Tag Archives: Travel

Rethinking Airplane Food

This fall, Continental joins every other major U.S. airline when it ends free economy-class meals on domestic flights. Like checked luggage and bulkhead seats, in-flight meals join the list of existing amenities that airlines are looking to spin into upgrades. The stuff of jokes probably since the dawn of aviation, few are mourning their passing.

Entrees On Trays

Prison food, hospital food, school cafeterias— has anything good ever been served on a divided tray? In fairness, serving meals at 40,00 feet poses unique challenges of logistics, space, cooking technology, and security. On top of all that, the altitude messes with the body’s sense of taste.

When ‘beef or chicken?’ is a trick question.

The recently published Titanic Awards, a celebration of dubious achievements in travel, identifies the 5 worst airline meals of all time. The current titleholder is Estonian Air’s Baltic herring (we think) with potato salad.

Airline food doesn’t have to suck.

It is a whole different scene at the front of the plane. A seat in the first-class cabin of Singapore Airlines can get you pan-seared scallops and grilled-to-order steak washed down with fine French wines (the airline happens to be the world’s second-best customer of Dom Perignon Champagne). While airlines typically spend about $5.00 for an economy class meal, the cost can soar to over $100 in first class.

Before you book your summer travel, take a look at these online resources to see what you can expect on your tray. Personally, I say the airlines can keep their meals. I’ll pack a sandwich. But how about a little extra legroom?

The Independent Traveler presents a survey of food service on major domestic carriers.

The Diet Detective rates the healthfulness of on-board meals and snacks.

Air Meals has a staggeringly complete photo gallery of airplane food. More than 18,000 photographs depict meals served on 552 airlines around the world. Other galleries on the site are devoted to vintage airline advertisements, crew meals, and in-flight dining scenes on film.

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Burgernomics: The Big Mac Index

A ride on a city bus costs more than $7.00 in Oslo but only 7¢ in Mumbai.
The same iPad 2 that sells for over $1,000 in Buenos Aires can be picked up for half that price in Bangkok.
But when we really want to understand purchasing power, we look at global Big Mac prices.

A Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you go.
The McDonald’s Big Mac is an ideal indicator. With a few accommodations to local tastes, it’s the same sesame seed bun, same special sauce, same double beef patties, made to identical specifications by all of the company’s franchisees around the globe. Unlike transit or tablet computers, the Big Mac includes inputs from a wide range of local area sectors from agriculture to advertising, and hires a mix of white and blue collar workers.

A theory of burger-buying parity
The Big Mac Index has been published annually in The Economist since 1986. The index demonstrates the purchasing power of consumers around the globe by converting the world’s currencies to a hamburger standard. Purchasing parity would mean that every consumer world-wide is paying the same equivalent price (in their local currency) for a Big Mac. If you’re paying more than the fair-value burger benchmark, you live in a country with an over-valued currency; conversely a cheap Big Mac signals an under-valued currency.

Travel across the European continent and the power of currency valuations comes to life. A mere 17 Ukrainian hryvnias (the equivalent of $2.11) gets you a burger in Kiev; hungry in Hungary and you’ll spend 645 forints ($2.63), while in Copenhagen the same Big Mac costs more than double that amount ($5.37) in Danish krones.

The Big Mac Index locates most of the world’s under-valued currencies in Asian countries—no big surprise to anyone who shops at big box discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco where more than 90% of the merchandise can come from China. Taiwan, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, and Hong Kong are all under-valued by more than 40%. India, home to the index’s cheapest burger, the $1.62 Maharaja Mac, also has the cheapest currency, the 60% under-valued rupee. Switzerland and Norway top the list with the priciest Big Macs, quadruple the cost of an Indian burger ($6.81 and $6.79), and the most over-valued currencies (62% ).

You can see the full data set here.


