Category Archives: travel

Noodlebrain

Seaweed ramen | Canon 5D, 29mm, 1/80, f4, ISO 800

When I was in Sebastopol in September, I had the misfortune of picking up the debut issue of Lucky Peach, a quarterly food journal spearheaded by chef David Chang (owner of NYC’s Momofuku restaurants), writer Peter Meehan, and the Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations production team. I say “misfortune” not because it’s a waste of a perfectly good tree but because it renewed my appreciation for ramen. But I suppose it would’ve been a failure on its end had it not, seeing as the whole issue centers around the humble, chewy foodstuff that sustained me for a good three-quarters of my life.

Kraft macaroni and cheese may have been popular in Western households, but instant ramen was a staple in our Taiwanese-American home. The Tung-I brand (the Chinese onion flavor in particular) was our favorite, with its brick of crispy, wavy noodles, foil packet of dry seasoning (MSG, dehydrated chives), and clear packet of fragrant, partially solidified oil and fried shallots.

We never ate it for dinner (somehow my mom always managed to whip up a soup, a protein, and several plates of greens and vegetables each night), but we devoured it as a snack. Occasionally we had it ungarnished, but most of the time we’d crack in an egg or two and/or toss in some fresh spinach. My dad would drop in dollops of chili paste until the broth was an unseemly red. I was probably 10 when I started making it on my own. Unsurprisingly, I packed a big box of it and an electric kettle when I moved 500 miles away to college.

Of course, my family also had a variety of Nissin Cup Noodles on hand for the times when we were either too busy or lazy to deal with a pot and a bowl. Even though I haven’t touched the stuff since the 1990s, I still remember the treats found within each cup, more so than I remember the various shaped marshmallows found in Lucky Charms cereal: spongy, yellow cubes of egg; small pink curls of shrimp with black intestinal tract intact; sweet orange tabs of carrot; green balls that never seemed to properly reconstitute into peas.

Eventually, once I was on my own and paying for stuff with my own money, Top Ramen and Maruchan (inferior brands, in my opinion, because they lacked oil packets) caught my attention with their 20-for-$1 sales. When I was feeling adventurous, I’d splurge on Shin Ramyun, a spicy Korean brand. I stopped eating instant ramen completely when I started reading nutrition labels and learned, to my horror, that each pack was 400 calories and 24 grams of fat.

I was long out of college when I discovered that cooked ramen existed in a commercial setting. A non-Asian friend introduced me to the handmade gook-soo noodles (similar to udon) at Bear’s Ramen House, a Korean hole in the wall in Berkeley’s Asian food ghetto. They also served ramyeon, but I didn’t see the point of paying $5 for something that I could literally get for a dime. Eventually, I ate my first bowl of restaurant ramen there. Even though they used dried instant noodles, the broth and accompaniments blew away my home attempts.

It wasn’t until years later in 2009, on my second trip to Tokyo, that I finally had fresh ramen. In Japan, ramen is considered fast food, and it’s as ubiquitous as burgers, sandwiches, and pizza by the slice in the States. Whole eateries (called ramenya) are dedicated to the stuff, and they’re not shy about showcasing their offerings, either through photos or plastic replicas so well done that you can almost see the steam wafting off the vinyl chloride noodles.

Ironically, I ordered my first bowl of fresh ramen from a vending machine. Many ramenya prefer an automated system in which you choose what you want from a machine outside, insert your money, and take the ticket it spits out to the person at the counter inside. I liked it because I didn’t have to struggle with the language and could take my time marveling over the menu.

Kamukura's vending machine (Shinjuku, Tokyo) | Olympus E-P2, 9mm, 1/320, f9, ISO 1000

My meal looked just like the replica, and the noodles were chewy, savory, and comforting, with a bite that instant noodles never had. How had my parents kept this from me for so long? Were they even aware of this magic in a bowl?

My first bowl of fresh ramen | Canon 5D, 70mm, 1/40, f6.3, ISO 250

Little did I know that ramen had many more dimensions, as illustrated in Lucky Peach. The noodles could be curly or straight; the broth clear or milky, fishy or porky or both; the eggs soft-boiled, hard-boiled, or raw. And then there were the various combinations of toppings: green onion, seaweed, fishcake, pork, corn, spinach, bean sprouts. When I went back to Tokyo this past Thanksgiving, I made sure to squeeze in a few more bowls.

