Somewhere in the barrage of comments from my last blog post, someone mentioned that they’d like to know more about our relationship with Intrepid Travel. Which is a fair point. We never really explained the partnership beyond a brief mention in our cartoon. You might be wondering why a company wants to fly us around the world sharing free stories about food. In fact, our most common question in emails, conversations etc. is – “how do you pay for this?” Obviously it’s a dream job, so the question, despite being less than proper, has some merit.
I want to tell you about the process of making an episode of The Perennial Plate. I’m writing this out of frustration, as a 100 or so of our 8000 twitter followers shared the latest video and 25 out of 9000 Facebook fans “liked” it. I understand that we have an amazing job, and we are so lucky to do what we do. I also understand that there is a lot of content out there, all trying to get seen, and that with the way social media works, it is easy to miss things. But I just want to make the point of why one of our videos should be watched.
As a vegetarian, you never expect to write an ode to food in China. And yet, here I am trying my best not to break into poetry as I describe the two weeks I spent in the country. Which is difficult, as my experience feels like all puppies and butterflies — and surprisingly, not in the literal sense.
We were 4 hours outside of Beijing, driving through small villages — which mean something very different in China. In a country pushing 1 billion, a modest village can include 460,000 people. But the number of inhabitants does not directly correlate to the condition of a town, city or village. Our black, shiny car stood out amidst all of the motorbikes, minibuses and stray chickens. We had just come from spending a night at the great wall — a lesser known area with very limited tourists. Our morning jaunt up the wall (to catch the sunrise) involved seeing 8 other people, all from other parts of china, and most wanting to take their pictures with us as we were the first foreigners they’d ever seen. I was actually quite surprised that I stood out so much. After spending two weeks in Japan with all the super hot, tall girls in fancy clothing and fake eyelashes, I stood out like a sore thumb in my travel attire (which had become strangely similar to my non travel attire) of hiking boots, unflattering jeans and a sweatshirt). But in China, I felt quite at home in my style. Daniel had taken up the habit of pointing out middle aged Chinese women who shared my fashion sense, and I had, many times, made a promise to start dressing cooler when I got home. But for now, from the back, despite the slight wave in my hair, you couldnt necessarily tell that I wasnt from the country. It was around 8am when our driver, Pei, pulled the car over to a psuedo strip mall parking lot on the side of the road. The lot was dirty, and only dotted with one or two broken down cars, a bicycle, a pullcart, and (as per usual) a handful of chickens. I wasnt that hungry, and considering I was in China, where, you know, they eat dog and all, I wasnt feel too optimistic about what we would find here. But Pei insisted that it was a good, quick place to stop on our long drive home. He thought he had been there once before.
Although I may sometimes pretend otherwise, I am not a food critic nor a movie reviewer. And though I have traveled a lot this year, I’m not a travel writer. So I can’t exactly compile a list of 10 best meals, or 10 favorite places. So, instead of a single theme, I am making a list of the 10 most awesome things in 2012, in my opinion.
We will be collaborating with chefs Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk Restaurants and Brad McDonald of Governor Restaurant to do a Japanese themed dinner at Governor Restaurant in Brooklyn on October 25th. The dinner will be held to celebrate the launch of The Perennial Plate’s Season Three; ‘Real Food World Tour’. The evening will also feature the premiere of the first video of the season, a focus on The Perennial Plate’s travel through Japan.
In order to bring you this next series of videos, we have surrendered to becoming something I hate – the people who take pictures of everything. I’ve always wondered why people take so many pictures or video on their trips abroad. No one wants to look at 20 pictures of one church or sunset, and another 10 of the food (one will suffice) or group photos. And If you’ve ever had a picture viewing party after you return, thinking your friends would enjoy sitting through 3 hours of photos from your recent vacation, you are wrong. Never do it again. Yet as we finish up our first trip on the road, I’m finding myself to be worse than even the most thorough tourist. And it’s not just views that we take pictures of, it’s … everything. I have especially fallen hard into the instagram cliche of taking pictures of my food. Not only that, but because we do video, it’s worse. Let me share the scenario. Walk into a restaurant, ask the the waiter if we can take pictures, walk back out of the restaurant and film walking in. Sit down, order. Try to take some sneaky shots of people eating their food. When our’s comes – try to capture the waiter delivering it. Then, reenact the setting down of the plate with a closeup. Take a picture or two of it with our fancy camera. Take a picture with our phones (tweet it). Then eat — oh God I want to kill myself!! Or rather, i just want to eat my food, or look at that sunset without the need to time lapse it.
For years, I’ve had a recurring dream where I attend some sort of social gathering, naked. I go into the event rationally thinking through the whole thing and convincing myself that it’s totally cool and normal. And it isn’t until I’m there that I realize being the only non-clothed person in a room is awkward and everyone is starting at your junk. Well, that dream became a reality in Japan. Before arriving in the country, everyone excitedly suggested I try a certain dish, visit a certain area of town, or get naked in a pool with a bunch of older Japanese women (aka: the famous japanese baths). Essentially, everyone disrobes, hangs out in a really hot tub and doesn’t make the other people feel uncomfortable about it. As I’ve heard, the beauty is in the ritual, it’s a very traditional and important experience and no one cares that you aren’t wearing anything. In fact, I’ve been told the only way you would feel awkward would be in you WERE wearing something, because you would be the only one. Now this wouldn’t be my first choice of activity as I typically try to be clothed when not in an REM state. But after weeks of peer pressure and brainwashing, I was considering giving it a try.
On my third night in Tokyo, I went out to dinner by myself. It was one of the best meals of my life. Sushi is better in Japan. You go out to a restaurant at the famous fish market (Tsukiji) or a local place, and chances are the guy behind the counter has been cutting fish for 15 years. He buys the best fish available for the price point of the restaurant. But the experience that I had the other night was not the same as what I have experienced several times on this trip. It was at another level. Really, another level to every meal I’ve ever had. I’ve had the good fortune of eating (and cooking) at quite a few of the world’s “top restaurants”. In those temples of gastronomy, a team of cooks, stagiers and chefs make your food. At Sushiso Masa, the master himself, cut and cooked every piece of fish I ate. A few days later, I ate at a three michelin star restaurant (the second of my two splurges in Japan), and the attention to detail, the direction connection to the food and the chef had nothing to do with what I had experienced at Masa. Really what I’m trying to tell you is if you like to eat, and if you have the chance to go to Japan, you need to try food at this level.
Its difficult to pack for a trip overseas, especially when you will be travelling for a month. I checked the weather reports and asked people on the ground, but it wasnt until I arrived at the Harajuku part of Tokyo (where teenagers dress in crazy/outlandish and awesome outfits — complete with fake eyelashes, colored contacts and blonde hair — and young girls dress in adorable uniformed skirts and pigtails) that I realiized I was completely underdressed. My uniform these days is typically whatever doesnt clash too much with my hiking boots, or rather whatever is the most comfortable and makes me look the most like an american tourist.
We have a family tradition of trying to watch as many movies on an airplane as possible. From the moment the entertainment system goes on till the flight touches down, you can find any of my 2 brothers and dad glued to a shitty movie. After a long plane ride, the questioning usually goes, “how was the flight… what did you watch?” Recent answers have included such greats as “The Island 2” and “Pirranha 3D.” I blame this surrender to intense movie watching had something to do with the fact that we weren’t allowed to watch much TV as kids (only after 5 on Fridays and Saturdays). So it was with little pain that I embarked on the 10 hour flight from Seattle to Tokyo.