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Pizza-nomics: Pegging a Subway Ride to the Price of a Slice

$2.50 doesn’t go very far in New York City.
Two things it will buy: a slice of pizza and a ride on the subway.
Through a strange and delicate interplay of markets in New York, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

The economic axiom known as the New York Pizza Connection or Pizza Principle was advanced in the early 1980’s. The uncanny parallel was first noticed when the cost of a single ride was being raised to $2.00, the same as the then-prevailing price of a single slice. A look back showed that this economic law had held with remarkable precision since 1964, when both items ran for 15 cents. Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since.

The decades since the discovery have brought plenty of change to transportation and street food. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system. Pizza parlors have battled invading food trucks and the low-carb craze of the Atkins diet. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to flour, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

On the surface, the relationship might seem arbitrary—aren’t pizza and subway rides comparison-defyingly disparate? To a New Yorker, there’s nothing haphazard or esoteric about the connection. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.



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The Porkapalooza Roadshow is Coming to Your Town

Pignal via Cochon 555

The traveling pig fest rolls on in 2012.
Now in its fourth year, the high-profile touring porcine bacchanalia known as Cochon 555 will travel the country looking for this year’s King or Queen of Pork.

555: 5 chefs, 5 pigs, 5 wines
Cochon 555 holds culinary competitions in 10 cities—NY, SF, Napa, Portland, and the rest of the usual foodie suspects. At each stop, five prominent local chefs are paired with five whole heritage breed pigs and matched with five wines. They’re given a week to prepare a whole hog feast that’s judged by attendees at a public tasting. The 10 regional winners face off in a grand finale when the tour wraps up at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

The chefs dream up menus utilizing every bit from snout to tail: all manner of charcuterie; pork belly slabs and tenderloin slices; liver-stuffed dumplings and heart-stuffed ravioli; salads of lardo topped with lardons; ribs and chops galore. You’ll drink pork fat digestifs with bacon swizzle sticks, and dessert might bring a piggy popsicle or sweet and crunchy pig ears.

Brady Lowe, Cochon 555’s founder, thought up the pork Olympics as an entertaining way to educate consumers about heritage breeds and the sources of a more natural, sustainable food system. It pits chef against chef, but also breed against breed: the rich marbling of a Berkshire pig against the bacon-friendly Tamworth, the lardy Ass Black Limousin against the beefy Red Wattle; each with its own deeply distinctive flavor and fat distribution. Breed loyalties and passions run so high that a food fight broke out in the aftermath of the Portland round, complete with tasers, contusions, and chef mug shots, when a local hog was slighted.

You can expect plenty of fireworks, culinary amd otherwise, when the tour kicks off in New York later this month.

Cochon 555’s 2012 Schedule 22:
· New York, January 22
· Napa, January 29
· Memphis, February 4
· Portland, March 11
· Boston, March 25
· Miami, April 1
· Washington DC, April 22
· Chicago, April 29
· Los Angeles, May 6
· San Francisco, May 20
·The Grand Cochon, Aspen, June 17

Tickets will be available on the Cochon 555 website.



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Kim Jong Il: You Are What You Eat

Kim Jong Il

We don’t know the contents of his nuclear arsenal, but we have a pretty good idea of what was inside Kim Jong Il’s refrigerator.

In 2003, a Japanese sushi chef bearing the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto penned a memoir, I Was Kim Jong-il’s Cook. Writing from Japan, where he lives in hiding for fear of being targeted by North Korean agents, Fujimoto detailed his 13 years as the dictator’s personal chef. The book, published in Korean and Japanese, draws a portrait of Kim and his family living a pampered, decadent existence, treating North Korea like their personal plantation and feasting on the world’s delicacies while millions of citizens starved.

Kim was slow to admit foreign food donations to ease his nation’s constant famines, but regularly sent Fujimoto on international missions to satisfy his own appetites. A typical shopping trip included northwestern China for melons and grapes; Thailand and Malaysia for durians, papayas, and mangoes; Czechoslovakia for beer; pork from Denmark; Iran and Uzbekistan for caviar; Japan for seafood and rice cakes; plus the occasional jaunt to Beijing for a sack of McDonald’s hamburgers.

