As is the case with the vast majority of tourists who come to Japan, my first taste of the Land of the Rising Sun was Tokyo. It’s a dizzying city that’s full of enticing ramen shops, soaring skyscrapers, and gaudily vibrant neon lights, depending on which metro station you pop out of. After a few days in the big city, the second impression I got of Japan during my first trip here was of 寒川 (Samukawa), a small town in Kanagawa Prefecture, which neighbors Tokyo. The few days I spent in Samukawa were the homestay portion of a two-week Washington & Jefferson study abroad course mentioned in these posts, and it was a welcome contrast to the other guided parts of our trip, as well as an awesome chance to experience Coming of Age Day, a Japanese holiday that’s held on the second Monday every January.
Before I went to India, one of my friends remarked that he didn’t like the Subcontinent’s cuisine because, to paraphrase him, “it’s basically just a bunch of vegetables and lentils boiled down to texture-less mush.” I’d disagreed with him then, and after eating my way across Rajasthan for a week, that feeling intensified by about a thousand. I know that I only tasted the barest fraction of the delicious food the region had to offer, but what I did eat was some of the best food I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. And I ate as much of it as I could. About halfway through our trip, one of my friends had remarked, “I think we’ve all learned at this point that you’re willing to try anything. ‘Well haven’t had a bite of that one yet…’”
As I’m never one to skip an opportunity to making a ranked list, here are the eleven best foods I ate while in India, in no particular order. Don’t read this while you’re hungry.
1.) Navratan Korma – It’s not exactly a secret that India is home to some truly bangin’ curry, and I did my best to taste as many delicious varieties as I could. Of all of those, navratan korma was probably my favorite. In Hindi, it translates to “nine jewels,” which refers to the variety of vegetables, nuts, and fruits used in the dish. Mine had cashews, paneer, carrots, green beans, carrots, and potatoes in it, to name just a few ingredients. There was hardly any oil in it, unlike a lot of the other curries I’d eaten, and the cashews added a huge amount of creaminess. The thing that made navratan korma stick out to me was the inclusion of pineapple. It made for a surprising note of sweetness in what would have otherwise been a pretty mild (and even bland) curry.
My first love may be the mountains, but I’ll never turn down a bit of sea air when I’ve got the chance…especially if I can breathe it in Saint-Malo, the small walled city that I tacked on as a short day trip after visiting Mont Saint Michel. In the past, Saint-Malo was the base of corsairs, and its walls were constructed against the threat of British attacks. Nowadays, Saint-Malo is a beautiful seaside locale…the perfect place to work up an appetite by walking along the beach and then eat a dozen (or two) fresh oysters, still briny from the sea, washed down with a glass (or two) of cider.
I feel like I need to add a disclaimer to the beginning of this post. It was one of the most difficult I’ve ever written; I don’t often think it hard to find the right words when I’m writing, but this post was the exact opposite of that. I tried to be as respectful and inoffensive as possible in my descriptions and opinions, and I apologize if I offend any who read this.
You can’t come to India without expecting the country to have a severe and permeating impact on your life. I saw things in India that I’d never seen before and likely never will again. That being said, the way I felt in Varanasi has become the emotional center of my trip. Nothing could have prepared me for Varanasi, our last stop in India before heading off to Nepal.
Varanasi, which has also historically been known as Banaras, is a city with multiple claims to fame. For one, it’s the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. Other cities, like Rome and Athens, may be technically older, but Varanasi wins out on the terms that somebody has always called it home. It’s a title that you can’t really contest either; Varanasi’s streets positively ache and groan with age. Mark Twain had it right when he wrote, “Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Continue reading
Today’s my 25th birthday, and I figure that’s a good enough excuse to get me off the hook from writing a full-length post. When my mum posted a bunch of pictures of my childhood and teenage years, I couldn’t help but ask her to send me my favorite. It’s from my very first birthday party, back when I was Ali, not Alex, and had years to go before I entered my ludicrously awkward glasses-and-braces phase. It’s weird to think that I’m now a quarter of a century old, but I’m willing to bet that this next year will be just as fantastic as the ones before it.
(And even today, over two decades later, I still definitely get this excited when I see cake. No shame in that.)
As exciting as my days within Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra were, I was more than happy to escape the frenetic energy of the city for far quieter surroundings. Enter Orchha, a tiny town in Madhya Pradesh with a population of only ten thousand. Compared to the Golden Triangle, Orchha was a completely different world that seemed like it was still enshrined in the past and unspoiled by modernity. For the first time since entering the Subcontinent, my ears weren’t ringing from the constant beeping of horns and I could cross the street without fearing for my life. It was an entirely different world.
Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I though I’d dedicate a post to Cupid and his well-aimed (well…sometimes) arrows. Before I moved to Japan, I confess that my opinion of Valentine’s Day had flat-lined at “meh”…now, though, it just means that my desk disappears under a mountain of homemade chocolates, cookies, and other deliciously unhealthy sweets from my students. It’s a pretty good development all around.
I’ve written about how much I love untranslatable words in the past; the fact that a feeling is familiar to people across cultures and continents and yet is only expressed in a certain language is fascinating to me. On Valentine’s Day, emotions run a headier, more dramatic spectrum than most other days of the year, and there are plenty of foreign language words to describe all of those feelings. Here are fourteen of my favorite untranslatable words that have to do with love in some way or another. Some are about the euphoria of falling of love, some are about the depths of heartbreak, but most are feelings that, I’m willing to bet, we’ve felt at one time or another.
1.) Forelsket (Norwegian) – Let’s start off with something positive. Forelsket describes how you feel when you first begin to fall in love. It’s that euphoric feeling of walking on air, when you view your paramour through rose-colored glasses and are convinced that the sun shines out of their posterior. All you want to do is gaze into each other’s eyes longingly and forget the rest of the world exists.