Kamukura ramen | Olympus E-P2, 18mm, 1/25, f5.6, ISO 1000

"Piss Alley" ramen | Canon 60D, 45mm, 1/50, f4, ISO 1250

"Piss Alley" ramen | Canon 60D, 50mm, 1/100, f4, ISO 1250

My ramen journey didn’t end there, however. Somehow during the course of writing this post, I became mildly obsessed with instant noodles and learned that they were invented by Taiwanese-born Momofuku Ando for Japan’s Nissin Foods. (I assume David Chang borrowed Ando’s name for his restaurant.) I also developed an unexpected longing for the Tung-I ramen of my youth.

I bought two packs at the Asian supermarket and saw that the packaging had changed a bit (“Unif” had been added to the name; the flavor was now simply “onion flavor”; instructions were also provided in German and Norwegian). In addition, the product was now made in Vietnam. Yikes! Did they change the recipe, too?

Tung-I instant ramen | Canon 60D, 40mm, 1/60, f4, ISO 1000

Tung-I ramen package | Canon 60D, 40mm, 1/100, f4, ISO 1000

Curious as I was, it took me a good two weeks to work up the courage to prepare one pack. Yes, I know that makes me sound like the biggest food snob, but not only was the fat/calorie content daunting, so were the ingredients. MSG was one thing, but what were disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and tertiary butylhydroquinone?

As it turned out, the ramen smelled and tasted exactly like I remembered, from the heavenly scalliony oil to the dried chives to the spirals of noodle. I ended up eating both packs with minimal guilt, knowing that I’d never knowingly eat instant ramen again.

Fresh ramen, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. And what about cup noodles…? Oh, why did I dare to eat this particular peach?

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Slapdash Culinary Adventure

Andrew Zimmern, genial host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, makes traveling, eating, and filming around the world look easy. I’m sure it helps that a professional crew of directors, writers, cameramen, and soundmen tag along on his excursions.

C and I had no such advantage when we decided to slap together a three-minute video for a “Share Your Adventure” video contest Lonely Planet was having. C learned about it at the start of Labor Day weekend, Friday, September 2. The deadline? Tuesday, September 6, at 11:59pm PST.

Ordinarily, we would’ve just thrown our hands in the air and spent the weekend as other Americans might (lounging by a refreshing body of water, congregating with friends in someone’s backyard for gossip and food), but the grand prize of $10,000 was just too tempting. We had no grandiose notions that we’d whip up a cinematic masterpiece in 96 hours, but maybe we could do something stupid/funny/intriguing enough to win the prize. What was there to lose except a few winks of sleep and maybe our trim physiques?

Sharing a culinary adventure (as opposed to urban, family, visual, and outdoor adventures) seemed to be our best bet. We brainstormed and considered cobbling together video footage we had taken while in Spain last year, or hitting San Francisco or Wine Country for new footage, but none of those options motivated us. I must’ve been subconsciously craving Shan Dong’s handmade noodles because Oakland’s Chinatown, right in our backyard, suddenly felt right.

And why not? With Chinese street signs; sidewalk grocers yelling out specials in Cantonese/Mandarin; windows displaying a menagerie of roasted animals; and droves of Asian locals elbowing past each other for the freshest bok choy, longan, and walter caltrops, Chinatown really is like stepping into another world.

With the Canon 60D and Olympus PEN EP-2, we filmed on Saturday and Sunday, spending four hours the first day and ten hours the next hobbling up and down every one of Chinatown’s 16 blocks at least half a dozen times. I don’t know how real TV people do it, but I jotted down a few lines of monologue the night before the first filming to give us some direction. But even my inner boy scout wasn’t prepared for the strangest development—the lack of hustle and bustle.

Chinatown on the weekend is usually a zoo of double-parked cars, sidewalk vendors hawking miscellany such as (illegal?) baby turtles, extended families heading to dim sum, and locals buying groceries for the evening. Much to our surprise and dismay, most people seemed to have left town for the weekend. On the up side, we didn’t have to wait long for our food and could film scenes with relative ease.

Still, we faced other minor challenges. The biggest one was probably getting up early enough to get to Madison Square Park by 8:30 a.m. to capture different groups practicing taiji, wushu, and kung fu. The other: Staying awake after dim sum (ordinarily, I’d go home in a daze and just laze around until the food coma wore off). It was also difficult coming up with witty commentary on the fly.

In fact, we reshot my pandan waffle and cassava cake scene (on separate days) because, after viewing the “dailies,” I was mortified by my unrehearsed ramblings (did you know that tapioca is made of cassava root? You do now). I actually felt like a sham for pretending I was taking my first bite of each…until I read Eating China‘s fascinating behind-the-scenes account of appearing on Bizarre Foods. That’s some talent right there—not letting multiple takes suck the freshness out of a moment.

