Food and Drink

The explosive growth of a mass market for chocolate from the 1880s transformed the world cocoa economy more radically than at any other time in history.  The consumption of chocolate increased more rapidly than that of either coffee or tea in the West, and prices held up better…World imports of cocoa beans grew ninefold between 1870 and 1897, whereas those of tea doubled, and those of coffee rose only by about half…Consumption of cocoa per head rose by a factor of nearly six in Britain between 1870 and 1910, while that o f tea did not even double, and that of coffee actually fell by half.

That is William G. Clarence-Smith in the new, excellent, and self-recommending The Economics of Chocolate, edited by Mara P. Squicciarini and Johan Swinnen.

“The definition of an anchor has changed,” said Stephen Lebovitz, the chief executive of mall owner CBL & Associates Properties Inc. “Cheesecake Factory does as much business as Sears used to do.”

That is from Suzanne Kapner at the WSJ, on the decline of traditional anchor stores.  Yet not all of the new service sector jobs will be there forever:

“Right now we’re doing a couple hundred videos a day,” he said. “We think we need to be doing 2,000 videos a day.”

Mr. Ferro’s comments added to mounting confusion over his embattled company’s sudden rebranding. How could a newspaper publisher create nearly three-quarters of a million videos a year?

But as jarring as Tronc’s goals may sound, the company’s plan is far from novel. In pursuit of more lucrative video advertising and success on dominant social platforms like Facebook, a growing number of publishers have turned to technology that promises to streamline video production, sometimes to the point of near-full automation.

That is John Herrman from the NYT.  File under Marginal Revolution Robot University.  And if you are wondering how it works, here is a snippet:

The two services’ automation features work in similar ways. They analyze, and may summarize, text, be it a script or a traditional news article, and then automatically find photographs and video clips to go with it. The services typically get the videos and images from sources like The Associated Press and Getty Images.

Additionally, the tools offer the option to quickly put large animated captions over the videos, in a format that has become popular on Facebook, where videos begin playing automatically and are often watched with the sound off. Each can also supply, through a third party, on-demand human narration; Wibbitz offers computerized voice-overs as well.

What does this say about the media sector more generally?

Which Danish restaurant gained a third Michelin star in February 2016?

How many municipalities are there in Denmark?

In what constellation did the 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe discover a new star?

Questions such as those are part of a new Danish citizenship test so difficult that more than two-thirds of applicants who took it for the first time in June failed, the Integration Ministry confirmed this week.

Here is the NYT article, this one stumped me too:

Danish Radio recently asked the actor Morten Grunwald a question on the test: When was the premiere of the first movie about the Olsen Gang, a fictional criminal syndicate? Mr. Grunwald, a star of the film, replied, “That, I can’t even answer myself.” His memory was jogged when he was given the choices: 1968, 1970 or 1971. (It was 1968.)

I hope you have all seen the episodes of the TV show Borgen, one of my favorites.

I recommend two Indian places, neither super cheap but each worth it:

Amaya, and

Gymkhana

Both are good for vegetarians, the former especially.  Trishna is another good Indian place in London, though I won’t get to visit this time around.

Swiss markets in everything:

For those willing to pay a little more for their morning coffee, a café will be opening in Geneva, Switzerland offering its customers oral sex while they sip their latte…

According to the Mirror Online, Charvet told the Swiss newspaper, Le Matin, recently that the new Geneva café would be modeled on similar establishments in Thailand. According to Charvet, the oral sex café would add a new dimension to the sex trade in Geneva.

Basically, what it would all entail is men would walk into the café and order a coffee. While they are waiting the customers will be offered an iPad to select the prostitute they prefer to have perform oral sex on them. The men will then sit and relax at the bar, sip their coffee, and enjoy the ride.

Here is the article, via Todd Kliman.  Alternatively, Barnes & Noble soon will be wining and dining its customers.

Molenbeek is the “Islamist” section of Brussels which recently became well-known as a breeding ground for terror attacks; it is sometimes described as a kind of desperate hell hole.  The Time Out guide for Brussels doesn’t mention it at all.  Naturally I wanted to see it.

