As a national foodie, my tastes have been quite sheltered. My worldly tongue has been confined to the U.S. until now. I am on a quest to find the truly delicious. The perfect bite! I will scour the world until I have discovered this holy grail of cuisine. Beginning my travels in Turkiye, I shall broaden my tongue's horizons and become a true bon vivant!

Vietnam's Coffee Culture

                      Every busy corner of downtown Hanoi bursts with the intense aroma of ground and brewing coffee. My most favorite of vices! Against popular belief, even first to alcohol. Like in my favorite country (Turkey), it is popular to have a post meal cup and relax while digesting. It's refreshing to be in a country that appreciates this beautiful, eye opening cup of life like myself. China is more of tea drinker, and while I really love all the loose leaves China has to offer, I do need my multi daily cup because an IV drip might be weird.
                     The famous brand, Trung Nguyen, hails from Vietnam and bags of beans and grounds can be bought at almost every "7/11" and of course coffee shops. Drip machines and espresso makers are few, replaced by tiny tin manual drippers also sold everywhere. In this bustling city of a million motorbikes and a thousand tourists, it is nice and even crucial to sit and relax with an amazing cup of cafe noir.

Lemongrass, Coconut Milk and Everything Nice...

Thailand, I think, may translate directly to "Land of everything delicious!" As much as I adore Turkish food, I'm afraid Thailand takes the number one spot for best tasting. Literally every single dish I had was awesome! As many know, I hate shrimp and mushrooms, but even those were decadent!

Soaking in creamy coconut milk, the mango desserts are (eek cliches) to die for! Mango Tango still haunts me in my dreams; its clearly the most delicious dessert in Bangkok. Featuring mango pudding, mango ice cream, mango tapioca, mango lassi, and yes, just mangoes, Mango Tango has stolen my heart and then cheated on me repeatedly with the same three lady boys leaving me heartbroken and desolate.

Even the streets wreak of lemongrass and ginger, and fresh fruit stands litter every alley. Regardless of what you hear or read, eating the street food is essential! No matter how shady the cook looks, or how dirty his utensils appear to be, ingest as much of this heaven-on-a-stick as possible. Even if you do contract an intestinal worm, know that the food is worth it.

In addition to my newfound addiction, Mango Tango, there's another amazing street feature found (I believe!) only in Bangkok, and that is The Waffle. Ridiculously hot and gooey, they're made fresh with every order and found everywhere there's people ie, shopping plaza, bus stations and train stations. Just when you feel you're craving something sexy and sweet, one pops up before you! These psychic vendors charge very little (5 baht!) and generally only have four flavors, but each a different flavor than the last; original, rum raisin, and tarot were my favorites!

 I must say Thai food any where else in the world may be ruined for me. I will never leave an American Thai restaurant satisfied. My tongue will turn its smug little nose up at all impostors and forever be angry with me until I venture back to the Southeast.

Damn you, Thailand! Why are you so delicious?

