.

Stockholmers love to indulge, too, especially when sweets, coffee and alcohol are concerned. Yet when talking about everyday diet, Stockholmers prefer the quality over the price. The local food market, represented by local farmers and small tradesmen, is highly supported.

The tradition of high food quality is long and there are several proofs of it in the center of Stockholm city. We’ll take a small walk through the two busiest city areas — Norrmalm and the upscale Östermalm —  to experience the Swedish way of eating first hand.

Stockholm

Hötorget Market. Photo courtesy of Jack Franz.

Hötorget Market

We take the street from the Central train station with the lovely royal name Drottninggatan (drottning-queen) and after a while turn right. There it is, hidden between large buildings, one of them the famous blue concert halls annually hosting the Nobel Prize award ceremony, a large street market focused mainly on fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. Unusual for calm Swedish nature, shouting sellers try to sell you big red strawberries during the summer months or tasty yellow chanterelles in autumn. The market is vibrating with colors, pleasant smells and bargaining.

Don’t miss: The fresh chanterelles. You can use them to prepare one of the typical Swedish dishes, the cheese pie.

Go there for fresh seasonal produce, if you wish to experience passionate negotiation and if you’re looking to see a different side of Stockholm.

stockholm

Hötorget Market Hall. Photo courtesy of Jack Franz.

Hötorget Market Hall

On the corner of the Hötorget Square, facing the lively market, there is a little door to another world. Hötorget Market Hall offers almost everything you could imagine food-wise from nearly all around the globe. The market hall will bring you a multicultural food experience you won’t forget.

Far in the northern Europe, you’ll meet warm Italian delicacies as well as Turkish or Hungarian national specialties. All fresh, all authentic and all available every day year round for reasonable prices.

The hall invites you to a very Swedish yet non-Swedish culinary experience. The history of the market hall falls deep down to the past. The first market hall was built here around the 1880 with 120 places for the sellers inside the building; however, the old market hall was demolished and replaced with a new one in 1958, which is the one we know now. On two floors we can throw ourselves into the wonderful adventure of exploring the world of food from different corners of the planet.

Don’t miss: The Turkiska Delikatesser (Turkish delicatess) for a wide range of burgers, tasty falafel and other Turkish specialties at reasonable prices. Budget travelers with a rumbling stomach, multi-cultural palates and history buffs should all try this fantastic market.

stockholm

Östermalms Market Hall. Photo courtesy of Jack Franz.

Östermalm Market Hall

Take a walk from Hötorget alongside the only skyscrapers in Stockholm, under the two bridges on Kungsgatan. You’ll soon reach the posh area called Stureplan, the heart of Östermalm. Don’t stop there.  Carry on and walk past the corner to the left until you see a red-brick building with cute little balloons placed on the wall. You’ve now reached your destination, the premier market hall of Sweden.

Under one roof, all year round, are gathered the top specialties from the Swedish cuisine. Since 1888 the market hall slowly gained its place in the food circles. In fact, it was voted the 7th best food market hall in the world in 2007 along with the market halls in Budapest or Tokyo. Jamie Oliver, the famous London-based chef, mentioned the market hall at Östermalm as one of his favorite places for food shopping.

Don’t miss: Vete-Katten bakery for its fluffy cinnamon rolls, the very best of Swedish sweets. The key ingredient of the Östermalm Market Hall is the personal service, the feeling you came to buy food from your good friend. The only 17 sellers will be willing to help you with the right choice of products, even to reveal some of their family recipes.

stockholm

Östermalms Market Hall. Photo courtesy of Jack Franz.

Go there if you wish to taste Sweden, personal service and if you’re a Jamie Oliver fan. Culinary Stockholm has much to offer for the curious food lovers that prefer quality and fresh, eco-friendly products. Don’t underestimate the cold north and next time when planning your holidays head to Stockholm.

 

Where to Drink Craft Beer When in London

August 21, 2015 by  

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real ale

London’s streets are teeming with pubs and bars serving an astounding selection of craft beers and real ales. Some are old, creaking and cozy, others are brand-spanking new and serve beautifully unusual brews. Above photo: Anspach & Hobday via BERNT ROSTAD (credit).