Kim fancied himself to be quite the epicure, although at 5’2″(not counting the 4-inch lifts in his shoes) and 196 pounds he was clearly as much glutton as gourmet. He collected thousands of cookbooks, was reputedly the world’s largest customer of Hennessey cognac, and issued exacting orders for food preparation. Before cooking, the kitchen staff had to scrutinize each grain of rice and discard any blemished by irregularities of shape or color. The rice had to be cooked in spring water from Kim’s private source and steamed over a wood fire using trees cut from a single peak along the Chinese border.

Japanese sushi was a particular favorite of Kim’s, which explains Fujimoto’s presence in his entourage. He claimed a palate so discerning that he could detect a variation of just a few grams of seasoning in the sushi’s rice, and liked fish to be so fresh that it would twitch on his plate. Kim’s sushi obsession ultimately provided an escape route for Fujimoto. In 2001, growing fearful of the paranoid and oppressive regime, the chef showed Kim an episode of the Japanese cooking show Which Dish?, tempting him with a special sea urchin dish. He offered to travel to the Japanese island of Hokkaido to shop for sea urchins, and once there he sought asylum from Japanese authorities.

Fujimoto’s memoir has value beyond the voyeuristic appeal of his tales of excess. He was one of the few foreigners to document life inside the closed, secretive North Korean society, and analysts from international intelligence agencies have mined the details for insight into Kim Jong Il’s nature. Jerrold M. Post, the former director of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, built a profile of Kim based largely on information about his eating habits. He diagnosed Kim as a ‘malign narcissist’ convinced of his “special sense of self so that there is no contradiction between the exquisite care that goes into his own cuisine and the fact that half his population is starving.”

In the late 1990s, while Kim indulged shamelessly in the world’s finest food and wines, the state’s propaganda machinery was advising famine stricken North Koreans to dine on foraged grasses and ground tree bark, and its police were sweeping through markets, confiscating smuggled food imports as symbols of ‘rotten bourgeois ideology.’  There were an estimated 2 million deaths by starvation, and 45% of North Korea’s young children were permanently stunted by malnutrition. Fujimoto’s memoir is not a portrait of a world-class epicure, but of a world-class sociopath.



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American is the New Ethnic

photo via Meat America

There’s a culinary frontier right in our own backyard.

We spent the past few decades mastering the fine points of regional cooking from all around the globe— we know our Szechaun from our Cantonese, our Burgandy from our Provençal, and can spot a Neapolitan pizza at fifty paces. It’s time to come home.

America’s regional cuisines are getting their due. Finally.
For years, American food was ridiculed abroad and ignored at home. American food was what we ate in diners and fast food joints; fine dining was synonymous with French cuisine and Continental restaurants.

Not anymore. Seriously credentialed and pedigreed chefs are exploring the foods of every region and sub-region from every corner of the U.S. They’re treating our regional dishes with the respect previously reserved for the imports, elevating both the cuisine’s stature and our pleasure.

Chefs are combining contemporary aesthetics and local ingredients into modern incarnations of regional cuisines. They’re exploring indigenous flavors and products from the well-known regional cuisines of  New England, New Orleans, and the Southwest; fast-rising regions like the Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest; and newly emerging sub-regions like Hawaii and Florida’s Panhandle.

Of course we’re still a big, old melting pot. We have a vast and complex culinary heritage that continues to be renewed and enriched as new ethnic groups and generations add to the mix.

Regional American food is constantly evolving and will never truly reach its fullest enunciation. Some are troubled by the notion of a cuisine that defies a tidy definition, wondering if there is a true American cuisine. But that’s just culinary semantics. American food is in a constant cycle of rediscovery and renewal, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

Open Table has just released its 2011 Diners’ Choice Awards. They culled over 10 million individual reviews to name the top 100 restaurants serving American cusine.

The all-American food marketplace Foodzie offers carefully curated tasting boxes that let you choose representative regional products from small-batch producers.