I visited yesterday morning and saw the fruit, vegetable, and clothing market, and then walked around for another two hours.  It was charming, everyone was friendly to me, and I never felt threatened.  I bought some excellent cherries at a very good price (“cheap cherries,” and the surrounding streets offer “cheap charcuterie” as well).

Most of the people seem to be either Moroccan or Turkish.  The high ratio of Muslim women to Muslim men in the market was striking.

On the vegetable but not the clothing end of the stalls, I saw a fair number of blond Belgian women pushing their baby strollers and buying produce.  On my way in from the airport, my (white) Belgian cab driver told me he lived in Molenbeek and loved it, including the low rent — my apologies to Thomas Friedman of course.

Inside the boundaries of the market is a well-known Art Deco church from the 1930s, which upon first glance appeared to be an old mosque tower.  At that moment I was surrounded by hundreds of Muslims, and so was primed for the mosque look I suppose.  I walked up the stairs of the church to the door, and found it was barred and showed no signs of life.

One plaintive-looking Belgian man was standing on the steps, and he asked me quietly (in French) “Are you here for Mass?”  “Yes,” I said, not wanting to end the conversation.  “You’ll have to wait, then,” was his dead pan response.

Molenbeek

Here are ten reasons you should never visit Molenbeek.

Geneva notes

by on June 19, 2016 at 4:18 pm in Food and Drink, Law, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

This is still the land of the $76 veal chop, and that is not at Michelin-starred restaurants.  You will do better by seeking out ethnic food on and around Rue de Monthoux, which is in center city and concludes right by the lake.  At an Indian-Iranian restaurant just off this street, Royal India, I had perhaps the best fesenjan in memory.

Due to lost bank secrecy, international banks are leaving Geneva, and Swiss watch exports are falling.  The view of the lake is still beautiful, and some of the lake shore real estate now seems to be empty.  The swans are still all white, however.

Barbier-Mueller is piece for piece one of the higher quality museums in the world, mostly African and Oceanic items, and currently they have a good show on media of exchange with artistic qualities.

Center city now seems to be at least fifty percent immigrants, and I am not referring to the numerous French and Germans who settle in Switzerland.  This was not what I was expecting the first time I saw Geneva in 1985.  It is a livelier city, but it still radiates that old, vague sense of dullness.

Poking big holes in long-held assertions, Goldberg and his colleagues at Stanford and Yale universities analyzed millions of Yelp and Netflix reviews to reveal that people considered the most culturally adventurous are actually the most resistant to experiences perceived as “crossing the line.”

That is, those dubbed “cultural omnivores” — because they eat Thai for lunch, play bocce ball after work, and stream a French film that night — are the very ones opposed to mixing it up. No hummus on their hot dogs, forget about spaghetti Westerns, and do not mention Switched-On Bach. Those offerings are not considered culturally authentic. They are a hodgepodge to which these folks would likely wrinkle their collective noses — as they did in 1968 when Wendy (nee’ Walter) Carlos electrified J.S. Bach. Today’s cultural elites approve only if the experience is authentic, which means eating pigs’ feet at a Texas barbecue passes the test and slathering a taco with tahini does not.

“We find these people hate the most atypical offerings,” says Goldberg, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “They can pretend to be the most open, but it turns out they are not. By being multicultural, they are the most conservative and the most resistant to changes to the status quo.”

Or should we just call it good taste?

Here is the Katherine Conrad article, via the excellent Dan Wang.

Brussels bleg

by on June 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

I’ll be there next week, in fact just in time for the Brexit vote.  Above and beyond the obvious guidebook sights, what do you all recommend that I do?  And where should I eat?

Here is a good Ian Buruma survey of where Brussels the city is at right now.

The support for Brexit from chefs and curry house owners, predominantly from Bangladesh, has come as a surprise voice in the debate, as the Leave campaign is widely perceived as anti-immigration.

Their argument centers around “freedom of movement,” one of the pillars of the European Union — meaning that citizens from across the community can essentially turn up in the country of their choice and try their luck at finding a job.

