Tag Archives food

Tarantula Eating, Silk Spinning & Candy Making: A Road Trip through the Cambodian Countryside

I don’t recall seeing “chow down on deep-fried tarantula” on the tour itinerary, but when our local trip guide reviewed the day’s plan – mouth in a wide grin, eyes dancing at the mention of “eating spiders” – there it was. Given I’m willing to try (almost) anything once, I was game. Besides, I’ve already tried beetle, scorpion, and cricket, so what’s a big ass spider?

During the 6.5 hour drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap we made brief stopovers in several small towns in the Cambodian countryside. Towns served by the same unpaved and uneven two-lane road from which vehicles zooming by kick up mini-dust storms so intense, that sometimes those closest to the edge wear face masks for protection. One of those places is Skuon, more colloquially known as “Spiderville” because of its proliferation of tarantulas.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Preparations underway for a multi-day wedding celebration in one countryside village. (The grillmaster signaled to me to wait until he loaded the meat skewers so I could get a better picture.)

Spiderville

Eating spiders may seem weird to some, I know, but during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge, catching those sizable, eight-legged, hairy insects could mean the difference between starving and starving a little less. Nowadays, deep-fried tarantulas are considered a delicacy and enjoyed as a snack.

Three cute Cambodian children greeted me as I descended the steps of the passenger van once we’d pulled into the parking lot of an outdoor market. The only boy among them – I guessed he was around 9 – said to me: “Sister, you are beautiful.” The oldest girl, standing to his right, shook her head and added, “Your hair is so pretty.”

What is this? Me? My hair? My looks? Who put these kids up to this? People with my dark skin, kinky hair, and African features aren’t exactly held up as paragons of beauty in the US. I wasn’t accustomed to this type of attention.

I didn’t have much time to consider the kids’ comments before they began trying to charm me into buying from them: plastic bags filled with mango or other fruit, colorful origami birds, and various smaller packages of what vendors were selling in the stalls 15-feet away.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Some of the produce sold at the market. Pictured (from top left clockwise): dried banana chips (so tasty), mangoes, grapefruit, what looks like pink grapefruit in the bottom corner is actually pomelo, which they season with salt, lime and chili powder (to me they taste better than grapefruit because they’re sweet with none of the bitterness.), passion fruit, custard apple, and tamarind.

K_, our Cambodian guide, strongly discouraged us from buying from the kids – much to my dismay. It’s hard to say no to a sweet child with a gap-toothed smile who’s pleading with you to buy fruit “so that I can go to school.” However, as K_ explained, if they’re able to make an income by hawking goods to tourists, sometimes parents will pull their children out of school so they can work instead. I knew the kids I met were in school because they told me so when I complimented their great English. We’d arrived during the students’ two hour lunch break.

Despite my refusals to part with my cash, the kids trailed me – like an entourage – as I walked toward the market and the many platters stacked high with an array of fried insects and fruit for sale.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Fried water beetles
In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Fried grasshoppers
In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Deep fried tarantulas, known as a-ping, are high in protein.

K_ handed each of us a crispy tarantula leg to try. We giggled and teased each other through the experience. Once I got over the initial disgust at the idea of what I was eating, the tarantula actually tasted decent – not like chicken, more like beetle. The salt, sugar, and oil flavoring no doubt helped. It did take me a while to chew though. Like the hairs from the leg didn’t want to leave my mouth. Ick.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

As we were gearing up to leave, K_ tapped my shoulder, pointed toward an aged woman wearing a deep-pink head scarf and clothed in long, floating layers, and told me: “She said she likes your hair.”

This never happens to me. What is this magical place?

I waved goodbye to my adorable, pint-sized entourage from behind the window as our van eased out of the lot.

From Silkworm to Silk Scarf

Santuk Silk Farm in Kampong Thom marked the second stop on our countryside excursion. Run by a US veteran of the Vietnam War and his Cambodian-Laos partner, the modest farm employs 15 women and one man from the local community. The weavers work hard spinning the silk into beautiful, color-rich scarves. We got the opportunity to learn about the process of turning the byproducts of silkworms into soft threads for weaving – a 6-week cycle – from one of the co-owners.