Dog Soup (boshin tang) 보 신 탕

Walking up and down one incline to the next, we're on a mission. Rumored that this particular area features restaurants specializing in dog meat, from barbecue to soup. We finally find a restaurant that looks promising. "Big Dog" restaurant with paw prints on the window and door, this has to be it. We go in, sit down and look at the only Korean menu. While we wait for our server, we comment on the horrific stench inside. Finally the waiter comes over, greets us and asks what we'd be having. In Korea, we ask her if they have Kae go gi? Looking disgusted, she tells us "No." We leave, laughing at how unmistakably coincidental it was for that restaurant to not be a dog restaurant.
So the hunt continues, but by this point, we're starving! Finally, we come upon this putrid smell leaking from a small, fluorescently lit eatery. We cautiously walk inside and are greeted with what seems like disgusted, and judging glares. One of the guys in our small group asks the owner if they serve dog. She says yes and seats us at a stove top table.
The smell is almost unbearable. Not even one I can accurately describe. Somewhere between something unbelievably sour and spoiled meat. I'm getting nauseated now just trying to remember it. Never quite adjusting to the stench, I decide to still go through with it.
Even as a dog lover, I've always wanted to try this dish unique to Korea ever since I learned about it. So here it is. In the dog days of summer the six of us all foreign to South Korea are going to finally indulge in boshin tang.
The cook comes to our table, both hands full of a different cut of dog meat inquiring to which we'd prefer. Virginia, the Australian girl, freaks out and backs out, deciding she just can't go through with it!
Then the cook brings out a large table top pot and sets it to a boil in front of us. Some sort of broth with onions, scallions, garlic and some other vegetables are already inside. Then as that cooks, the lady cuts apart Lassie next to us and adds it to the boiling mixture. Much like a witch over a boiling cauldron, she says several foreign words as she adds and adds ingredients to her potion. Finally, she adds some strange, milky liquid and she's done! This last step is what really grossed us out; even more so than the wreaking stench and the dog meat!
Now, its time to try this cruel concoction. We serve ourselves and mentally prepare as we blow cool the first bite. Surprisingly delicious, it tastes much like roast beef. The meat was striated and came apart like some types of cooked pork. The broth was my favorite part. It was satiated and hearty; a great soup, I imagine, in the winter time.
Finally, we decided we couldn't have anymore and agreed it probably wasn't a good idea to ask for a doggy bag. We paid and left. Never to return again. Our strange experience behind us. Happy I tried, certainly won't make it habit, and praying that all dogs do go to heaven.

Huo Guo 火锅; Chengdu, Sichuan, China

       Huo Guo, or Hot Pot, is a traditional Sichuan meal. Basically, you take everything edible you can think of and things you didn't think were edible, and drop it strategically into a giant pot of spicy boiling oil. My first experience, we let the only Chinese girl in our party do the ordering...bad idea. We told her to order what ever was "typical." She went crazy, ordering everything from a mountain of beef to cows' throat, from mushrooms (ick!) to ducks' blood and pigs' brains. And being the culinary pioneer that I am, I tried it all!
       First, we put in these little hotdogs that resembled lil' smokies you find at a light hors d'oeuvre party...except, after they cooked, they split open and resembled strange pork butterflies or flowers. My horrible Chinese interpretation leads me to call them zhu hua...Pig flower. The little hotdog butterflies weren't bad. Let me explain the process: First, you check off what you want and the quagoat the hands of your personal hot pot. You also receive a little bowl with more oil, you have the option of adding salt, garlic, MSG, and other unidentifiable spices. Upon deliverance of all your items, you put them in strategically. This "strategy" of timing is unknown to me, I suggest you bring a Chinese person with you, But take part in the ordering!

       Okay, so after the little hot dogs, everything else just kind of went in. And when our friend, Xianyou told us it was ready, we reached in with our chop stix and plucked out a piece of our choice. Then dipped it in our own oily mixture and ate it. All of it pretty much tasted the same, texture was the only variable. The brain wasn't bad, just strange. The throat was tough. And the ducks' blood I actually liked! It was cool, it melted in your mouth like sugar. When the blood showed up to our table it looked exactly like a big bowl of freshly made cherry jello, but after boiling it lost almost all of its tautness and was just blobby and less cohesive. The mountain of meat was good and familiar. And the vegetables were delicious; lotus root, cauliflower, and potatoes. Last, you eat the noodles, but I was all too full to put another thing in my mouth.

     The experience was terrific and all in all, necessary when traveling to Sichuan province. In all its strangeness, I'm glad I tried Huo Guo. However, for the rest of the evening, I writhed in pain in the fetal position for the duration of the night, forcing me to pass on future invitations to this cultural feast. I strongly urge one to try, only once, this cultural meal of Chengdu. I met other foreigners who loved Hot Pot; it just wasn't for me.

