Category: Travels

Some food notes from Mexico City

My favorite sandwich (ever) is the Hawaiiana, at “Tortas Chapultepec,” turn left out of the front of Hotel Camino Real in Polanco, and it is on the corner at Victor Hugo and Mariano Escobedo.  They usually are open by 9:30 and I suspect they close fairly early.

Pujol does wonderful things with vegetables and is perhaps the best fancy place to try; I recommend the Menu de la Tierra.

They have done away with the food stalls at the Zócalo.  In Mexico City calorie-counting menus are common and gelato is being replaced by frozen yogurt (!).

Tres Marias is a “food village” right off the highway on the way to Cuernavaca.  Look for the place on the southbound side which specializes in green chilaquiles and also chorizo tacos, but in general standards along that strip are remarkably high.

Here is the most important food advice for Mexico.

Overall, Mexico City is becoming a safer city, and compared to four years ago one sees many signs of economic progress.

Where to eat in Naples

1. Friggitoria-Pizzeria Giuliano, Calata Trinia Maggiore 33, open at 7 a.m. or so, one of the best pizzas I’ve had, and for only four euros.

2. Mandara, Via Ponte di Tappia 90-92, doesn’t look like much, more of a deli than restaurant, order at the counter and mimic the choices of others.  Go before the line heads out the door.

3. Il Piccolo Ristoro, Calata Porto di Massa, inside the port, not really on a street, the cabbies seem to know where it is, only a few tables, one of the best seafood meals I’ve had.  Not outrageously expensive.

Recently I had two and a half days in Naples, following a meeting in Rome, and it is one of my favorite cities.  To live in, it combines the worst of Europe and the developing world…to visit, it combines the best of Europe and the developing world.

Why so many cave dwellings in Cappadocia?

The troglodyte habit is often attributed to a need for places of refuge and concealment in troubled times, suggesting a chronology linked with either the Arab raids of the seventh or ninth centuries or the Turkish ones of the eleventh century.  The habit itself does not, however, imply such a need.  In fact, rock-cut villages often occupy conspicuous sites…Instead, as noted above, this mode of architecture should be seen as a logical response to the local conditions.  The millstone closures, which appear formidably defensive to an eye accustomed to built architecture must also be seen in this context: when timber is scarce and the soft rock easily worked, such a closing method for seldom-used storage cavities may be more efficient than conventional door.  The rock-cut villages cannot, therefore, be assigned with certainty to the periods of turmoil.  There is certainly no question of concealment as far as the cave churches are concerned, since they are often located in prominent sites and many also have elaborate carved facades.  Nor is there reason, therefore, for assigning the churches to periods of insecurity.

That is from Lyn Rodley’s classic Cave Monasteries of Byzantine Cappadocia, a book which you read only if you are going to…Cappadocia.

Sorted Turkish links

1. What’s up, and a Business Week survey.

2. Brain surgery in Turkey 5000 years ago.

3. Turkish problems with trade deficits and credit creation.

4. Why Turkey is backsliding on women’s rights.

5. What is the future of press freedom?

One possible take on the current situation is that Turkish liberties are eroding in a dangerous manner and the country will slide into some version of an Islamic state, through not-fully-democratic means yet sanctioned by the ballot box.  A second take is that the liberties were not quite ever there in the first place, and Turkish society is moving to a more coherent and more sustainable equilibrium of state, religion, and citizen.  Islam in Turkey is finding a way toward a more comfortable public space, albeit with bumps and mistakes along the way, and lasting radical secularization was never possible anyway.  The rising middle class and Turkey’s historic uniqueness, and separation from the Persian and Arab worlds, will keep it on a “good enough” track.  I incline toward the second and more optimistic view.

Central Turkey is more economically advanced than I had expected.  It is downright nice here, and standards of living are reasonably high.  Imagine the per capita income of Mexico or Brazil but with greater equality and stronger social cohesion.  Food is even better than in Istanbul, namely it is spicier and has fresher raw ingredients.