“It’s not that we think Europeans shouldn’t have a chance in Britain, it’s just that we feel the country should choose who it needs, what kind of skills they need, so that industries like ours are not short handed,” Khan told CNN.

Freedom of movement has put pressure on Britain’s migrant intake from outside the EU, prompting the government to almost double the minimum salary required for non-EU immigrants, from £18,700 ($26,610) to £35,000 ($50,000).

“This just doesn’t suit the industry. The average salary for a chef in the country is £25,000, so why should we have to pay a junior chef £35,000 to make curry? It’s just not affordable,” Khan said.

Call it the cheap channa argument, though note if this chain of reasoning were better known, it might help the prospects for Remain.  The story is here, and here are my previous posts on Brexit (which I nonetheless oppose, cheap channa or not).

For the pointer I thank Brennan McDavid.

Changsha is the ugliest and most ungainly Chinese city I have seen, which is saying something.  Nonetheless for a food pilgrimage it is a serious rival for #1 spot in the world, perhaps surpassing Chengdu for the quality and novelty of its dishes.  Very little effort is required to do well, and some of my best courses I had at the Hunan restaurant in the Sheraton, also the only time I saw an English-language menu.

Even at major hotels, hardly anyone speaks passable English, much less good English.  But you can find many hanging portraits of Chairman Mao, who converted to communism in this city.

Carry an iPad, so you can look up and communicate the Chinese characters for “eggplant with orange chilies on top.”

There were plans to erect the world’s tallest building, and ground was broken, but the foundations were not extended and they have since been repurposed as a fish farm, hail Friedrich Hayek.

When they set their minds to it, they can build towers at the rate of three stories a day.

Changsha

The marginal value of entering a park here is high, as I stumbled upon card games, group exercise sessions, dance clubs, and performances of traditional music, all at higher rates than in most other Chinese cities I have visited.  At the entrance to one I read on the sign: “Don’t sneeze into the face of others,” and also I was ordered to reject “feudal superstitious practices.”

The people seem…different.  I feel the cab drivers often are on the verge of cackling, except when they are cackling.  Then the verge disappears.  The word “rollicking” frequently comes to mind, which of course is a sign you would not want to be governed by this province.

Kind of like New York.

Qingdao notes

by on May 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

There are early twentieth century German colonial buildings, some lovely water promenades, and less air pollution than in perhaps any other major Chinese city.  Here is the urban plan.  The best dishes are the clams, the snails, and the seaweed salads.  The cucumbers are an order of magnitude better than what I am used to, and the city’s status as a beer capital comes from the earlier German occupation.

qingdao

In two days of going around, I did not see a single Westerner.  It is sometimes considered China’s most livable city, here is Qingdao on Wikipedia.

Which search terms correlate with support for which politicians?  Why not at least ask this question?

John Kasich. Places that like Kasich are richer in some fairly policy-wonkish search terms: “net cost,” “renewable portfolio standard,” the economist Joseph Stiglitz, Financial Times writer Martin Wolf, and Vox writer Dylan Matthews. These terms have a ring of plausibility. They might be good fodder for small talk…if you are talking with a Kasich supporter!

But then there are terms that I don’t entirely understand: Route 73 and Haven Pizza. Maybe someone can explain those to me. It is also true that with billions of search terms to choose from, occasionally a correlation will arise by chance. These might be false positives.

Ted Cruz. Many Cruz-related search terms are related to domestic life of a certain kind: family photos, felt Christmas stockings, scentsy plug ins, balloon animals, Baby Trend car seats, and DIY cribs. Easy enchiladas are particularly Cruz-y. Mmmm, enchiladas. And udder covers…I wasn’t expecting that one. Maybe the Cruz campaign could start distributing Cruz-themed udder covers!

Donald Trump. Note that the correlations are weaker. That could be because Trump support is broad-based in the Republican Party. Or it could be that the connection between the voter and the Google-searcher is indirect (i.e. they are different individuals who live near one another).

That is from Sam Wang, via the keen-eyed Jordan Schneider.  And what about the Democrats?