Here’s a rundown of the places featured:

  • Gourmet Delight Seafood Restaurant (dim sum)
  • Shan Dong Restaurant (vegetable bun)
  • First Cake (bakery; formerly Delicious Food Co.)
  • Golden Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant (pho noodle soup)
  • Cam Huong (refrigerated coconut milk sweets in cups)
  • BC Deli Sandwiches (pandan waffle, cassava cakes)

In the end, our submission was disqualified for having music in it. Major bummer, for sure, but I for one appreciate the kick in the pants the contest gave us to create a travel video. C, on the other hand, would’ve preferred spending that weekend lounging by a refreshing body of water, congregating with friends in someone’s backyard for gossip and food.

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Gettin’ Stuffed in Chicago Redux

Tortuga torta, Cafe con Leche | Canon 5D, 80mm, 1/100, f4, ISO 800

In tribute to the Nervous Eaters’ song “Get Stuffed” (see video below), I resolved to eat as much as I could while in Chicago for the HoZac Blackout music festival over Memorial Day weekend. No, the song isn’t about stuffing oneself in a gastronomical sense, but doing so is certainly the preferred alternative.

Unfortunately, I forgot I have trouble reaching my stomach’s maximum capacity whenever I travel. I can’t recall one single trip in which I had to unbutton my pants, waddle out of a restaurant clutching my belly in pain, or fall into a deep stupor shortly after a meal. Not even in Italy, where pizza comes in one size (12″?) and is meant to be consumed by one person—before continuing with the rest of the meal, which likely includes pasta, meat/seafood, salad, and dessert. And not even at Fresc Co in Seville, Spain, a branch of the all-you-can-eat buffet chain that seemed to be one of the few Spanish eateries that offers fresh vegetables and fruits that aren’t fried, deep-fried, or drowned in oil.

Oh wait! One time in NYC, after the Radio Heartbeat Power Pop Fest, I had two lunches two hours apart—one vegan lunch special at Sacred Chow, followed by $16 worth of sushi rolls and sashimi at Noodle Cafe Zen, one of those half-price sushi joints on St. Mark’s Place. I really didn’t need that second meal, but the goading and gusto of my visiting Italian friends created a moment of unexpected gluttony that I apparently remember with fondness.

Other than that, I seem to have a mental and physical block against gorging in destinations other than my home turf, which is not a bad thing. The last things I need are gastrointestinal discomfort and ill-fitting pants getting in the way of my rabid sightseeing or, in this case, hours of standing in front of deafening speakers with no indoor plumbing in sight.

So I failed my mission to stuff my face to the fullest this weekend (see rundown below), but did manage to eat well regardless. Thank you, Chicago! May I eat your deliciousness again soon!

WEDNESDAY

[NOT PICTURED] 1:00pm: San Francisco Soup Company at SFOLarge Southwestern corn chowder in sourdough bread bowl. I ate all the soup (highly recommended if you’re looking for relatively cheap but filling airport food) and saved the dense, chewy bread bowl for the flight. Good thing, toonot only was our plane late, we sat on the tarmac for at least an hour before taking off.

[NOT PICTURED] 11:30am: Big Star4 fried tilapia tacos topped with a smoky, addictive chipotle mayo, 1 spicy ejote (green beans) taco. I meant to eat only one fish taco but it was too good to stop at one. As for the green bean taco, the texture of a green bean just doesn’t work well.

THURSDAY

11:30am: Yuca Cafe—2 poached eggs on challah bread with home fries (sausages went to M), a dish called “Rocky Mountains” on the menu. I ordinarily associate this food term with bull testicles, but if it means I don’t have to agonize over ordering something sweet or savory, I’m all for it. By transferring the eggs onto the potatoes and smothering the challah (flavored with cinnamon and vanilla and lightly fried) with pure maple syrup, I essentially had two breakfasts. OMG, can you hear me drooling all over again?

"Rocky Mountains," Yuca Cafe | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/40, f4, ISO 1250

[NOT PICTURED] 1:00pm: Bake—1 chocolate chip banana cookie, 1 pretzel chocolate chip cookie. They were exquisite but too melty to be photographed.

[NOT PICTURED] 11:30pm: El Cid3 grilled fish tacos, rice, beans, and 1,000 chips. The tacos here were a letdown after Big Star.