In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Silkworms feed on the leaves of Mulberry trees and cocoon themselves in silk on the branches.
In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Once the silkworms have spun themselves into a silk cocoon they are laid in the sun to dry. Some of the silkworms are kept alive to use for mating.
In Cambodia you can dine on deep fried tarantulas, float along the river past houses on stilts, and watch silkworms be turned into beautiful silk | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
As the co-owner demonstrated, dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel. Some of the silk strands were rougher than others.
Dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel.
Once the silk is dyed, the weavers smooth and stretch it on the spinning wheel, before transferring it to the loom to be woven into silk fabric.

After getting the lowdown on the world of silk, we sat down to a home-cooked meal for lunch.

Dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel.
I don’t know the names of any of the dishes, so I’ll just call it an assortment of meats, veggies, spices, and scrumptious-deliciousness.

The cat family of the farm joined us for the meal, eagerly anticipating fallen morsels and scraps. A small dog resides on the farm, as well. For lunch, he chose to kill one of the clucking chickens. Thankfully, I did not witness this animal act of gallinicide, but a few of my tourmates did.

Dried cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk, which is then spooled onto the wooden reel.
Mom, dad, and baby cat – unbothered by humans.

Sugar Palm Candy

Not too far from the silk farm, we made a pit stop at a roadside sugar palm candy stand. Made from the sap of sugar palm trees, the hardened candy is sweet enough to make your eyes pop. You can also cook with it, boil it into a juice, or melt it into your tea or coffee if a shocking jolt of sugar isn’t your bag.

After making our purchases, we piled back into the van and our driver, Mr. S_, pulled out onto the dirt road. The afternoon had barely settled and already we’d done so much; I couldn’t wait to reach the next stop and adventure.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Would you eat a deep fried tarantula?

Read Part I and Part II from my Southeast Asia travel series and stay tuned for more from Cambodia!

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I Can’t Eat All of That!

Giant Burger "The Big Sloppy" photo by spilltojill, Flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Look at the size of this thing! (Not a burger I’ve actually attempted to eat.) Source

The server threw me a questioning look as he observed my half-full plate.

“Was everything okay with your meal, miss?”

“Yes, it’s fine. I’ll just take a box please.”

“Oh, you can eat more than that! You barely touched it!”

I glanced down at my plate, then my stomach. I’d stuffed all that would fit in the compartment.

“Hahaha, no really you can take it,” I said, pushing the plate further away from me.

“Okay,” he relented, his tone skeptical as he reviewed the remains of my dish.

Surely he didn’t expect me to eat that whole gargantuan plate of food!

Unless it’s at a place of fine dining and serious dollar-mining with portions so small you wonder if the kitchen is rationing food, I almost never finish an entire entree when I dine out. It’s not because I have birdlike eating habits.

It’s no secret that American restaurants serve gigantic plates full of enough food to feed you for multiple meals. Unfortunately, instead of eating such generous portions over the span of several meals, for many the inclination is to consume the entire dish. This is on top of whatever else they’ve eaten that day. That’s a hell of a lot of food! Restaurant serving sizes have grown many times over what they were decades ago.

CDC Food Portions Time to Scale Back | The Girl Next Door is Black
This is nuts!

Save for half-order lunch options, restaurants don’t usually serve select-a-size meal portions. I’m 5’1″ (and 3/4!); I’m a petite woman. When I order an entrée, I receive the same servings as everyone else who orders the same menu item, including say, a 6’4″ 200-lb man. Between me and a man of that height and weight, one of us requires far more daily calories to function than the other. Yet, we’re given the same amount of food. If, on a consistent basis, I ingested the same quantity of food as that man, eventually I probably wouldn’t be able to leave my home. I’d be a candidate for my own show on TLC,  broadcast from my bed where I am laid up like a blown-up Tootsie Roll ready to pop.

I don’t do diets. I’ve tried my fair share of fad diets in the past: don’t eat carbs; eat more fat; drink spicy lemon water; chocolate shakes; strawberry shakes; vitamin supplements; starve and smile bitterly through your hunger pangs as delicious culinary scents waft under your nose.

None of that crap worked for me long-term, if at all.

I’ve comfortably settled upon portion control, with an emphasis on healthier options, as my choice of “diet.” It allows me to eat what I like in moderation. This way there are no happy rice grains and pasta strands high-kicking their way through my dreams taunting me, “You know you waaaaant us, you know you liiiiike us.” No staring at the clock, eagerly anticipating the time for the next meal. No deprivation. No calorie counting. No boring people with talk about my dietary habits.

