Food and Drink

Cochabamba notes

by on August 29, 2014 at 8:09 am in Food and Drink, Travels | Permalink

It is very charming here, but no one can tell me exactly what they export.  Grain is a thing of the past.  There are many universities in town.  Trees, birds, and flowers are all first-rate.

I feel like I had never tasted a green pepper before.  For silpancho, go to Palacio del Silpancho.  The only item on the menu is…silpancho.  I also recommend the street tamales with corn and cheese and the street food more generally, most of all at the comedores at the market 25 de Mayo.  The “nice” restaurants are good and cheap, but not materially better than the Bolivian food you get in Falls Church, Virginia.   Viva Vinto, about forty minutes out of town, served the best meal of my trip, the taxi will wait for very little money.  Cochabamba provides one of the world’s best culinary micro-tours, although it requires a working knowledge of Spanish.

You can buy a quality Andean sweater for $12.  The potatoes are the best I have eaten, ever, both purple and otherwise.

Quechua hats are not like Aymara hats.

People smile much more in Santa Cruz.  The hotel electrical sockets use a different form here, and it would not be hard to convince somebody they were two different countries.

Big Sugar

by on August 27, 2014 at 7:09 am in Economics, Food and Drink, Political Science | Permalink

From Bloomberg:

Because of a plunge in U.S. sugar prices amid a hefty crop of sugar beets and cane, the Agriculture Department estimates that it may have to buy 400,000 tons of sugar from processors who might default on $862 million in government loans. Sugar producers have the option of repaying the loans either with cash or with their harvests if prices fall below a certain level.

…The sugar, by law, would be sold to ethanol refiners, who would pay 10 cents a pound less than the government paid — an inducement needed to get the ethanol industry to use the sugar. Aside from the ridiculousness of piling one ill-advised subsidy atop another, this would produce a loss of $80 million for the U.S. Treasury. Some industry analysts estimate the government may have to buy as much as 800,000 tons of sugar to restore balance to U.S. stockpiles, potentially doubling the loss.

Santa Cruz notes

by on August 27, 2014 at 2:36 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

The town square is lovely, even though they removed the sloth for fear he would electrocute himself.  The population is friendly, the weather is perfect, and there are few sights.  Unlike in much of South America, danger is not a concern.  The small children who hang out in the central square seem to think that a full embrace of a pigeon is a good idea.

The food is excellent and yet you never hear about it.  Try El Aljibe for local specialties (peanut soup, or duck and corn risotto, with egg on top), and Jardin de Asia for Amazonian Andean Peruvian Japanese Bolivian fusion.  It is hard to find the Cochabamba version of Bolivian food that has made it over to the U.S.   The steak here is decent but not as good as Argentina or Brazil.

The taxi equilibrium is that you do not ask in advance what the fare is, because that indicates you do not know.  Be confident, and you will be surprised how little money they ask for.

If you had to pick one city to represent South America as a whole, Santa Cruz might be it.  You can feel elements of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and yes even Bolivia here, all rolled into one.  The proportions of fair-skinned, mestizo, and indigenous people mirrors the Continent as a whole more than the Altiplano.  The secession movement here seems to have failed.  Amazonian indigenous peoples and Guarani are common here.

Arriving at the airport at 3:30 a.m. involves a nightmarish wait.  There is not much air pollution.  I didn’t meet a single person in the service sector who spoke English.  People in Santa Cruz seemed fairly happy relative to their per capita income.

You can study the economic development of China by visiting Bolivia.

Markets in everything

by on August 25, 2014 at 4:05 pm in Food and Drink, Law, Uncategorized | Permalink

It’s a nail polish that doubles as a way to thwart sexual assault – and it’s being developed at N.C. State University: Undercover Colors.

The chemistry startup, developed by undergrads, is creating a nail polish that, when exposed to date rape drugs, changes color.

The full story is here, via Catherine Rampell.

Department of Uh-Oh

by on August 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm in Food and Drink, Law, Uncategorized | Permalink

When it opened in 1990, the McDonald’s on Moscow’s Pushkin Square was a symbol of thawing relations with the U.S., attracting long lines and later becoming the fast-food chain’s most visited outlet world-wide.