Turkey will prove to be an important test case for whether a rapid influx of foreign capital can be done in a stable manner.  It’s funny how a lot of the same economists who distrust a rapid capital influx in an international development context (“the hot money comes and goes”) are entirely happy to trust a rapid influx of capital into U.S. Treasury securities.

Siracusa and Ortigia

Europe’s oldest church is an add-on to a former Temple to Athena; Catholic style draws upon the Greek more obviously when the two are juxtaposed.  Food delicacies include sardines, pistachio, imaginative use of bread crumbs, unparalleled swordfish, smoked tuna, zucchini, sweet and sour pumpkin, fennel, and as in the Arab world the line between the meal and the sweets is not as firm as the French have tried to make it.  Most of all, the ricotta stands out.  Order a pasta “norma” style, with ricotta on top, and then have ricotta for dessert too.

Depopulation is evident, even in the beautiful areas near the sea on Ortigia.  Fifty years from now, will it be empty, a crowded tourist theme park, ruled by Chinese capital, or full of Tunisians?  Is the embedded cultural capital in current Siracusan society positive or negative in value?  Is mobility equalizing average rates of return?

No one seems to mind that most of the art museum is rotting away.  Ordinary life here has very little to do with the internet.  The cats are skinny and fearful.  The visit is splendid.

Brasilia notes

Could this be the strangest city I have visited?  And yet the people, the mood, the food, and the culture all seem quite normal, whatever that means.

I had not realized how much the city center was patterned after the Washington Mall, yet with modernist rather than classical buildings for the government, and with a modernist layout.  On each side of the major highway is “Crystal City on steroids,” with five-lane highways, boxy skyscrapers, and a huge bus station straddling the main road.  It resembles an old science fiction movie and yes I like old science fiction movies.  View here, and it really looks like this!  It is no wonder that the aliens chose Brazil to visit.

There is also a private sector presence here.  Don’t forget the neat bridge.  Here is my favorite church in town, Dom Bosco.  Here is the fine Palacio Itamarati.

The Memorial JK is an egotistical political monument.  It was built by Niemeyer in 1980 to honor the founder of Brasilia, Juscelino Kubitschek, former President  of Brazil, which is in turn a way to honor Niemayer.  Kubitschek’s remains lie beneath a skylight in a granite tomb, and the coffin reads O FUNDADOR.  The surrounding rooms are full of insufferable photos, suits, medals, and tie clips.

The clouds and skies are first-rate.

The home of the vice President is surrounded by ostriches.

Porto Alegre notes

Dinner with ravioli, ice water, and a small coke cost $40.  It was very good, but no better than in the days of hyperinflation.  The real has risen more than forty percent against the U.S. dollar since 2008.

There is much here to study if you favor a greater density of high-rise buildings in cities.  The population tends to grow beyond the limits of the infrastructure, but arguably that would happen with sprawling suburbs too.

You can taste the future (and past) of bananas, once current U.S. brands are devastated by rot.  It is a bright future, though with lower quantity and probably higher price.

People keep on asking me if I know what acai is, and how Americans consume it.

“Cheeseburger” is spelled “Xis,” because that sound is how some Brazilians mispronounce the opening sound of”cheeseburger.”  Xis is now as much of a platform for culinary innovation as it is a specific meal.  It needn’t have meat or cheese at all, and it might be based on chicken hearts.  “Sweet pizza” is another creative culinary platform here.  Churrascarias are the static part of the food sector.

Pastels (a bit like empanadas) are very good and the expected rate of return from sampling random chocolate desserts is high.

If you imagine the Jardin section of Sao Paulo, and make it quieter and safer and greener, with an influence from B.A.’s Palermo district, you have the nice part of Porto Alegre, Moinhos.

The English-language expat sections of foreign bookstores are interesting; you get to see what people wish to read, not which books they wish to buy.