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How Far Would You Go For a Meal?

A strange little story got picked up recently by the national news agencies:
Man Drives 1,400 Miles for Pizza.
It seems that David Schuler, a resident of  Jackson, Mississippi makes regular pizza runs to Town Spa Pizzeria in his former hometown of  Stoughton, Massachusetts.

Traveling for a special meal is nothing new. The Michelin guidebooks turned it into a provincial French industry nearly a century ago, and today, a third Michelin star is a global event. 100,000 out-of-towners tried to book dinner and a hotel room when that third star was awarded to Noma, a Nordic/Scandinavian restaurant that’s rather obscurely located in a warehouse on Copenhagen’s Greenlandic Trading Square.

The International Culinary Tourism Association defines a destination restaurant as “a restaurant that is so interesting, different, or special that people travel just to eat there.” Usually this means that the food, the service, the decor, the setting—any or all of these factors—are so distinctive, so unique, or so authentic and typical of a place or style, that the restaurant creates a singular culinary experience.

Mr. Schuler’s trip raised eyebrows because Town Spa Pizzeria doesn’t seem to fit the bill as a culinary destination. There are no Zagat ratings or stars, Michelin or otherwise; it doesn’t even make the Globe’s cut for the top 25 pizza’s in the greater Boston area. And let’s not forget that his road trip took him through more than a dozen states, including such pizza strongholds as New York, Philadelphia, and New Haven.

What the culinary tourism professionals don’t understand is that the best food destinations are more than just notable dining experiences. They are great adventures that are etched in our memories—the time zones crossed, the inaccessible location, the sheer audacity of the journey can all punctuate a meal with a piquancy that’s all its own.

By that definition, Town Spa Pizzeria made for a worthy culinary destination for Mr. Schuler.

For the record, he placed a takeout order for 150 frozen, par-baked, vacuum sealed pies, evenly split between cheese, linguica and onion, and pepper and onion.



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5 Must-Try Dumplings

Is there anywhere on the planet where dumplings aren’t eaten?

Everybody loves dumplings.
Italians have ravioli and the Germans have spätzle. There’s Japanese gyoza, Polish pierogies, African fufu, and Cuban papas rellenas. Dumplings soar to new heights with the culture and traditions of Chinese dim sum, and you can’t be Jewish without yearning for a matzoh ball now and then.

At its most basic, a dumpling is the simplest of concepts: a cooked ball of dough. It can be made from potato, flour, rice, or bread. Dumplings can be sweet or savory, filled or unfilled, steamed, simmered, fried, baked, or boiled. They can appear as any course at any meal, at any time of day or night. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, there’s a dumpling option for you.

The Essential, Must-Try Dumplings
It’s not all wontons and ravioli; there’s a great big world of dumplings out there. Here are 5 to try:

http://thumbs.ifood.tv/files/images/food/vareniki-03.jpgVarenyky (Ukraine)
Savory varieties are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, fried cubes of uncured pork fatback, and fried onions. Fruit-filled sweet ones are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, honey, or raspberry jam. Either way, Time Magazine once called varenyky the greatest of all European foods.


Pelmeni (Russia)
Smaller than varenyky, with thinner dumpling skins, pelmeni are always savory and have a higher filling to dough ratio. Frozen bags of pre-made pelmeni are so ubiquitous that they are seen as student or bachelor food, kind of like our instant ramen.


http://www.spicemagazine.com.au/Tortellini.jpgTortellini (Italy)
You can readily buy tortellini that is dried, frozen, and  canned in soup. But don’t. You want it freshly-made and served in a rich meat broth—the classic tortellini en brodo—in a shape that pays tribute to Venus’ belly button.



