Food in Rome, Naples and Matera
In a frenzied week of food, history of art and architecture, and archaeological sites, it was easy to be overwhelmed by Italy’s riches. The time was afforded and determined by a rare winter hiatus at the restaurant where pastry chef/daughter Melissa works. Between two of us, we tag-teamed on where to go, how to get there, and making sure that we maximized resources.
Speed traveling in a slow country by two generations of sturdy travelers was achievable, satisfying, and forever memorable. With Rome as our base in Testaccio, we took a full day trip to Naples by train. An inexpensive flight to Bari at the heel of Italy enabled us to visit Matera in a second, dawn-to-dusk trip. A one-hour drive from Bari allowed us to reach Sassi, two ancient hill towns straddling a deep valley. This UNESCO area is designated to become a major destination in 2019, to showcase sustainable tourism and environmental protection of treasured and not-to-be forgotten settlements.
Matera Hill Town
Elena Ferrante in Napoli
Famous Pizza and the Opera House drove us to Naples, but we couldn’t help but think about the stories written by Elena Ferrante in her four book series about scrappy Neapolitan life. We stopped at the Archaeological Museum, one of the country’s top sites holding treasures from Ercolano and Pompeii. Porn was thriving in Pompeii, as witnessed in this museum, along with all the other artifacts that are no longer available at the sites. In between glutting out on pizza (shown above and in video on next post) and a lackluster Nutcracker at the historic Teatro di San Carlo, the food won hands down.
Reminder: Click on any area of the galleries above for a full-fledged slide show.
It’s too chilly in Rome for iced coffee but the antidote was a toasted pocket pizza with tantalizing and meaty fillers for a quickie dinner.
On arrival at the exquisitely appointed Air BNB in Testaccio, daughter and discoverer of discriminating accommodations took our host’s recommendation for dinner and led us to Trappizzino.
It’s a short, safe walk from the Marmorata Building and past numerous inviting cafes and restaurants still open to business after 9pm on a weeknight.
After entering the first door to Trappizino, we are told that we are in a wine bar. If we want food we should go next door. We follow instructions and U-turn. We go next door and order what appear to be pocket pizzas.
While that may not sound so appealing, we quickly realize that we are in a gourmet ghetto. Choices of octopus, tongue or a variety of other meats are delicately flavored with pesto or marinara sauce and inserted into lightly toasted focaccia envelopes.
As we wait for our orders to be processed, we peruse the joint and the scant table layout. Sides appear to be non-existent, so we focus on the drink case. Hmm, I thought. Was that price of 9.80€, written in scrolly cursive the way Europeans write, the price of a glass, or a bottle?
Couldn’t break my reticence to ask. It didn’t matter, the counter server advised, go next door for wine, where there are more tables and a better environment for dining. We pay a whopping price of 8€ for food and collect our prizes.
Clad with our pizzas fully exposed and mounted in a custom-designed wire toast holder, we traipse back over next door. Business looked like it had picked up, with a couple hovered at the prime window spot showcasing the presence of customers.
We settle on a hightop and pursue the wine mystery. This side of the establishment is serious about drinks. A number of specialty beers are displayed in the refrigerated cases and stare longingly at our religiously unfulfilled table. One beer displays printed labels for Trappizzino, with each of the letters T-R-A-P-P-I-Z-Z-I-N-O on 11 bottles in a row.
Further down the cases are bottles of local wine, in competition with the beers.
I quickly choose a bottle of Roman wine slightly above 9.80€ and pay for it. The hostess brings my selection over to our table and in Italian words, animated gestures, and truth-telling facial expressions communicate that she is unable to open the wine for us.
After some confusion about why she was unable to perform this task (out of plastic cups? was wine drinking prohibited in a wine bar on a Tuesday night after 9pm? Did we really look that young, just because we were Asian?!? Had we triggered some violation of Italian protocol by purchasing a bottle of weed-laced wine, that could not be served in a public establishment?!?)
We soon deduct that she is telling us that she must go next door to get someone to open the bottle for her.
Apparently she is afflicted with a wine shop worker-related injury. She has developed carpal tunnel wine bottle opener syndrome!
Melissa quickly steps up and offers to uncork the wine. The hostess smiles, gratefully relieved. Business is now standing room only, and it’s one less trip next door, into the 4 degrees of separation.
Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.
These travels entailed detailed planning and visits to friends and family. While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.
I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.