Get Out of Diet Free Monopoly Card by Heather Wegemer, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Source

I know it’s radical and revolutionary, but combined with regular exercise, this method works well for me and keeps me in good shape.

At brunch in Houston a few years ago, I ordered a side of bacon to accompany my stack of cakes.

“Do you want four slices or eight, darlin’?”

Four or EIGHT? Those are my options? I just want two slices of bacon! Two!

Houston regularly lands in the top 10 on the list of “Fattest Cities in America“.

I opted for the four slices of bacon and pawned two off on my sister. Let’s be real: it’s not hard to get rid of bacon in our pig-lovin’ society.

The pancakes arrived, an imposing tower of spongy starch. I dug in, brushing aside my initial intimidation at the sight of the mammoth heap, slowly savoring each bite. The only way I’d inhale the whole mound is if an Amazing Race win was on the line. Thank goodness for takeout boxes.

Christmas in Copenhagen

Nisse elf for sale Det Gamle Apotek CopenhagenChristmas is kind of a big deal in Denmark. In Copenhagen giant wreaths adorn formidable wooden doors, twinkly lights border shop and restaurant facades and add sparkle to trees and foliage; wishes of “God jul” (Merry Christmas) in ornamental fonts cover storefront windows, and the requisite Christmas fir trees dot the town. On Strøget, a man with an accordion plays melodies that would make the perfect musical backdrop to a romantic comedy.

Every Christmas season, Tivoli, the second oldest amusement park in the world, transform their grounds into a majestic Christmas wonderland making it a perfect destination for families, friends, dates and tourists alike.

Copenhagen begins to quiet down during the week of Christmas. We took advantage of the calm and boarded a train for a 45-minute ride to the city of Helsingør. The city’s most famous attraction is Kronberg Palace, known also as the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The expansive grounds are magnificent and the atmosphere serene (aside from the occasional piped-in recorded sounds of incoming Calvary). The surrounding town offered its own bright charm.

Keisha on train to Helsingør

Had we done a bit more advanced planning we might have joined the ranks of the Danish and tourists filling the city’s restaurants for Christmas Eve dinner. Every restaurant we contacted was booked for the evening.

We stumbled around the nearly soulless streets of Indre By looking for signs of restaurant life. We found our oasis in the form of Sultan Palace and soon other hungry, reservation-less diners joined us for the Turkish buffet.

Christmas morning we awoke to a super gift: snow! A fun treat on our last full day in Copenhagen, especially after endless rain.

This city and its people showed us a great time and we’ll miss the more relaxed pace of life and sense of calm. Now it’s on to the next country’s adventures!
Friends in snow Kongsten Have Copenhagen

Exploring Copenhagen’s Beauty & Culture

Despite the cloudy skies and ever-present rain, Copenhagen is still quite beautiful. We spent our third day in the city exploring stunning views of the city and some of the art culture it offers.

Just around the block from our hostel we found plenty of architecture and design to marvel over.

Almost everywhere you look the scenery is beautiful.

Seeing Copenhagen from above was a must-do, so we visited the 110ft+ high Rundetaarn (“round tower”) and climbed the unusual spiral passage to the observatory.

 

After seeing the magnificent Copenhagen cityscape we ambled over to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an impressive museum filled with paintings, sculptures and ancient artifacts.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Often our excursions took us down Strøget – one of the longest pedestrian-only streets in Europe – the Fifth Avenue /
Champs-Élysées / Bond Street of Copenhagen with a splash of Melrose Place. Up and down Strøget are shops, restaurants and boutiques hailing from many countries ranging from the most upscale like Gucci to more wallet-friendly options like Zara: a shopper’s paradise. Side note: the Danish are really tall; at 5’1″, I feel like a toddler clumsily climbing onto stools that are too high and ducking the flailing hands of passers-by in conversation.

 

For dinner that evening, we opted for a Danish meal at a restaurant within the freetown of Christiania, Spiseloppen. To say that the restaurant’s location is sketchy would greatly understate the level of anxiety we felt as we climbed each narrowing step, rising higher and higher away from safer ground, bypassing a group of thuggish-ruggish looking twenty-something men I named the “Danish Get Fresh Crew,” one of whom whistled at us as we passed by. Happily, we avoided our own Law & Order: SVU-type tale when we opened a heavy-wooden door to a perfectly respectable-looking restaurant with an affable host/server and warm and comforting dishes.