The city has a proud history of ale, stretching back to the 15th Century when female “alewives” or “brewsters” dominated the industry, often selling the malted brown liquid straight from their cellars. Today, the flat golden drink is enjoying a renaissance, and with increasing numbers of microbreweries setting up shop as if prohibition just ended.

While real ale is a British mainstay, craft beer, a US-influenced distinctly hoppier drink, is becoming equally popular on the island. The steady stream of imported, exquisitely labelled, bottles from the States has been bolstered by a healthy growth in local expert brewers.

For the discerning drinker who’s new to London we’ve rounded up the most delectable institutions to visit, whether you’re looking for a swift half or a place to quaff away the day. Also look out for annual real ale and craft beer fests across the city year round.

real ale

Photo courtesy of Joshua Resnick via Shutterstock

North

The Bree Louise is tipped as London’s finest real ale pub by a number of respected connoisseurs. The wonderfully quaint Euston pub has won a number of CAMRA awards (CAMRA, if you haven’t heard of it already, is the Oscars of the ale world). For a more modern ambiance try The Bull Highgate — which also serves a fine selection of food — or Tuffnel Park’s Southampton Arms.

Craft beer pubs in the north include Euston Tap, Hops & Glory and The North Pole.

East

East London is the epicenter of ale. The best way to enjoy the fruits of the region is walking. Start at Whitechapel’s White Hart Brew Pub, which has a brewery in the basement. From there it’s a half an hour walk or a super short bus ride to Bethnal Green, where you can grab a pint at the Redchurch Brewery. This brewery is surrounded by other fine drinking opportunities, including London Fields Brewery, Cock Tavern, Five Points Brewing Company and Pressure Drop Brewing.

real ale

CRATE Brewery via MATT BROWN

If you’re heading further east try Hackney Wick’s CRATE Brewery, or head to Walthamstow, which boasts Wildcard Brewing Company, East London Brewing Company, Signature Brew and Brodie’s. If you’re thinking of staying somewhere more central, Shoreditch’s branch of BrewDog — fast becoming a household name — serves nice tasting bottles and draught craft beer.

South

South of the river the best bet for getting your whistle wet is the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Riding the crest of the new wave of microbreweries, Bermondsey’s six breweries are dotted along the railway arches that stretch to London Bridge. The best time to check out the area is from 6pm on a Saturday, when the DIY brewsters are all open for business.

Look out for the longest serving microbrewery in the area – The Kernel Brewery – as well as the delicious tastes of Brew By Numbers, Partizan Brewing, Fourpure Brewing, Anspach & Hobday and Bullfinch Brewery. Expect exposed brick, wooden benches and punters with topknots.

real ale

Craft beer via QUINN DOMBROWSKI

West

The splendidly named The Mad Bishop and Bear was voted West London’s best pub by our old friends at CAMRA (London’s strangest moniker is probably The Hung Drawn and Quartered, close to Tower Hill). The Paddington pub’s Fuller’s real ale is a treasured brew which regular punters happily nurse into the late night.

The White Horse in Parson’s Green is another respected joint which pays reverence to the art of brewing by serving up the cream of the hops to its loyal customers. The Moncada microbrewery set up shop in Notting Hill in 2011, and is working hard to drive the beer scene forwards in West London. It sells its brews in bottles, from the cask and keg, and also boasts a chili farm.

Contributed BY Jo Eckersley

 

Where To Sip The Best Old Fashioned Cocktails In The USA

August 20, 2015 by  

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An Old Fashioned with a creative twist at Dream Dance Steak in Milwaukee

For those interested in Depression Era-cocktails, the Old Fashioned is a classic. The original recipe from the early 1800s called for a lump of sugar, a little water, Angostura bitters, one small ice cube, lemon peel and whiskey, although in the 1930s the drink was modified a bit to also include an orange slice or maraschino cherry.