Xiaolongbao/Soup Dumplings (Shanghai)
Thin, chewy dumpling skins, mild, gingery filling, all bathed in a few spoonfuls of steamy broth— the first bite of a Shanghai soup dumpling is a rich, juicy explosion that plays like a symphony in your mouth.


http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_d76A8FQ9xm0/SNRtp0XsOAI/AAAAAAAAApE/KytPF1r9ruI/s400/DSCN7795+-+apple+dumpling+1.jpgApple Dumpling (U.S.-Amish)
It’s a whole apple sweetened with sugar and cinnamon encased in a flaky pastry, and you get to eat it for breakfast, Pennsylvania Dutch-style. Think of it as a precursor to the Pop-Tart.


http://gourmaverett.pbworks.com/f/aushak.jpgAushak (Afghanistan)
Aushak’s closest relative is the Italian ravioli with meat sauce; but that is merely a reference point. The dough is thinner and more delicate, the filling is a sharp puree of leeks or scallions, and it’s topped with two sauces, one of spiced, finely ground lamb, and a second sauce of yogurt that cools the kick of the other.


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The Middle East Falafel Conflict

image via Falafel Road

The Arab-Israeli conflict is playing out over a pita sandwich.

Does the falafel belong to the Arabs or the Israelis?
This is no ordinary food fight. It might seem like a silly and inconsequential question, but it captures the essence of a conflict that has been one of the most world’s most complex and intractable struggles for nearly a century. Whether it’s the falafel or the West Bank, it boils down to the same issue of the legitimacy of claims, and in the Middle East, both sides take it very seriously.

Here in the U.S., we have a hard time comprehending its significance.
We’ve always been culinary magpies. We’re content with borrowing hamburgers from the Germans and pizza from the Italians, and tossing it all into our great melting pot. Cultural expressions like food take on new meaning when your society is threatened with eradication. To Arabs and Israelis, dominion over the local dish demonstrates a toehold on the land.

In the 1960s, there was a deliberate effort to create a collective Israeli identity along side the nation building campaign. Falafel was an obvious symbol: it’s made from local, desert foods and is a parve dish that fits with kosher laws. It had been eaten for centuries by the Mizrahi, the Middle Eastern Jews who then comprised 70% of Israel’s Jewish population and are still the majority. It quickly became an icon of Israeli culture and the official national dish of the young state.

The problem is that falafel is also a staple of the Arab diet. Israel’s Arab neighbors saw it as another way in which the European-descended Jews appropriated what was theirs. It became part of the wider conflict, finding its way into debates over territory and history.

The debate has spilled over into international courts, with the Lebanese Industrialists Association claiming copyright infringement over falafel recipes. Arts groups like Falafel Road and the theatrical production the Arab-Israeli Cookbook have examined issues of culinary colonialism through culture. And there is an ongoing battle for supremacy in the record books, as national teams compete to fry up the world’s largest chick pea fritter. It’s even crossed oceans to Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, where a long-established Palestinian falafel stand is facing a challenge from an Israeli-American owned food truck.

At the center of the controversy is the humble falafel, a spicy fried rissole made from mashed chick peas or beans that is the most unlikely of political footballs.

You can see the conflict play out in the West Bank Story, a musical spoof of West Side Story that tells the story of the forbidden love between David, an Israeli soldier, and the Palestinian cashier Fatima, the children of rival falafel stand owners in modern day Israel. It won the 2007 Oscar for best live action short, and is available on Netflix.

Read about McDonald’s failed foray into the falafel : McDonald’s Israel. But is it McKosher?


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A Most Unusual Restaurant Map



You ate what?! You ate where?!

You know the feeling. Chinese—been there; pizza—done that. The taste buds are feeling a little jaded, the neighborhood spots are old hat. If only there was a restaurant where you could be served by monkey waiters. Or nuns. Or a restaurant with an all-blueberry menu, or one with straw-hatted donkeys wandering between tables waiting for leftovers.

The Google Map of The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World is here to rescue you from the same old, same old. The map, assembled by an eccentric Russian foodie, is marked with hundreds of little map pins, each with the promise of a unique dining experience. There are rare delicacies, exotic settings, quirky service, and wacky themes.