Here’s the video:
The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany. Featured friends include Lisa from New York City, Alberto and Miki from Crema/Elba/San Diego (our fellow travelers to Hungary and Austria), Helena from Lucerne/Wallins in Switzerland, and former student Xiao Lin and his wife Susan, who live in Guangzhou.
If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.
I’m still debating about whether I will extend the blog into 2019. Traveling to Italy with daughter Melissa starting on New Year’s Day may help to inspire me to continue, so stay tuned if you are interested. We are also planning to go to the Caucasus in April (can you guess which three countries?)
Have an overwhelmingly, delightfully unexpected, fruitful, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
A delightful concert with the San Francisco Symphony playing Beethoven’s Ninth was a moving and timely experience. The full chorus sang the final Fourth Movement blasting the message from Schiller’s Ode to Joy in English: “Give a Kiss to the Whole World!” It was a much needed reminder of our dependency on each other.
During Intermission, the highlighted dome of the City Hall was gracefully poised behind and traffic crawling outside the Symphony Hall. Symphony goers were reflected in the windows as the two scenes melded into one.
KCET, a broadcast television station from Los Angeles, featured Mr. Jiu’s Restaurant on the Migrant Kitchen. Daughter Melissa works there as pastry chef in San Francisco’s Chinatown and was featured in it along with Brandon Jiu, the owner of the restaurant. This was a pretty decent coverage explaining what drives young chefs into what they do, why they do it, where they go, and where they come from. I hope you will have time to watch the entire show posted here:
You can also watch it on KCET at the following times this weekend and after:
SundayDec2 9:00 AM PT
SundayDec2 4:00 PM PT
TuesdayDec4 10:00 PM PT
I have been sketching and drawing around the city, at various cafes and venues. Sometimes I join SF Sketchers, other times alone, wherever I happen to be catching some java. It’s great art therapy and a way to engage with humanity.
Although I was considering throwing in the towel at the end of this year, I may continue for a bit into 2019. I am planning a trip to Rome for a quickie in early January, so look for a post coming from there soon!
After introducing ourselves to what is “Gangnam style”, we celebrated our last evening in the hot spot of Seoul. As Korea’s answer to New York’s Times Square or Ginza in Tokyo, Gangnam literally stands for a mundane name: South of the River. It wasn’t surprising as Koreans follow the Chinese directional terms faithfully. More stylishly, I suppose you could call it South City, as in Chicago, or the counterpart to the “East Bay” in SF Bay Area’s Oakland.
The restaurants and dining options are endless. The bright neon lights mesmerize one’s ability to think and make decisions clearly. We ended up at, of all places, in 98 degree weather in a Korean barbecue. The vents worked great and the food was memorable, but we couldn’t keep the sweat from dripping down our backs in an air-conditioned environment. The coals from the grill at the tables were efficiently removed by an assistant and quickly delivered back to the ambient temperature outdoors.
We felt like were were cooking ourselves. That is, not making food, but cooking our bodies. Eating and drenching is not exactly a compatible nor relaxing experience. Most of the food service personnel around Seoul are from Dongbei or Northern China. They come as itinerant workers or have been long time residents of Korea. We could communicate with them and surprisingly, use more Chinese on this trip than we expected.
Earlier, our daytime expedition outside the city and into Jeonju Hanok Village and into the countryside required a 2.5 hour bus ride south. The hilly landscape, absent of animals that we could see, is highly utilized with rice paddies or laden with ramshackle structures. Korea is not a beautiful country, but it is practical and efficient. Aesthetics are extraneous and overhead lines and blight come from necessity.
As part of the UNESCO Creative World Cities Network, the ancient town is also designated as an international “slow city”. The town contained a cluster of historic residences, a royal portrait gallery, and an odd church that is a mixture of Byzantine and Catholic religions.
Sadly, my world trip for 2018 has reached its final destination and conclusion. I hope you have enjoyed my travels as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. They included two new desinations, Hungary and Korea. Both countries are similar in some ways. They are less traveled but worth seeing and learning about. Their people have endured many hardships and misunderstandings, both in perception and reality. I hope you will be inspired to seek beyond your comfort levels and allow your curiosity to direct your next travels.
Korean Cooking School
Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul. I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.
The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.
Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.
And the final result:
The Royal Shrine, National Museum and Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village
In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.
The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.
Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.
The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.
Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.