Manti: The Experience

As one who has always had a deep appreciation for the art of rolling up meat and sorts into various shapes and sizes with a thin layer of dough, I instantly fell in love with manti (pronounced manta). I have found that with the international cuisine I have been exposed to, I have always been drawn to their dumplings. America: chicken and dumplings. Korea: mandoo. Italy: ravioli. And nothing changes when I get to Turkey...manti.  My first experiences with manti was my second night after arriving in Turkey.
"What is that fabulous smell?!" I excitedly inquired.

"Manta." My gracious host and dear friend, Muge, replied.
The combination of boiling beef and dough, coupled with the familiar aroma of tomato sauce reached my nose and tickled my hunger. I anxiously sat down as she served each of us a dish of magic. The bull's meat dumplings covered with, what other than yogurt, and then topped with the red sauce. I took a moment to let four of my senses relish this fabulousness in front of me before giving my taste the solace it was begging for. I examined the pasta with sheer curiousity, the lack of color confused me. All the other Turkish dishes I had before this point explored every color of the color wheel and even made new colors when mixed together. But this, I was afraid, would only be pink. I touched the soft round object and it was as my eyes told me soft but not too mushy. Then of course I smelled it, as I had been now for several minutes. The smell was more than delectable and I only hoped the dish lived up to its presentation. And finally I listened. My friend explained to me what it was and how she doesn't have it all the time but that its so easy to prepare.
                      Now. It is time to give into my mouth's desire and take a bite.
As imagined, it was everything delicious and more. Instead of mixing it all together for the pinkish hue I so wanted to consume, I ate it carefully, as to taste each ingredient separately. It was Heaven in a bite. The thin doughy infrastructure that held my precious bull's meat together, melted away in my mouth as if it were an ice sculpture in Florida. The contents inside were meaty and tender and felt much like the inside of a ravioli. The tomato sauce was tangy and hot and complimented its yogurt counterpart which was cool and delicate. This strange combination was the perfect balance of hearty and unique and was both home and foreign to me. The idea of a dumpling, whatever its contents may be, covered in sauce and satisfying, offered me some familiarity but was still something new.
I had it only once again while I was in Turkey. And while I regret not having it more often, I feel as if my lack of consumption makes it more desirable now and will make my next visit with manti that much more meaningful.

Dining at DinÇ

As I walk the busy streets of Izmir, I feel an intense rumble. Earthquake? No, just my hollow belly. I look around and am confronted with entirely too many choices! The scent of kofte tantalizes my tummy. The heat from the Doner shop is both welcoming and tempting. I hear "Hosgeldin" with every restaurant I pass, by an eager waiter searching for his next guest. Izmir simply offers too many choices and in such a state of hunger, I am not prepared to make such an imperative decision. So I close my eyes and wait. Which sense will give me the most feedback?...Ah yes: The spicy aroma touches my nose and I have found where I will dine. A lovely shop in Kucuk park called Dinc. I approach the restaurant saying "Merhaba" to my future server and take a seat outside. Although it is suffocatingly hot, I always enjoy dining al fresco.  I beg my server for water and he brings it quite promptly. I find out he speaks English rather well. I scour the menu quickly. Ah, I find the spicy scent that drew me in. Adana Kebap. My waiter warns me it is spicy and I say "Tamam" with a smile.

Moments later I am brought yogurt, some sort of spicy salsa that has minced peppers and tomatoes and a salad of shredded lettuce, cabbage and carrots. Two bottles of water later, I receive my meal. It is beautiful. Colorful and plentiful, I dig in. Taking a small piece of pide, I spread yogurt and the spicy sauce all over, add a piece of the kofte, some parsely and onion and fold it up nicely. The first bite is heaven. I prepare the next bite. This time yogurt alone and I add pilaf. The second bite is a whole new taste but still a bite from God. Each piece I prepare, I try some new combination from the accoutrement. It is just as exciting as delicious. My stomach thanks me with a small belch as I finish my plate and my 18 bottles of water. I ask the server for the bill, while practing my Turkish I say "Hesap, lutfen." He smiles and brings it to me. To my delight and surprise, it is only 8 lira. My server was very nice and wanted to know where I was from. Although I still have so many new places I want to try, I believe I will be back to Dinc in the near future.