Seafood

When I first moved to Vancouver in the late 1970’s, I was able to buy whole, live geoduck for a dollar each. Nowadays, they are twenty dollars a pound (each one averages between 2 and 3 pounds). In the early 2000’s, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and during Dungeness crab season, fresh whole crabs can be had for two dollars each (about 2 pounds). Now, they are around ten dollars a pound pretty much anywhere on the west coast. One of my favorites, Spot prawns had gone up 500% in price over the last 5 years. Another favorite, live Alaskan King crabs are now routinely forty to fifty dollars a pound and with reasonably sized ones weighting in at 8 to 10 pounds each, you might need to take a mortgage out for one.

The astronomical prices of live seafood of late is mainly due to the huge demand in China. Being the factories to the world had made a lot of people affluent with a rapidly growing middle class. Culturally, food is very import to the Chinese and live seafood is considered “high-class” food. With their own supply dwindling due to the high demand as well as an increasingly more polluted shoreline, they look to overseas for their supply. China now imports eight to nine million tons of seafood a year. Over 90% of Rock lobsters from the west coast of Mexico and the United States are exported to China as are 50% of the Atlantic lobsters of Canada. To ensure a continuous supply of Canadian lobsters, Chinese companies now own half of the production and processing facilities of live lobsters in Canada.

A seafood market in China

I was in a seafood restaurant in Guangzhou, China a few years back and saw first hand the love for live seafood of the locals there. This restaurant was five stories high. Second to fifth floor were for dining and the main floor was filled with containers for live seafood. They boasted of having over 200 types of live seafood from over 40 different countries. These ranged from a 5 foot caiman, all types of snakes, 20 types of eel, to many kinds of crabs, prawns, shrimps and fishes. To order your food, you would go down to the main floor with your server and picked out your live seafood, told her how you wanted it done and it would be brought to your table. The whole event was quite an experience.

Next time, after buying a dozen ball-point pens for a dollar at your local Dollar Store, you may wonder to yourself – “how can they make money at this price?”. Don’t worry, they make plenty and they are eating our seafood!

To see a Youtube video of a live seafood restaurant in China, check this out – Seafood Restaurant.

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Falling for Falls

The image of a frozen Niagara Falls during the recent Polar Vortex brought on the reminder that waterfalls can conjure up so many images – powerful, peaceful, thunderous, calmness and ever changing. Niagara, located between Canada and the United States sure shows all of that. It may not be the highest nor the widest but it does boast the largest volume of flow. I love water in most forms – oceans, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Here are four more of my favorite waterfalls that I have encountered during my travels.

Iguazu Falls

Located between Argentina and Brazil, it is made up of 275 drops that range between 60 to 82 meters (200 to 270 ft) with a total span of 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) forming the largest waterfall system in the world. My last visit was for over 4 days and I walked along the top of the falls, at mid level, at the bottom level and even ventured under one of the falls in a Zodiac boat. The park is well developed and organized with multiple walking trails and lookout points. It is definitely one of the the most captivating places I have travelled to.

Victoria Falls

Vicky Falls is also located between two countries, Zimbabwe and Zambia. At over 108 meters (355 ft) high and 1.7 km (1.06 miles) wide, it forms the world’s largest sheet of tumbling down water. There are a number of pools on the edge of the upper fall where daring people can hike out to and take a dip overlooking the drop with rushing water all around them. My highlight of the visit was a helicopter ride which not only afforded a majestic vista of the Fall but also the aerial view of trotting zebras and giraffes in the nearby plains.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is located in the south-west corner of the South Island of New Zealand. It is a narrow fjord of around 15 km (10 miles) with sheer rock faces on both sides of up to 4,000 ft at the entrance to the Sound. There are two permanent falls, Lady Bowen and Stirling in the sound. The particular day I was there, the skies were grey with a light drizzle. The ship captain told us we were lucky with the weather because the rain brings on the temporary falls. Sure enough, shortly after we entered the Sound, the sky cleared and we could see literally hundreds of falls running down the rock faces all around us. Milford Sound is located in one of the wettest regions of the world with an average annual rainfall of over 250 inches, making the chance of seeing these multiple falls pretty high.

Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou is also not a single fall but a nature reserve and national park located in southwest China. Literally translated as “Nine settlement Valley” it is on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and stretches over 72,000 hectares (180,000 acres). It is known for its many multi-level waterfalls, colorful lakes, and snow-capped peaks. Its elevation ranges from 2,000 to 4,500 metres (6,600 to 14,800 ft). I visited the region in mid-Autumn. The 10,000 ft altitude, the cool temperature and the fresh dusting of snow sure helped to accentuate the tranquility and serenity of this beautiful valley.

There you have it! Five very different waterfalls in five continents. Each one unique and awe inspiring, helping to conjure up images of power, calm, thunder and peace.

Fat Equals Flavor

The FDA in the U.S. started preaching the low fat lifestyle a couple of generations ago, claiming that fat consumption would lead to heart disease. Responding to that, low fat diets became in vogue and big food manufacturers started pumping out low fat but highly processed foods with artificial flavorings for the consumers of the world. The masses were deprived of the real flavor of food. The FDA myth has since been proven inaccurate but people’s perception of what food should taste like had been altered.

Fat equals flavor. Think bacon, butter, french fries, dark meat chicken vs white, rib-eye steaks vs filet mignon. Pork chops taste better with a little fat on them. What about lamb and wagyu….yum!

Bacon is added to many recipes and foods to improve flavor. Burgers are often very dry, lack flavor and bacon is one of the most added ingredients to give them more flavor. They are also added to omelettes, salads, soups and many, many others. Even filet mignon is traditionally wrapped with bacon before cooking.

Duck is another fatty food that has lots of flavor. Duck fat is used for that favorite method of cooking, confit. It is used to produce the most decadent form of french fries. Try using ground duck meat when the recipe calls for ground chicken or turkey and you will increase the flavor of the dish by many folds.

Then there is the king of all fats, butter. How can anyone not like the flavor that butter enhances. In classical cooking, there is this saying that if you use enough butter, you can make cardboard taste good. The ever popular whipped potato that is a mainstay in French cuisine is made with half butter and half mashed potatoes. Butter is even added to steaks in the form of herbed butter.

With the current popularity of the Atkins and keto diets, more and more people are no longer adverse to fats and in the meantime also discovering the real flavor of foods.

I will expand on this topic, Fat Equals Flavor in future posts. Stay tuned!

Bali, Bali

Many years ago, while on a cruise, I was seated at a large table for dinner which included three very elegant older ladies. They mentioned that they were on the inaugural, around the world cruise on the same ship a few months back. They were sisters, all widowed and spent most of their days travelling the world, mostly on cruise ships. They had been on at least 3 other world cruises and been to most countries around the world. I asked them what their favorite place was. After some conversing amongst themselves, they said “Bali”.

A friend of mine used to own and operate a chain of travel agencies and got to travel on “fam” trips quite often. I asked him and his wife the same question about their favorite travel destination. She said without hesitation, “Bali”.

Many years later, I finally got the chance to experience it for myself.

Bali is a very small island of about 85 by 50 miles at the widest points. It has almost everything that a vacationer or traveller could want. Beaches, valleys, mountains, temples, beautiful scenery, night-life, culture, entertainment and more. Accommodations range from youth hostels to highest end resorts. Food ranges from local street food to the best gourmet fine dining.

If you want the better Bali experience, stay away from the busy beach towns such as Kuta and Seminyak down south. They are like Cancun or Cabo only with Australians.

I chose to use Ubud as a base and venture to other parts of the Island by hiring a guide/driver for the duration of my stay. Ubud, made famous to the outside world by the Julia Roberts’ movie Eat Pray Love, is a lovely place by its own right. It is located near the center of the Island, relatively small, easily walkable, is full of wonderful restaurants and has a very calm and spiritual feel. A number of surrounding towns each specializing in a different type of art and craft are also worth visiting.

My guide would take me on a different direction of the Island each day to visit different sights. The scenery and encounters on the way were immensely interesting. We came across many, many picture perfect tiered rice fields, tropical forests and parades in small villages celebrating one occasion or another. There are hundreds of temples on the Island and each one is different and has a different theme. At least a dozen of them are worth spending some time in. Bali practices a form of Hinduism (different than in India) and the temples are unique and a refreshing change from the usual Catholic/Christian churches, mosques and Buddhist temples that are so often encountered during travels to other parts of the world.