On Wednesday evening, it stood empty, closed by Russia’s consumer-safety regulator amid the Kremlin’s most-serious confrontation with the West since the Cold War. The agency cited sanitary violations as it said that it had closed four McDonald’s Corp.’s restaurants in Moscow.

Analysts said the move was more likely the latest shot by Russia in response to U.S. and European sanctions over Moscow’s role in the armed conflict with its former Soviet neighbor, Ukraine.

Food inspectors “have been instruments of Russian foreign policy for years,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He cited earlier bans on Moldovan wine and U.S. chicken.

There is more here, there is some context here.

Cochabamba bleg

by on August 16, 2014 at 1:27 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Thank you all for the Santa Cruz tips.  I’ll also be in Cochabamba, and so I request your advice for that destination too.  Bolivia is one of the world’s most underrated travel spots, so if you haven’t already gone you should start thinking about such a trip.

Facts about food

by on August 16, 2014 at 5:44 am in Books, Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

Stanford’s Dan Jurafsky has written a book doing just that. In The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, Jurafsky describes how he and some colleagues analyzed a database of 6,500 restaurant menus describing 650,000 dishes from across the U.S. Among their findings: fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf). Jurafsky writes that “every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish.” Compared with inexpensive restaurants, the expensive ones are “three times less likely to talk about the diner’s choice” (your way, etc.) and “seven times more likely to talk about the chef’s choice.”

Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like delicious, flaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words. Thomas Keller’s Per Se, after all, would never use fresh—that much is taken for granted—but Subway would. Per Se does, however, engage in the trendy habit of adding provenance to descriptions of ingredients (Island Creek oysters, Frog Hollow’s peaches). According to Jurafsky, very expensive restaurants “mention the origins of the food more than 15 times as often as inexpensive restaurants.

There is more here, you can pre-order the book here.  My previous posts about this work are here.

David H. writes:

Yes, this Forbes list is a miserable failure, but it got me thinking about how to quantify coolness. Good restaurants are valuable, but to be cool, restaurants also need to be affordable and a little off-putting. If I were doing this, I would generate a list of touring bands that rank highly in RYM, knock out the superstars, and then see what US cities they played in the last 4 years. Each band-visit would count as a portion of coolness for that city, and a partial portion for the immediate vicinity. Also, RYM records which cities the bands came from. That should count for a lot. Then I would look for cities with an outsized and lively gay scene. I’m not sure how the causation works – whether a gay scene adds substantial coolness or whether it follows coolness – but the correlation seems pretty clear to me.

Coolness is unstable partly because it’s much more difficult to achieve in expensive cities. San Francisco and Berkeley are sinking in coolness partly for this reason. A truly cool city needs a critical mass of underemployed creative types who will devote a great deal of time to “the scene”, and this is hard to do when you’re paying $6+ for each of your beers. So, the lower the urban rents and general cost of living, the cooler the city, other things being equal.

OK, Forbes was right that proportion of young people living in the city is important. I also think that trends are important, like: Which cities are gaining young people, and which are losing them?

What else?

The link to RYM was added by me.  I would think that a truly cool place cannot be rated as cool by too many other sources.  How about that retirement community in Florida, an incorporated city, ruled largely by contract, where only the elderly live and the visits of grown children are regulated and rationed?  How about the city in America which has the highest birth rate?  Isn’t that kind of cool?  Seriously.  That would put Memphis, Ogden, and Provo in the lead.  What’s so cool about tracking RYM?

It turns out we are getting our own branch of Momofuku.  And Forbes recently decided DC is the coolest city in the United States.  As an act of apparent satire, they followed up by naming Bethesda #19.  I say Bethesda is about the least cool town around, Annandale should have done better.

What do I think?  Well, Washington would be cooler if it were breeding its own Momofuku equivalents; northern Virginia did produce or at least refine or perhaps drive crazy the unreliable Peter Chang.  David Chang, the Momofuku guy, did grow up in northern Virginia and ate in the “American-Chinese” restaurants of Vienna, VA, before striking out on his own in New York City, rated by Forbes as the eleventh coolest city in America (doesn’t NYC have to be either #1 or “totally not cool at all”?  Can you really sandwich it between #10 Dallas and #12 Oakland?).

You know, I very much enjoy and admire quite a few Forbes writers, most of all Modeled Behavior.  So I don’t mean for what follows to cast any aspersions on Forbes, but…you know…Forbes itself isn’t actually all that cool, not in the world of media at least.