At the end of our meal, our server informed us that it was the last night the restaurant would be open until January 17th. “We’re taking a much-needed break for the holidays.” I told my friend I couldn’t imagine a restaurant in the United States closing for almost a month to give everyone time off. We’re opening up shops on Thanksgiving Day now for goodness’ sake!

In honor of the occasion he comped us free pints of the Danish seasonal holiday beer, Tuborg Julebryg, along with a traditional Danish Christmas dessert or rice pudding topped with a cherry sauce. Tuborg, isn’t my favorite. I must admit, I prefer German and Belgian ales and lagers, but the gesture was kind nonetheless and a lovely way to end a great day.

 

Tuborg Julebryg Beer Copenhagen | The Girl Next Door is Black
Tuborg Julebryg, seasonal Tuborg brew

Adventures in Copenhagen: New Friends, New Food & Secret Neighborhoods

Standing in rainy Copenhagen  | The Girl Next Door is Black
Brrrr! It is chilly and rainy this time of year in Copenhagen. It’s been on average low- to mid-40s, with a bit of a wind and rain everyday.

The Danish guide from the walking tour we took earlier in the day, Magnus, also led that evening’s four-bar pub crawl. The group of about 15 included a few familiar faces from the earlier tour and represented several nations including England, Australia, Columbia, Trinidad, Peru and, of course, Denmark.

Also in our group: two progressively drunker American dudebros. Later in the night, one of the dudebros stumbled in front of a politi (police) car and started to give them lip, which they didn’t find amusing; neither did I and neither did Magnus as he warned, “They don’t like that.” Sigh.

 

Friends at the Saloon Bar Copengahen, Denmark | The Girl Next Door is Black
Fun Times!

The next morning jet lag hit me hard. We gave in to the Danish spirit of “hygge” and slept in before starting the day. On the agenda for our afternoon: a free walking tour of the neighborhood Christianshavn and the very unique “freetown” Christiania.

Before the walking tour, we stopped for lunch at a fantastic indoor market, Torvehollerne, the largest food market in Copenhagen, where vendors sell food and goods from around the world.

Open-faced sandwiches, or Smørrebrød, are popular in Danish cuisine. It’s not just the taste that’s important with these buttered, rye-bread based sandwiches; presentation matters, as well.

When we met up with the tour group, we noticed the Columbian girls from the previous night’s pub crawl and greeted them. Magnus, the wonder guide, led this tour too.

Scenes from Christianshavn

On our way to Christiania, a freetown within Christianshavn, Magnus explained some of its history. Christiania is like a hippie commune; the less than 900 residents live a bohemian lifestyle with few rules. One notable rule: no cars allowed.  Magnus warned us that by appearance you’d think it’s the kind of place one might avoid: dilapidated buildings; people wearing disheveled, stained clothing; graffiti-covered facades; overgrown flora and an overall sketchy vibe. There are also shops, restaurants and an annual Christmas market within Christiania. Magnus assured us “it’s safe”; probably one of the safest areas in the city.

Within Christiania you’ll find the “Green Light District,” also known as “pusher street,” a small area where dealers openly sell marijuana and hash; no questions asked and no harassment or involvement from law enforcement. As long as no hard drugs are involved, everything is copacetic. Anyone caught with hard drugs has the option of either  going to rehab or permanent banishment from the town.

I didn’t take very many photos in Christiania, partly out of respect for the culture and partly out of fear of being kicked out embarrassingly. Photos aren’t allowed within the Green Light District at all.

We were still in Christiania by nightfall when we got caught up in sudden rainstorm that sent everyone scurrying for cover. Once the rain ended, we carefully found our way out of the sparsely-lit, creepy-in-the-dark, maze of Christiania.

Our evening concluded with a French-influenced dinner at Grill Royal.

Mussels / Moules at Grill Royal Copenhagen Denmark | The Girl Next Door is Black
My big pot of mussels

 

Eating My Way Around New York City

Fun Eats in New York City | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Trey Ratcliff, flickr.com, cc2.0
Text & Design: The Girl Next Door is Black

Though I only lived in New York the first decade of my life, going back to visit always feels like returning home in a way that I can’t explain. It’s as though everything is the way it’s supposed to be. My parents are from New York as are my uncles, aunts, grandparents and fifty-eleven cousins. The New York runs deep in my clan and I try to visit as often as I can.