Chinese Opera Museum, Foshan
Among the hidden treasures in Foshan where we are staying in China, is the Chinese Opera Museum. I was coming to Guangzhou to do some research on Chinese opera, so I was delighted to find an entire complex devoted to my research! Below are only a few of the highlights that I poured over.
On an evening walk to dinner, we found another treasure. A huge temple complex was on the other side of our development.
Zumiao Temple, Foshan (1796)
Outside, the temple was teeming with retirees playing cards, mahjong and go under the lush green trees that provide shade and shelter for the day’s activities. A large stone turtle with a snake on its back was accompanied by a host of live turtles stacked back to back on the wooden dock of the pond.
The GF Line stands for Guangzhou-Foshan, one of the new mass transit extensions within the massive Guangzhou Pearl River Delta. Guangzhou is now a city of 13 million. Including Foshan to the west and Zhongshan to the South, Guangzhou is one of the largest conurbations on the planet.
Ling Nan Tian Di District
We are staying in Ling Nan Tian Di, a brand new development in Foshan. Our good friend, professional musician and Chinese opera performer Sherlyn Chew invited us to stay at her apartment in this burgeoning new area. Foshan is known for its Shiwan pottery, but the new development is as sophisticated as Xin Tian Di in Shanghai. High rise residential development, office towers, and a major shopping district are combined into a lively mixed use development.
Here’s a gallery of the renovated traditional village development for tourists:
The Tian Di district in Foshan is developed by Shui On, a single, large Hong Kong developer. In comparison, the San Kai village development in Zhongshan (shown in previous post) is a much more small scale, ad-hoc enterprise. Renovations are left up to each business owner-developer. The area feels more like an artsy live-work district with cafes and bars like what you would find in Oakland or Berlin’s industrial districts.
Below, a somewhat repeat-performance of the dishes from Zhongshan (by choice): Steamed crystal prawns, shaved bitter melon with pork slices and gingko nuts, and roasted goose. The bowed tofu strips topped the braised pork belly underneath. I love the delicate Cantonese style of flavors, that are clean and unadulterated. If it is too salty, it isn’t true Cantonese cooking.
Budapest is a city split in two by the Danube. The river is the longest in Europe, discharging not into any ocean but the Black Sea. The St. Gellert’s Thermal Baths and dinner at the New York Cafe were among the highlights of our visit with friends Alberto and Miki in Budapest.
Budapest conveys a by-gone era, with once-grand buildings deteriorated, unkempt and unkept. You struggle to look for meaning and points of reference: When was it? Who did it? How did it happen? Why? Many of these questions are left unanswered. Without a local guide and more substantive conversation with locals, the history is hard to decipher.
The grand market presented some interesting finds for goose liver, paprika, and lavender. A commotion drew us to a crowd apprehending a man who had just knocked down a female tourist.
Last but not least are the finale to our 72 hours in Budapest: dinner and delightful jazz.
In opera lingo, it’s a wrap! After a month, my German class came to a close this week. The intermediate level class was populated by a variety of students from France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, and Argentina. There was only one other lonely student from the U.S., which suited me fine. I used probably more German this time as my vocabulary has improved.
In comparison to prior Goethe Institut classes in Dusseldorf, Berlin, Schwäbisch Hall, and Dresden, this class was better focused and productive. And Munich was a well endowed city, ready to accept newcomers and newly acquired German language speakers. It was fantastisch!
Hubby Gee Kin arrived on Thursday to help me complete my tour of Munich over the weekend. A festival carnival at the Marienkirche entertained us with local charm and what families would enjoy on a summer weekend.
A first and foremost visit to the Nationalistische Sozialismus Museum gave us an overall history of Munich since WWI and the setting that led to the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. We gained perspective on Munich and its complex history from the excellent audio tapes at each display.
We had just enough time to meet our guide, Dr. Christoph Engels, who helped us to visualize the power of Hitler‘s propaganda. We ended up at the Haus fur Kunst, where Hitler promoted his knowledge of art and culture.
I couldn’t resist another trip to the Isar River where the surfers mesmerized us with their talents. Everyone was taking advantage of the summer heat and made the time to dip their feet into the cool fast flowing waters of the river.
Here was a brave young woman attempting the surf:
The next day, we visited the Schwabing and Maxvorstadt district, visited the Vctuals Market,and attended a performance of harp and flute in the Residenz.
We are on our way to Budapest by car with friends Miki and Alberto, so stay tuned for our next adventure.