Can we agree that…Washington really does deserve to be Forbes’s idea of the coolest city in America?

(I thank J.O. for a useful conversation related to this blog post.)

Santa Cruz, Bolivia bleg

by on August 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

I’ll be there soon enough.  Please tell me what to do, what to eat, and how to understand what I am doing.  I thank you all in advance.

The more than 6,000 animals in Russia’s largest zoo have been caught up in the worst fight between Russia and the West since the Cold War. A wide-ranging ban on Western food announced this week by the Kremlin has forced a sudden diet change for creatures that eat newly forbidden fruit.

The sanctions against meat, fish, fruits and vegetables from the United States, the European Union and other Western countries were intended to strike a counterblow to nations that have hit Russia over its role in Ukraine’s roiling insurgency. But the measures will also have an impact on stomachs at the zoo.

The sea lions crack open Norwegian shellfish. The cranes peck at Latvian herring. The orangutans snack on Dutch bell peppers. Now the venerable Moscow Zoo needs to find politically acceptable substitutes to satisfy finicky animal palates.

“They don’t like Russian food,” zoo spokeswoman Anna Kachurovskaya said. “They’re extremely attached to what they like, so it’s a hard question for us.

The penguins still live in a Cobdenite world:

The penguins eat fish from Argentina — whose food sales to Russia have not been blocked and are politically in the clear.

But the Ramsey rules are relevant for some of the primates:

Orangutans, gorillas and monkeys are particularly finicky eaters at the zoo, but Kachurovskaya said they would eventually adapt.

“In the wild, they eat what they have, not what they want,” she said.

The story is here.

Putin’s Plan A: Long game, squeeze Ukraine, force deep federation, formalize Russian influence & primacy in SE

Plan B: Invade

The link to that tweet is here.  There is more from Ian here.

I find it worrying that Putin is suspending food imports from parts of the West.  (Note that the text of the ban may be deliberately ambiguous.)  Commentators are criticizing the economics of such a move, but I think of this more in terms of Bayesian inference.  Long-term elasticities are greater than short.  Under the more pessimistic reading of the action, Putin is signaling to the Russian economy that it needs to get used to some fairly serious conditions of siege, and food is of course the most important of all commodities.  Why initiate such a move now if you are expecting decades of peace and harmony?  Or is Putin instead trying to signal to the outside world that he is signaling “siege” to his own economy?  Then it may all just be part of a larger bluff.  In any case, Eastern Europeans do not take food supply for granted.

In the United States, at least 70 percent of all the food we eat each year passes through a cold chain. By contrast, in China, less than a quarter of the country’s meat supply is slaughtered, transported, stored or sold under refrigeration. The equivalent number for fruit and vegetables is just 5 percent.

The article has other points of interest, an excellent piece by Nicola Twilley.

Elaine Sciolino is pretty critical.  She writes:

A new consumer protection law meant to inform diners whether their meals are freshly prepared in the kitchen or fabricated somewhere off-site is comprehensive, precise, well intentioned — and, to hear the complaints about it, half-baked.

Public decree No. 2014-797, drafted and passed by the French Parliament and approved by the prime minister, went into effect last week. It allows restaurateurs to use the logo if they have resisted the increasing temptation to buy ready-made dishes from industrial producers, pop them in the microwave and pass them off as culinary artistry.

It doesn’t seem to be working to encourage quality:

French fries, for instance, can bear the “fait maison” symbol if they are precut somewhere else, but not if they are frozen. Participating chefs are allowed to buy a ready-made pâte feuilletée, a difficult-to-make, multilayered puff pastry, but pâte brise, a rich pastry dough used to make flaky tart shells, has to be made on-site. Cured sausages and smoked hams are acceptable, while ready-made terrines and pâtés are not.

…Périco Légasse, a food critic for the weekly magazine Marianne, wrote: “ ‘Homemade’ doesn’t mean freshly made. A dish totally prepared with frozen products, even if they come from a Romanian slaughterhouse, can enjoy this happy distinction as it was cooked on-site.”

Mark Bittman piles on.  I would stress there is no substitute for consumers who demand the right kind of food and who otherwise won’t buy it.

Many people in Russia are putting their own spin on recent events:

Did you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently re-insured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH 17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

There is more here from Julia Ioffe.