Lately there has been a rise in craft cocktail bars setting the standard using high-quality products and fresh ingredients, as well as putting unique spins on the old recipe. Certain U.S. cities have a thriving “Old Fashioned” cocktail culture; these are places not to be missed for the cocktail aficionado. Here are five of the best places in the United States to order an Old Fashioned.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

While most people know Milwaukee for its beer and cheese, it’s also home to myriad bars and restaurants serving interesting takes on the Old Fashioned, as it’s Wisconsin’s state cocktail. While other cities are experiencing a classic cocktail revival, the Old Fashioned has always been a way of life for the people of Wisconsin. Although the drink is typically made using bourbon, in Wisconsin the standard is to craft them with brandy.

Start your classic cocktail journey at Smyth at the Iron Horse Hotel. This sexy biker-slash-Americana-inspired hotel, restaurant and bar offers unique twists on the libation, like the “Mezcal Old Fashioned” made with lemon, orange and grapefruit bitters muddled with a touch of sugar and topped with agave-flavored Crema de Mezcal. Or their “1907 Old Fashioned” featuring the bar’s own limited-edition Barrel 1907 whiskey and local Door County cherries. Enjoy it indoors while admiring beautiful motorcycle displays, a worn-looking American Flag crafted from 32 pairs of blue jeans and vintage relics. Then head outside to The Yard, their seasonal outdoor lounge and bar.

Your next stop should be Dream Dance Steak. Along with more than 600 retail-priced wines, their menu features one of the city’s best Old Fashioneds, the “Wisconsin Blue Old Fashion,” made with Korbel, Seagram’s 7 or Southern Comfort, sugar, Orange bitters, a cinnamon stick and fresh blueberries.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is one of the top cities in the country for craft cocktails. This is especially true when it comes to Old Fashioneds. There are a number of venues creating classic cocktails made with quality products and precise recipes, for example, The Whistler, The Barrelhouse Flat and the Violet Hour. That being said, there are also bars putting unique spins on the recipe that are worth checking out.

First there is Double A, which makes an “Old Smashion” with Fidencio mezcal, Cinzano, dry Amontillado sherry, whiskey barrel-aged bitters and torched Angostura bitters. Watching the drink being made is a treat in itself, as the Angostura bitters are set on fire to create a smokiness that balances the spicy mezcal, sweet vermouth and nutty dry sherry.

There’s also the Storefront Company, which offers a “New Fashioned” with the addition of cherry foam. It’s also served in a martini glass, which gives the cocktail a feminine touch.

drink

Photo courtesy of S. M. Beagle via Shutterstock

Louisville, Kentucky

Kentucky is the bourbon capital of the world, so it only makes sense to find a plethora of bars in the state making great Old Fashioneds. This is especially true in Louisville, with some top classic cocktail bars including Decca Restaurant, The Silver Dollar, and my favorite spot, Proof on Main, offering 100+ bourbons on their menu that they blend with house-made mixers.

For something unique head to Rye on the Market, as they offer both a “House Old Fashioned” crafted with Rye, Demerara and Bitters, as well as an “Absinthe Old Fashioned” featuring St. Germain and Peychaud’s Bitters and Absinthe for a slight licorice twist. Additionally, the Blind Pig makes a “New Wave Old Fashioned,” containing ginger-infused Woodford Reserve, local honey, orange, cherry and house bitters.

At Seviche Restaurant they make a meal of the classic cocktail called the “Tuna Old Fashioned.” The dish is a ceviche containing bluegrass soy, Kentucky bourbon, pineapple and orange.

Portland, Oregon

While most people think of Portland as being a great city for beer, it’s also home to a blossoming craft cocktail scene. Some top craft cocktail bars in Portland include Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, Kask and Vintage Cocktail Lounge.

For a unique spin on the classic head to Xico where they blend a delicious “Oaxaca Old Fashioned.” The libation is made with Chamucos Reposado tequila, Sombra mezcal, one good dash of Angostura bitters and a teaspoon of 1:1 simple syrup. It’s stirred over ice, strained into a lowball glass over a single large ice cube, and garnished with an orange peel for a Mexican-inspired twist on the American classic. Pair it with one of their farm-to-table Mexican dishes like chilaquiles, adobo-marinated flank steak tacos or taco salad for an immersive meal.