One of my favorite things to do in New York is eat. The food in New York is like none other. While I appreciate a fancy multi-course meal like the next fine dining fan or food snob-in-training, those meals often come at a snooty price and I’m on a tighter budget these days. Luckily, there is plenty to eat in New York at non-frightening, down-to-earth prices and I took advantage during my latest trip to New York.

  • I never leave New York without having a slice of pizza. Our first night in the city, my sister C__ and I headed to the West Village to chow down at John’s Pizzeria.
  • When I ordered one scoop of dolce de leche and one of peanut butter caramel at Cones and pronounced caramel as “care-a-mel” and no one looked at me sideways, nor were their objections of “it’s “car-muhl!” It was like New York opened its arms to me and said, “You’re home.”
Peanut Butter Caramel + Dolce de Leche at Cones New York | The Girl Next Door is Black
Scoop 1: Dolce de Leche
Scoop 2: Peanut Butter Caramel
Both delicious, creamy ,and rich.
  • I love diners, especially if the food is good. We stumbled on a quaint one in Tribeca called The Kitchenette and their menu full of comfort foods.  The food wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was good and I dig the decor and ambiance.
  • My parents are big fans of Junior’s Cheesecake and passed the love down to me. While the Times Square location isn’t a replacement for the original Brooklyn spot, it’s a good substitute. It’s situated smack in the center of the Broadway district and they’re open late, so it’s a great place to catch a post-show meal.
  • I first visited Luke’s Lobster a few years ago after finding out about it from the show Food Feuds. It won the challenge against another Manhattan restaurant famous for it’s lobster rolls, Ed’s Lobster Bar. While I’m no lobster roll expert, Luke’s Lobster roll is the best I’ve had, so the small restaurant required a return visit!
Crab Lobster and Shrimp Rolls at Luke's Lobster | The Girl Next Door is Black
Crab, Lobster and Shrimp Rolls – the crustaceans are flown in from Maine. Dee-licious! (I’m cheating a bit with this pic. It is from my first visit to Luke’s. My current day photo didn’t turn out well. The content remains the same though.  ).

Side note: I randomly met the owner of Luke’s a few summers ago in The Hamptons.

Meeting Luke Holden | The Girl Next Door is Black
With Luke Holden, investment banker turned restaurant owner of the Luke’s Lobster chain. I recognized him from the lobster roll episode of “Food Feuds” and seeing him during one of my visits to his restaurant in NY. I was too embarrassed to ask for a photo with him, so my sister N__ did it for me: “My sister wants a picture with you. She thinks you’re cute.” I was even more embarrassed. He was very game though and even jokingly (?) asked if I wanted his number. His employees (in the background) were very amused by his newfound notoriety.
  • I love a tasty, juicy burger and Shake Shack’s burger is one of my faves. The crinkle-fries are a bonus. I never have enough room for the shakes or the frozen custard they are also known for. I’ve had a taste of both though and they are equally delectable.
Shake Shack Burger Fries | The Girl Next Door is Black
ShackBurger with cheese, crinkle-cut fries and ShackMeister Ale.
  • As a giant Golden Girls fan, when I saw the “Bea Arthur” on the menu at the Big Gay Ice Cream shop, all the other options fell away. It was about me and Dorothy Zbornak. Me and Maude.

In a little less than five days, my sister and I walked nearly 15 miles all over New York City. This is a good thing considering how much we ate. Still, I didn’t get to hit every spot I wanted to. We did have to leave room for non-pigging out activities! I guess I’ll have to go back to New York soon!

 

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Friday Five: Weekly Twitter Roundup 10/17/14

I’m trying out a new feature, Friday Five. Let me know what you think!
Friday Five Weekly Twitter Roundup | The Girl Next Door is Black

Here are five things you may have missed on Twitter this week.

1. I love everything about this White Macaroni and Cheese dish from the New York Times. It has brie! and mascarpone! The recipe looks simple enough that I might attempt to make it myself.

  2. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley doesn’t think her state has a Confederate Flag problem. (I’ve made my personal views on the flag clear.) 

  3. If you’re tired of hearing “Why are you single?”, you’re not alone!

 

4. Fall drinks are all the rage. Everything’s turning up squash. Eater asks: has it gone too far?

  5. Check out the trending #MyLoveLifein3Words. If you’re single, maybe your Prince/ss Charming is on Twitter. When I last checked, it had over 125,000 tweets!

 

Have a great weekend everyone!