[NOT PICTURED] 12:15am: Longman & Eagle—Small plate of decadent beef fat fries that killed my craving for any more food. And then my moist pineapple upside-down cake with boozy cherries and toasted coconut arrived. It was flavorful but I was glad everyone wanted a bite.

FRIDAY

12:00pm: Cafe Con Leche (Wicker Park)—Baskets of freshly made chips and salsa; huevos montados (poached eggs over thick sopes, or corn husk shells) with two kinds of salsa and black beans. It was satisfying but not mind-blowing. Perhaps I should’ve gotten a tostonillo instead, a sandwich that substitutes bread with fried plantains.

Chips & salsa, Cafe Con Leche | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/50, f4, ISO 640

Huevos montados, Cafe Con Leche | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/100, f4, ISO 800

(This was the day we checked into Longman & Eagle. Check out their see-through shower; the frosted-glass toilet is right next to it.)

Room, Longman & Eagle | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/50, f4, ISO 1000

7:00pm: New Wave Coffee—Vegan chocolate cupcake, simple, moist, delectable. I can’t believe I didn’t get more over the weekend.

Vegan chocolate cupcake, New Wave Coffee | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/80, f5.6, ISO 100

1:55am: Longman & Eagle—Small bowl of mixed nuts.

After hours at Longman & Eagle | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/25, f4, ISO 1250

SATURDAY

1:00pm: Longman & Eagle—”Market scramble of roasted Nichols Farm peppers, Werp Farms arugula, foraged mushrooms, and housemade fromage blanc” served over a croissant with home fries. Tasty! Since I didn’t have dinner the night before and knew that I’d probably skip dinner again, I also ordered Bananas Foster french toast with banana pudding, bourbon caramel sauce, and goat cheese semifreddo. I liked it, but the french toast could’ve been soaked longer for a more custardy texture.

Scramble over croissant, Longman & Eagle | Canon 5D, 70mm, 1/40, f4, ISO 1250

Bananas Foster french toast, Longman & Eagle | Canon 5D, 82mm, 1/40, f4, ISO 1250

12:00am: Rockin’ Horse—Veggie burger and too salty cajun fries. Thanks to Jason Morgan (of East Bay Grease, who have a single titled “Just Head”) for buying.

Burgers & fries, Rockin' Horse | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/8, f6.3, ISO 800

SUNDAY

[NOT PICTURED] 3:00pm: Zen Noodles & Sushi (delivery)—Cambodian fried rice. I love plain ol’ Chinese fried rice, but adding basil pushes it to another taste dimension.

8:00pm: Boiler Room—Hummus with the best grilled flat bread ever (dense, chewy, almost like focaccia); too-tangy salad with pieces of grilled focaccia. It also has Jameson soft-serve ice cream, which 1 out of 4 people in our party liked. The bathrooms are like mini CTA trains!

Hummus and grilled flat bread, Boiler Room | Canon 60D, 50mm, 1/6, f1.8, ISO 1600

MONDAY

1:00pm: Handlebar—Vegan biscuits with seitan sausage gravy and poached eggs. It was really toothsome but almost had too much gravy. M and I split  the hot, gooey fried pies: one filled with PB&J and the other with blueberries. They reminded me of being at a county fair.

Vegan biscuits with seitan sausage gravy and poached eggs, Handlebar | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/50, f4, ISO 800

Fried pies and ice cream, Handlebar | Canon 5D, 93mm, 1/50, f4, ISO 800

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Ferry ‘cross the Mersey with Clinic

Clinic, The Independent, San Francisco, 2008 | Canon 5D, 58mm, 1/60 f4, ISO 1600

Born and bred in Liverpool, Ade Blackburn of Clinic was kind enough to share his favorite and least favorite spots with JetLag RocknRoll—handy for those of us visiting the historic, musical city in the near future.

Speaking of Clinic, have you seen the cute, magical video from their latest album Bubblegum? It makes me crave Bubble Yum and Bubblelicious.

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Five on Friday: Splurging in Sebastopol

Warm scone with farm-fresh accompaniments | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/125 f4, ISO 100

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of spending a gorgeous spring day in Sebastopol with Marcy Gordon, the witty, snarky fireball behind the “accidental” wine blog, Come for the Wine. I’d visited this patchouli-and-hemp-laced town once before, in 2009, and dined with great gusto on a few costly vegan selections from the bustling Whole Foods deli. That being my only gastronomic experience in Sebastopol, I expected something similar when Marcy suggested we sate our starving selves at Peter Lowell’s, which she described as vegan and macrobiotic.