You can also head to the Red Star Tavern where lead bartender Brandon Lockman serves up classic Old Fashioneds as well as “Port Old Fashioneds” made with whiskey, real maple syrup, Angostura Bitters, an orange peel, brandied cherry and five ounces of 10-year Tawny port. Instead of the usual fruit flavors from the twists, it adds a layer of complexity with the added sweetness of Port wine and maple syrup.

bartending

Photo courtesy of stockcreations via Shutterstock

San Diego, California

Touted as the top city in the country for an aggressively bitter IPA, it’s no surprise you’d find experimental cocktails in San Diego. The city is home to a number of excellent craft cocktail bars, some of which include Sycamore Den, El Dorado Cocktail Lounge and The Lion’s Share. There are also a number of local bars putting unusual spins on the classic Old Fashioned.

Start your exploration of unusual classic cocktails at Polite Provisions, whose take on the drink is Old-Fashioned-meets-Japanese cocktail. Instead of the typical sugar cube or simple syrup the bar uses homemade orgeat for a cocktail featuring strong caramel and almond notes accented with a touch of baking spice.

You should also visit Noble Experiment, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar that makes a “Fashionably Late” using a small touch of Licor 43 for some subtle orange and vanilla notes. And at Craft & Commerce, the menu’s riff on the classic is the “Odd Couple,” made with rye whiskey as the base, pear liqueur as the sweetener, Angostura bitters for a bit of earthiness, and mezcal mist on the glass for an earthy, smoky aroma reminiscent of a dying bonfire on the beach.

This post first appeared on Travel + Escape .

The Food Lover’s Guide to Sri Lanka

August 17, 2015 by  

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food in sri lanka

 

Sri Lanka, the teardrop-shaped island just off India’s southernmost coast, is full of surprises. One of the things which regularly widens the eyes of holidaymakers here is the food, surprisingly different from what’s eaten in the neighboring country to the north. Though there are undoubtedly Indian influences in the spices, breads and pickles served in the streets, Sri Lankan food is creamier, zestier and often more imaginative. Above photo: Wandering the streets of Sri Lanka, courtesy of pzAxe via Shutterstock.

Coconut is king here, playing a vital part in most meals. It’s a surprisingly multi-purpose ingredient; its milk gives the creamy texture to classic Sri Lankan curries while desiccated coconut serves as a rough and ready base in sambols. You can even pick up spoons, bowls and other crockery made out of the shells for brilliantly low prices.

Working in harmony with the coconut are the spices. Chili, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and curry leafs are used in abundance. Many are grown and exported from the island, meaning it’s easy to pick them up fresh.

Meals are good value, although quality varies significantly; a run-of-the-mill rice and curry packet will set you back 100 rupees (~$1.55), while a tasty lunch buffet starts at 1,000 (~$15.75). A general rule is that the busier street cafes sell the best curries, but the prices are so low it’s worth trying a few different places for size.

Vegetarians and vegans are well provided for by a wealth of Hindu-run cafes, as well as a staple selection of meat-free curries which are served at most eateries. It is worth bearing in mind that some cafes add Maldivian fish to their “vegetarian” curries. If they don’t speak English try the Sinhalese language for “don’t want fish” – malu epa.

Here’s the cream of the crop for street food in Sri Lanka:

food in sri lanka

Rotti. Photo courtesy of Saman527 via Shutterstock.

Rotti

“Rotti” literally means “bread,” but rottis are a world away from the dry bread you find in the West. Soaked in oil overnight before being fried on a hot stove, the godamba rotti is the most popular rotti for a reason. Very similar to the Indian parata, it’s both moist and crisp. Another favorite is the pol rotti, or coconut rotti, which are really simple to make at home. These small bread disks have a firmer texture than the goddam rotti, and are usually served with a sambol or chili dip.