Near Clinton supporters it’s cheap bedroom furniture, Nicki Minaj fans, and pink hoverboard shoppers. And “career in” – Google auto-complete as a job counselor!

And the strongest correlate with Bernie Sanders support?: “candied nuts,” next in line is “best oatmeal,” ladies and gentlemen that is proof this is not just data mining and false correlations.  The list is dominated by recipe terms, and “corn syrup substitute” is number four!  Oh where oh where is Martin Wolf?

Uber and Lyft may have left Austin but don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s because the voters or the Austin City Council promote overly burdensome regulations. Not at all. Recently, for example, the council lifted some of its regulations so that young entrepreneurs could get a start in business by selling lemonade. Nick Sibilla at the Institute for Justice has the rest of the story.

© ClassicStock / 1940s BOY RUNNING LEMONADE STAND ON ORANGE CRATES SELLING TO LITTLE BOY

On Lemonade Day—and only on Lemonade Day—registered participants do not have to spend $35 to obtain a “temporary food permit,” and are also exempt from spending a staggering $425 on “a license agreement and fees” to use public property.

Unfortunately, the city’s friendliness to budding entrepreneurs ends there. Lemonade stands run by kids must comply with Austin’s “temporary food service guidelines.” Some of the rules include:

  • “NO HOME PREPARED FOODS ALLOWED. ALL FOODS MUST BE OBTAINED FROM AN APPROVED SOURCE.”
  • “Provide potable water for cleaning and sanitizing utensils. Use three (3) containers for WASHING, RINSING & SANITIZING. Sanitizing solution must be kept between 50-100ppm chlorine. Test papers can be found at restaurant supply stores.”
  • “Hand washing – Use a gravity-type water dispenser for hand washing. Example: drink dispenser with a spout or spigot. Do not forget hand washing soap, paper towels and catch basin. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds. Use of liquid alcohol sanitizer or single-use gloves is required for all food handling.”
  • “Provide a ceiling or canopy above beverage preparation and service areas. Example: wood, canvas or other material that protects the interior of the establishment from the weather and other agents.”
  • “All food, equipment, single service items shall be stored at least 6 inches above the floor.”
  • “No eating, drinking, smoking is allowed in the food booth.”

Parents or legal guardians who want their kids to participate in Lemonade Day must also sign a waiver, and “agree to release, indemnify, defend and hold harmless the organizers of Lemonade Day and anyone associated with it or Lemonade Day from any and all claims for personal injuries or property damage resulting from my child/ren’s participation in Lemonade Day, even if such injury is caused by the negligence of them.”

I’m sure the kids were disappointed by all these costly regulations but I don’t think these budding entrepreneurs will let regulations stop them. After all, as every entrepreneur knows, “when life gives you lemons, make…”…oh never mind.

Two days ago I reported on how Italian food was the big winner from culinary globalization.  How are things going in Italy itself?:

Annual spending by Italian families on restaurants and cafes shrank nearly 2% between 2007 and 2014, Eurostat’s latest data show, while consumption of ethnic foods such as Chinese or North African has nearly doubled during that period.

The Masuellis—with a back-of-the-envelope way of running their business—can’t get bank loans to modernize their restaurant. They had to sell a property to fund the restaurant in 2011 and 2012, and have also reached into their own pockets to pay salaries and taxes at times.

Mr. Masuelli considered firing some of his five employees, but the rigid labor laws meant the cost of dismissing them was too high. At the same time, new health and safety regulations have eaten into profit.

More broadly there is this:

Officer Pang is a top supervisor in one of China’s biggest police departments, in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. But for two weeks, he and three other Chinese police officers are in Italy with strict orders: to protect Chinese tourists.

Of course it is only four officers, but isn’t that what they said at first about RoboCop?  I also enjoyed this paragraph:

“It’s our duty to make Chinese fall in love with Rome and Italy,” said Alessandro Zucconi, the president of the Young Hoteliers Federation in Rome, who agreed that “misunderstandings” sometimes occur between the two cultures. “They are not like the Germans, who mostly come knowing our culture and literature better than we do.”

Developing…