It turns out that Peter Lowell’s bills itself as “West County organic” and I immediately thought of the Berkeley equivalent, Gather—organic, locally grown, sustainable, blah blah blah. Gather is tasty but pretentious (have you seen Portlandia? Please recall the restaurant chicken scene) and pricey. Pizzas aside, their portions could fit on a dish sponge. If you’re in my tax bracket and share my healthy appetite, you’ll probably need to hit a drive-thru afterward or pray you have leftovers at home.

Happily, very few items were over $10 so I allowed myself an apple-Asian pear juice ($2.50) while I tried to figure out if I felt sweet or savory. Marcy decided right away on the fresh-baked scone plate ($7): warm, lightly sweet, and studded with nuts and chewy bits of fruit. It arrived with fluffy, naturally sweet whipped cream, tangy kiwi jam, slices of blood orange and apple, and what looked like butter.

She also ordered the basic breakfast ($7): two poached eggs, roasted fingerling potatoes, sourdough toast, and thick bacon.

Basic breakfast | Canon 5D, 105mm, 1/160 f4, ISO 250

Rather than agonizing over the menu further, I settled on the Spanish tortilla (potato omelet) made with duck eggs ($10) as well as the poached eggs over braised greens and polenta ($9.50). I assumed: 1) the plates would be fairly small and 2) Marcy would help me out if I got stuck. (Little did I know that Marcy’s stomach capacity rivals that of a three-year-old.)

The use of fresh duck eggs intrigued me. I understand that you can cook with them as you would chicken eggs, but I’ve only had duck eggs the Chinese way: preserved and salted, and preserved in a visually displeasing mixture of ash, clay, salt, and lime (it seriously looks like dung) and then buried for up to several months. This latter method produces what’s erroneously known as the thousand-year-old egg, a “cooked” specimen that bears a brown, translucent “white” festooned with delicate fern patterns (I still haven’t figured out what causes that) and a bluish-green yolk that tends to be gooey when the egg is relatively fresh out of hibernation. It tastes like a mild brie, and lately I’ve wondered when in the near future a maverick chef will spread it on a baguette and serve it for $12. I’m a fan of both types of eggs, although I do prefer the thousand-year-old egg yolk solid rather than runny.

Funnily, the center of the tortilla was slightly runny, but bore no resemblance otherwise to thousand-year-old eggs or brie. The rest of the dense omelet engulfed onions, chunks of potato, and jolts of goat cheese. As far as omelets go, it was fine, but I might as well have been eating a chicken egg concoction. Was I setting my bar too high? I don’t even know if plain duck eggs are any different flavor-wise than their chicken counterparts. I guess this calls for a taste test soon.

Spanish tortilla made with duck eggs, garnished with fava bean pesto and spicy aioli | Canon 5D, 70mm, 1/160 f4, ISO 250

The creamy polenta and eggs, dusted with parmesan and bread crumbs, more than made up for my momentary disappointment, although I honestly didn’t need this second meal. Sure, I could’ve boxed it up, taken it home, and eaten it six hours later, but that’s not my style. It was meant to be eaten warm, before it started congealing in all the wrong ways. My salivary glands kick into gear just thinking about it…

Poached eggs over braised greens and creamy polenta | Canon 5D, 73mm, 1/160 f4, ISO 125

After polishing off both plates and the rest of the scone, I eyed Marcy’s half-eaten breakfast and wondered if I really needed to scavenge the potatoes from her plate. In the end, I determined that I was content—not hungry, not pants-unbuttoning stuffed. OK, maybe I was just a tad over the edge…

And then the waitress came by with the dessert menu.

Since when does brunch conclude with dessert???

Always ready to eschew tradition, I had her deliver the chocolate budino ($6): a dark chocolate mousse in a chocolate tart crust, topped with fresh whipped cream, salted caramel sauce, and crunchy chocolate cookie bits. Marcy managed a bite; I devoured the rest. Yes, it was divine. Yes, I would get it again.

Chocolate budino | Canon 5D, 100mm, 1/125 f4, ISO 250

Afterward, we zipped along Florence Avenue, past the parade of exquisitely executed junk-art sculptures by Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent. (I learned later that Tom Waits lives in Sebastopol, and imagined that he probably has one of these whimsical sculptures in his yard, too.) Luckily, my food coma managed to delay itself until I was halfway home. Thank you, Sebastopol, for showing me that I can indulge in locally grown, organic fare without breaking my budget and, more importantly, without having to stop off at Jack in the Box for a post-meal snack. I hope to eat in you again soon.

Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent sculpture | Canon 5D, 45mm, 1/100 f4, ISO 200

Guayaki Yerba Mate Bar

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Five on Friday: Thinking of Japan

Enoshima island and Sagami Bay | Canon Digital Rebel XT, 17mm, 1/320 f5.6, ISO 100

Even before today’s devastating earthquake/tsunami, Japan and its people, places, and food have been on my mind a lot lately. Watching footage of the tsunami bulldozing its way across the island has been, for lack of a better description, truly humbling. Sending positive energy to Japan with a double dose of some of my favorite moments there.

Tokyo viewed from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building | Diana F+, 75mm, Kodak Tri-X 400

Shibuya street crossing | Diana F+, 75mm, Kodak Tri-X 400

Outdoor food stall | Diana F+, 75mm, Kodak 400 VC

Ramen | Canon 5D, 29mm, 1/80 f4, ISO 800

Three-person eatery in Golden Gai, Shinjuku | Canon 5D, 17mm, 1/40 f4, ISO 800

Woman heals herself with incense smoke, Senso-ji temple, Asakusa | Canon Digital Rebel XT, 40mm, 1/320 f6.3, ISO 100

Ashtray cleaner, Shibuya station | Canon Digital Rebel XT, 40mm, 1/250 f8, ISO 100

Wedding portrait at Meiji Jingu Shrine | Canon 5D, 27mm, 1/400 f5, ISO 400

Little Elvis Ryuta and the SRP, Red Cloth, Shinjuku | Canon Digital Rebel XT, 17mm, 1/25 f5.6, ISO 400

Digital Rebel XT

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Five on Friday: Paris Pleasures

Domokun and the Eiffel Tower | Canon PowerShot A80, 8mm, 1/160 f8, ISO ?

March 4, 2008, marked my fourth sojourn to Paris (you can peruse the journal notes from my inaugural trip here). Some globetrotters might balk at repeat visits to one destination, but sometimes I can’t help myself, just like when I’m compelled to listen to the same song over and over again or eat the same meal for days, if not weeks. I’ve come to believe that you can’t really get a sense of a place until you’ve scratched the main attractions off your to-do list and moved on to exploring–even getting lost–off the tourist track. Of course, you could simply skip the tourist itinerary altogether and jump to step 2, but I’ve done that before, too, and returned home feeling like I missed out on something.

It was during this fourth visit that I confirmed that, aside from the Bay Area, I could see myself living in the City of Light. Sure, the sidewalks are often dotted with landmines of poodle poo and sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re in the proximity of rank, unwashed feet or just a wedge of well-aged Camembert. But cinematic Robert Doisneau moments pop up everywhere (stylish couples still kiss in the middle of the street while entwined in a statuesque embrace!) and sinful patisseries grace virtually every block. The city is charming, inspiring, and infinitely photogenic. An Old World air endures despite its growing reputation as a “European city of the future.”

Patisseries galore | Canon 5D, 50mm, 1/60 f8, ISO 200

I’ll admit that there are quite a few touristy things I still haven’t tired of: Standing beneath the Eiffel Tower and craning my neck to see the tip. Inhaling the sweeping views from both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triompe. Crossing the Seine onto Île de la Cité. Navigating around the sculptures and sepulchers in the various verdant cemeteries. Marveling the bony architecture of the Catacombs. Strolling through Jardin des Tuileries when the multicolor tulips are in bloom….I really could go on forever like a smitten schoolgirl.

View from Arc de Triomphe | Canon 5D, 28mm, 1/200 f8, ISO 100

Notre Dame de Paris interior | Canon 5D, 40mm, 1/20 f4, ISO 500

Surprises are wonderful, too, such as squeezing into a jam-packed, thimble-sized bar to see a raucous garage band from Montreal, Canada; discovering a vegetarian bistro with a thoughtfully prepared menu; playing video games in an opulent squat located in a crumbling fin de siècle building; and finding that you have a corner of the Louvre all to yourself.

Perhaps one day my rose-colored glasses will fade and I’ll no longer salivate at the thought of eating several pastries a day (future Five on Friday theme?), but until then, I’ll dream of Paris’s extraordinary combination of variety and familiarity as well as its efforts to sabotage my waistline.

Les Breastfeeders (Canada), La Feline Bar | Canon 5D, 24mm, 0.4sec f8, ISO 400

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