Restaurants with unusual settings.
You can dine in a quarry or a tree house, underground, or under the sea. There are working prisons, churches, cemeteries, and sewage treatment plants with restaurants open to the public. You can dine at the rim of an active volcano, in a Mediterranean fishing hut, or feast on cabbage soup and pelmeni in Stalin’s bunker.

Restaurants with unusual service.
Yes, there really are monkey waiters at Japan’s Kayabukiya Tavern; they prefer their tips in edamame. At Rome’s L’eau Vive, the serving nuns (who favor the title  ‘Missionary Workers of the Immaculate,’ or  ‘Daughters of the 44th Psalm’) dish up a fine plat du jour—today’s is steak served with an eggplant mousse and potato croquettes—or you can always order from the John Paul II Beatification Menu.

You can find meals delivered by robots, model trains, and catapult (at Bangkok’s Ka-tron Flying Chicken). Child labor laws are skirted at Holland’s Kinderkook Kafé, and good taste goes out the window at Hobbit House and Dwarfs Island (yes, little people do the serving).

Restaurants with unusual food.
There’s plenty of exotica; the bats, snakes, and sheep heads of foreign menus, but the map also points you to the prosaic. In addition to blueberries, you can find menus with nothing but potato dishes, grilled cheese sandwiches, apples, eggs, cheese, or breakfast cereal. For the truly undecided, one Thai restaurants checks your blood type and personality traits and then brings what it thinks is best; or you could try a restaurant where the customers choose each others meals.

There are restaurants where you catch your own fish or cook your own meal; others lend lonely diners a cat or bunny for company. You can eat in a recreated Jewish ghetto, Alice’s Wonderland, a vampire’s lair, or  a hospital room.

The Google Map of The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World  links to websites, menus, and directions. It’s a work in progress that welcomes your suggestions.



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Americans Love Ice Cubes. And we’re the only ones.

They do things a little different over there in Europe.
The main course comes before the salad, and they eat cheese for dessert. We’ll grant them a certain logic there. But the ice thing is a mystery.

Nothing refreshes a European like a lukewarm glass of Coca Cola.
We can assume they are refreshed, since that’s the beverage of choice when the thermometer hits 32° (that would be 90° to you and me). Ask for ice and the request is either met with a blank stare or fulfilled with two tiny slivers that dissolve on contact with the tepid beverage.

Here in the land of plenty, we take ice cubes for granted. We expect them in our soft drinks and in every glass of water at every restaurant. Our home refrigerators dispense a continual stream of them, and when there’s a party we buy bags of ice cubes to fill buckets and tubs. There’s an ice machine in the hallway and a bucket in every room of every hotel or motel from coast to coast. Just try and find that in Paris’ George V.

The ice cold war.
Historians, cultural critics, economists, culinarians, and the medical community have all weighed in on European ice avoidance. Theories abound to explain the continent’s cold shoulder:

  • The poor quality of many of Europe’s urban water supplies produces unpalatable cubes.
  • Energy costs are higher.
  • Smaller houses, smaller, kitchens, smaller freezers.
  • Teeth are overly sensitive to cold due to the notoriously inferior dental hygiene of certain nations.

And then there are the explanations for America’s warm embrace:

  • Big cups, loads of ice, free refills—in the U.S. we believe that more, not less, is more!
  • The taste of our inferior whiskeys and other spirits welcomes dilution.
  • Our taste buds lack an appreciation of nuance and subtlety.

Puis-je avoir de la glace s’il vous plaît?
Posso avere un po di ghiaccio per favore?
Могу ли я иметь лед, пожалуйста?
Kann ich etwas Eis bitte?¿Puedo tener un poco de hielo, por favor?
Can I have some ice please?


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Burgernomics: The Big Mac Index

image via Say It Ain't So, Joe

Yes, there’s endless news of the economy’s continuing slide into oblivion. But there’s another reason to be pessimistic: have you seen the price of a Big Mac?

A Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you go. Same sesame seed bun, same special sauce, same double beef patties. It’s a truly global consumer product comprised of the same tradeable goods and non-tradeable services worldwide. It should, in theory, cost roughly the same anywhere in the world.  Swap your dollars for the local currency, and the four dollars that got you a Big Mac in Des Moines should still buy you a burger in Kuala Lumpur, give or take a few Malaysian ringgits.

In fact we don’t have burger parity. Buy a Big Mac with Ukrainian hryvnias and you’ll pay less than two dollars; spend some Norwegian kroner and it will set you back more than eight dollars.

The Big Mac Index, compiled annually by The Economist, is designed to test the theory of burger-buying parity. It demonstrates the purchasing power of consumers around the globe by converting the world’s currencies to a hamburger standard. The fair-value benchmark– the point where there is purchasing parity between the nations– is the exchange rate that has every consumer world-wide paying the same price for a Big Mac. If you’re paying more than the benchmark price for a Big Mac, it tells you that you live in a country with an overvalued currency.

The burger barometer .
The ‘raw’ index is adjusted for GDP per person as a more meaningful guide to currency under- and overvaluation. The closer the adjusted index gets to zero, the closer a country comes to burger parity. The larger the difference, the more expensive it is, in real buying power, to purchase a Big Mac; a smaller number tells you the burger is a  bargain.

A look at the chart, below, and it’s clear that you pay a premium for special sauce in Latin America; the Brazilian real is the world’s most overvalued currency, with the Colombian and Argentinian pesos not far behind. The British pound is running almost even with the dollar, while the overvaluation of the euro zone seems to hint at the currency struggles of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. And for all our griping about the devalued Chinese yuan, when it comes to burgers, China’s currency is surprisingly close to its fair value against the dollar.

The Big Mac Index is undeniably simplistic. But it does make exchange rate theory a bit more digestible.



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Tired of fumbling with round fruit? Try a Square Watermelon.

http://www.crown-melon.com/The%20square%20watermelon.files/kaku-mae-big-shiro1.gifOur first glimpse of a square watermelon was in a cartoon. In Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo, our favorite television family was vacationing in Japan when Homer Simpson squandered so much of their vacation money on Japanese novelties, including a square watermelon, they were nearly stranded there forever.

It took a few more years for Japan’s farmers to catch up with Homer’s prescience.

Leave it to the Japanese to come up with this one. From bonsai trees, to compact cars, to miniaturized electronics, they have demonstrated their mastery of making things work in small spaces, and population-dense Japan is full of them. Homes are compact, the kitchens within them are tiny, and the refrigerators are positively Lilliputian.

Watermelons are big, roundish space hogs that have never fit well in Japanese refrigerators. This has been a particular concern in Japan, where melons hold a special place in society. The rarest and most exotic are sold as high-end gifts in luxury fruit shops. The nation tracks the springtime fruit harvest like baseball stats, when first-of-the season melons sell for astronomical sums—this year, a pair of Yubari cantaloupe fetched the top price of one million yen (about $12,400).

Square watermelons were created to accommodate Japanese refrigerators. While still growing on the vine, a farmer puts each immature melon into a square, tempered glass box that exactly matches refrigerator dimensions. The full-grown watermelon, once it’s removed from the box, fits precisely on refrigerator shelves.

Growers in California and Panama plan to introduce square watermelons into the American market. Even with our big, American-style refrigerators, we can appreciate the space savings—square melons take up less room, and therefore less energy, to cool, transport and display in stores. Less space means a smaller carbon footprint.
If you want round, you can always pull out the melon-baller.

Not just square: one Japanese grower has been fooling around with other shapes. See the watermelon heart, the pyramid, and more at Crown Melon.

Instructables has step-by-step instructions that show you how to grow your own square watermelon.