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Kottu with coconut milk. Photo courtesy of Joanna Eckersley

Kottu

Kottu is without a doubt one of Sri Lanka’s most delicious dishes. If you want to know if a nearby café is selling kottu listen out for the clatter of the kottu knives – two blunt blades which chefs hammer against their hotplates to cut up larger pieces of godamba rotti. The rotti pieces, once chopped, are mixed with crunchy vegetables, spices and onion leaves. Cheese kottu is a popular choice, and you can also have it mixed up with pieces of meat. A few places even mix in coconut milk to give it an extra creamy texture.

food in sri lanka

Hoppers. Photo courtesy of Glenn Price via Shutterstock.

Hoppers

Hoppers come in three varieties: standard, string and egg. The standard hopper is a thin, pancake-like snack expertly fried in a special round pan to achieve a perfect bowl shape. The best way to eat them is by tearing chunks off to dip in curries and pickles. If you’re feeling indulgent order an egg hopper; exactly the same as a standard one but with a cooked egg at the center of the bowl. To ensure you get the best taste order from somewhere that makes them fresh. String hoppers, which are made from a similar variety of flour, are more like little nests of noodles. Best served with dal curry.

food in sri lanka

Rice topped with sambol. Photo courtesy of Saman527 via Shutterstock.

Pol Sambol

One of the most interesting components of any Sri Lankan meal is pol sambol. This coconut and spice mix is fresh, spicy and satisfyingly crisp. This taste is achieved through serving all the ingredients raw, which include desiccated coconut, lime, red onion, chili, garlic and tomato. The chilli and tomato give the dish a lovely bright orange glow.

food in sri lanka

Curry. Photo courtesy of Carlos Amarillo via Shutterstock.

Curries

If you’re familiar with Indian food the curries won’t blow your mind, but they do taste a bit different here. The dal, for example, is mixed with a whole lot of coconut milk, while the brinjal (aubergine) curry has a lovely honey roasted quality. Specialty curries include jack fruit, banana flower and cashew.

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Rambutans. Photo courtesy of Joanna Eckersley

King coconuts, rambutans and mangosteens

The bright orange, voluminous king coconut is a classic Sri Lankan sight, made extra special by the fact that you can’t find the orange variety anywhere else. King coconuts – also known as thambili – are sold on makeshift stalls on street corners. The seller will slice the nut open for you with a machete and hand you a straw so you can drink the juice. If you’re feeling hungry afterwards you can also get them to cut the fruit in half so you can scoop out the tasty coconut insides. Around June and July is rambutan and mangosteen season. These two fruits also have a cartoon like quality – one is fuzzy and brilliant red, while the other is round and black with cute, plump, stunted leaves. Both are deliciously sweet.

food in sri lanka

Photo courtesy of Mila Atkovska via Shutterstock

Watalappam

If you’re in the market for something indulgent try watalappam. This desert is a bit like crème caramel in terms of texture, but the taste is a little deeper, with hints of treacle. One of the main ingredients of watalappam is jaggery, a dark brown sugar made out of sap harvested from the date palm tree. This is mixed with coconut milk, cashews, eggs and spices.

Contributed BY Joanna Eckersley 

Where Culture & Food Meet: Morocco’s Colorful & Delicious Tajine

August 14, 2015 by  

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Another steaming tajine is placed before me. Like most of the tajines I’ve had so far, I have no idea what lies within this one. Gripped by anticipation, I remove the lid and a cloud of aromatic smoke engulfs my face. I wait for the steam on my glasses to clear, but I have already caught a whiff of marinated lamb. Once again, our Moroccan hosts have treated us to a surprise.

Colourful ceramic plates and tajines. Photo courtesy of Daniela Frendo

Infused with aromatic herbs and spices, the tajine, Morocco ’s staple dish, is a feast for all the senses. This hearty stew of braised meat and seasonal vegetables is traditionally slow-cooked in an earthenware pot and covered with a cone-shaped lid. You are served tajine wherever you go in Morocco, but the ingredients vary. Along the coast, fillets of fresh fish are preferred over beef and lamb.