We travelled to all parts of the island, saw many temples, had many good meals and new experiences. The most memorable moments were when we got caught in a tropical downpour in a little palapa restaurant in the middle of nowhere amongst tiered rice fields. The sound of the rain was deafening and yet there was a calm and mystical feel to the sight of the country-side. Also, a visit to the guide’s home (a compound he shared with his family, parents and families of various siblings and uncles) was a great eye-opener seeing how so many people can live together in such a small space harmoniously and working towards the common good.

My time in Bali was full of adventures and wonder. It offered a little more than the usual sights, cuisine and experiences of other travel destinations. Somehow, it touched my soul and I was moved. The people are kind, joyous and friendly. The land is vast in terms of what it has to offer and with a very spiritual feel. It has its own tradition and habits and is not without its quirks.

On your bucket list??

I loved Bali. It is now on my “one of the favorite destinations” list.

Whining about Wine

About 10 years ago, I read a blog by a young lady that was just getting into wine and was wondering why anyone would pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine, citing that you can get pretty decent wines at that price from Trader Joe’s.

I posted a response to that. Today, what I said then still seems relevant. Here is my post as it was written:

“Ah..WINE.  Wine is a world onto its own.  It has its own history, culture and language.  People either speak ‘wine’ or they don’t.  Wine appreciation is something that is acquired and it takes a long time and most likely a bit of monetary due.  It is not something that you can get reading a book, second hand from someone else’s tasting or try a couple of different wines and come to any worthwhile conclusion.  Aside from what one likes or dislike, wine is like modern art or jazz music.  To the casual observer, a master’s great work looks the same as a child’s doodle or sounds just like a bunch of noise.

It is true that there are good and not so good wines in each price category.  There are good ten dollar wines and not so good ones just as there are good hundred dollar wines and so-so ones.  It is also true that taste in wine is very subjective.  That’s why the same wine is most often rated differently by the different authorities (Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiasts, Robert Parker, etc.)  BTW, stores generally quote the highest ratings from these authorities.  By the same token, the taste of a wine can be altered due to the way it was stored, the way it is served (decanted, properly rested, temperature) as well as the glass it is served in.   In general, better wines (more expensive) do cost more to make.  Cost can increase based on the spacing and trimming of the vines, the method used in picking, selecting and crushing of the grapes, the care and method of making the wine such as the type of barrel used, as well as the timing of the bottling, etc.  It is very difficult to make a great wine and sell it cheap commercially.  Trader Joe’s (as well as a number of outlet stores) is a clearing house for wineries when they want to have large quantities of wines cleared for some reason, be it over production, quality not up to the usual, expected standards or to make room for the newer vintage.  Some better known or higher-end wineries will actually create a second label to do the clearing out of their wines thru TJ’s.  No winery will ever strive to make wine to be sold at TJ’s and for some more prestigious brands it could be seen as a kiss of death.  It is possible to get very good wines at very reasonable prices at TJ’s but the down side is if you do find something you liked, it may not be available anymore.

I like wine and I like to think that I can generally tell a good wine from a not so good one.  I drink wine pretty much everyday for at least the last twenty-five years.  I have about a thousand bottles in my cellar.  I belong to mailing lists of wineries that only sell their wines direct.  I seek out wines from different regions of the world and different varietals.  I make it a point to try the local wines (if they produce any) everywhere I travel to (sixty? plus countries).  I am no expert by any means and I don’t know what the secret is.  I wish I do!  Last week, I went out to two nice restaurants for dinner.  At each place I had two different wines.  One place I had two wines (I selected and paid for) in the hundred and fifty dollar each price range and the other place (I selected and someone else paid) in the sixty dollar range.  I had not tried any of the four previously.  At each place, one of the wines I thought was great and the other not so much and not worth the price.  I wish it is as simple to pick a good wine as reading the label or the price tag.  But then again, it would take the joy out of the whole experience, wouldn’t it?  I will just have to continue to explore and keep tasting until I discover the secret!”