The word tajine refers both to the terra cotta conical pot and the food that’s served in it. This I learnt on my first tajine experience as I scooped prunes from a heap of rice. A few glasses of mint tea and twenty tajines later, I started digging deeper to understand what makes this versatile dish the heart and soul of Moroccan cuisine.

Chicken tajine cooked the traditional way. Photo courtesy of Daniela Frendo

Chicken tajine cooked the traditional way. Photo courtesy of Daniela Frendo

The Journey Of The Tajine

The origin of the tajine as a cooking pot dates back to North Africa’s first inhabitants; the Amazigh, also known as Berbers.  Today, Morocco’s Berbers make up 40% of the country’s population and their cultural heritage, including their culinary methods and diet preferences, is very present in Moroccan public life.

Before the arrivals of the Phoenicians, Arabs and Ottomans in Morocco, the Berber diet primarily consisted of chickpeas, couscous and lentils. Since then the cooking of the tajine has been influenced by the delicacies brought over by invaders. Arab and Moorish settlers were the primary source of many ingredients used in today’s tajines, such as olives, dates, nuts and spices.

In traditional Berber communities, the choice of meat for the tajine depends on the family’s livestock. Around a table laden with a chicken tajine and warm flatbread, our guide, Nouredine, explained that the majority of Berbers eke out a living by raising cattle and growing their own crops. Our Berber hosts had arranged strips of carrot and marrow on a bed of couscous, under which chunks of chicken breast still seethed. Every bit of our lunch melted in my mouth, filling it with an earthy flavour. Nouredine shared with us the secret to a perfectly tender stew. Our tajines had been left to simmer on clay braziers all morning.

Tajines on clay braziers. Photo courtesy of Daniela Frendo

As we traveled from the cultivated fields of the High Atlas Mountains towards the barren lands of eastern Morocco, I found out that tajines could be as diverse as the country’s landscapes. While hogging the closest seat to a log fire on a rather cold evening, I was introduced to a kefta tajine. We were spending the night in a Kasbah nestled between the red cliffs of the Todra Gorge, a region populated by Bedouins. Originally, the Arab nomads of the desert had a diet rich in camel meat, lamb and dairy products. Bedouins are now a minority in Morocco, and many are abandoning their pastoral and nomadic lifestyle to go live in towns.

Mastering Tajine Etiquette

Eating in Morocco is all about sharing and socializing. In the presence of guests, food is served in decorated tajines and colorful ceramic plates.  Hospitality is an important part of Moroccan culture and guests are spoilt to more than one course. Telling your hosts that you’re stuffed is useless – the food will keep coming.

“Eesh! Eesh! Eesh!”

The chant was drummed into my head as I struggled to finish off the last bits of meat in the tajine. Our Berber hosts urged me on with the Tamazight command for “eat.” But rather than being full, my right arm had started to hurt. I had been tearing apart lamb chops and sweeping up bits of potato for a good half an hour.

Muslims eat with the right hand, the left one being considered unclean. In the absence of cutlery, flat bread is broken into small pieces and used as a spoon. Since tajine is normally a communal dish, the general rule is stick to the portion closest to you, even if there’s just that one last prune on the far side, however tempting it may be.

Berber bread. Photo courtesy of Daniela Frendo

Berber bread. Photo courtesy of Daniela Frendo

In Search Of An Authentic Tajine

It is almost impossible to have a bad tajine in Morocco, but you will rarely find it traditionally prepared in busy restaurants. Small, family-run restaurants normally have their own signature tajines while offering a more hospitable environment. However nothing beats home cooked Berber tajines, where it is possible to taste the love and dedication put into every meal.

When the last few meat chunks at the bottom of the tajine had been scooped, our Berber hosts returned to the room with more freshly-baked bread to dip into the gravy. Nouredine let us in on another secret.

“You can always tell if a tajine has been cooked the traditional way.”

By traditional he meant cooked in the same pot for at least an hour.

“Of course, you will only find out once you’ve finished eating.”

I wanted to know what gives it away, but the answer was staring me in the face.

The bottom of the tajine was charred…yet still unashamedly flavorsome when scrapped onto the last mouthfuls of Berber bread.

By Daniela Frendo

 

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