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The 10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving

[image via Los Angeles Times]

Texting while driving gets all the attention these days, but few things are more distracting than a hot cup of coffee in your lap.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified the ten most common and dangerous foods to eat or drink while driving, and naturally, coffee is at the top of the list. Even with a travel lid, coffee seems to find its way out of the cup. The other nine on the list are:

2. Soup and 3. Chili.  No explanation necessary.

4. Tacos.  A well-known tendency to disassemble.

5. Hamburgers.  Messy, often two-handed eating, with the added distraction of condiment packets.

6. Chicken and 7. Ribs.  Saucy and greasy, plus bones to navigate.

8. Jelly donuts.  The prudent choice is glazed.

9. Soft drinks The potential to fizz and spill increases when a can or bottle is involved.

10. Chocolate.  Sticky, melty, and a wrapper to negotiate.

It’s estimated that 80% of all car accidents are caused by distracted and multitasking drivers. Eating and drinking rate at least as high as cell phone use for their ability to distract a driver, but they are legal activities practiced by the vast majority of drivers. Mobile dining has been institutionalized through the proliferation of drive-through windows and in-vehicle dining accommodations like the 15(!) cup holders found in the Honda Odyssey.

More food-related accidents occur in the morning, when commuters make a greater effort to keep spills off of their work clothes. Manual transmissions contribute to the hazard, with gear-shifting adding one more variable to the equation. A cell phone call while eating and driving increases the risks exponentially.

Eating while driving is not in itself illegal, but plenty of citations have been issued to especially careless drivers. New Orleans Saint Bobby McCray was involved in a very public incident he called a DWP— Driving with Pizza, and one chronic offender was issued a restraining order banning all edibles from his car. In perhaps the most egregious example, the driver wasn’t cited for eating but for feeding. That would be breastfeeding, While driving. And she was on a cell phone.

Meals on wheels indeed.



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A Different Kind of Food TV.

We’ve been gorging on food shows.
Let’s be honest—what we watch is like so much junk food.

This is something new.
Food Forward has no celebrity chefs or anyone of the spokesmodel-pseudo-semi-chef ilk. There are no roguish bad boy types or cheeky Brits. We won’t be making over kitchens, egging on competitors, engaging in reality voyeurism, or bearing witness to stomach-churning displays of the gastronomically bizarre.

Food Forward follows Bay Area-based food writer Stett Holbrook as he circles the country in a vintage Airstream trailer, introducing viewers to constituents of America’s good food movement. Starting out in northern California, he’s hitting the road for the summer, film crew, wife, and two small children in tow. He will be introducing us to the new vanguard of food innovators; the producers, growers, chefs, farmers, scientists, community leaders, and teachers who are changing the way we eat.

Food Forward doesn’t dwell on the legion of ills associated with the industrial model of food production, leaving that to documentaries like Food, Inc. and King Corn. Instead, it explores themes like school lunches, urban agriculture, sustainable fishing, and pastured meats by celebrating the people who have succeeded in the creation of sustainable solutions. Each episode will showcase rural farmers, urban homesteaders, food festivals, and heroes of the DIY movement.

Food Forward is ‘penciled in’ to be broadcast on PBS stations this fall. In the meantime, you can follow the blog of the edible journey, currently traveling south through the Sierra foothills. There are key stops planned for Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Boulder, Austin, New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Washington, D.C, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Seattle, and Portland; and plenty in between.



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In-N-Out Burger: Coming to a Town Near You


Tweets were flying, food bloggers were posting furiously, and the local TV stations went on air with the news: In-N-Out was coming to New York!

Signs appeared one day last spring, posted on empty storefronts in several New York city locations, bearing the iconic yellow boomerang and these tantalizing words: In-N-Out Burger, Coming Summer 2010. Workers clad in company aprons and caps were handing out flyers announcing the grand opening scheduled for July 4th.

By day’s end, New York was a city of dashed dreams and empty bellies; In-N-Out was not on its way to New York—not that summer, maybe not ever. Its burger-loving denizens were the victims of an elaborate, almost too-cruel hoax perpetrated by the comedy website College Humor. It seems that the heady cocktail of desire and desperation made everyone forget the date. That’s right— April Fool’s. […]

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Tasty Cartography

funny food photos - Food Map


Google unleashed a beast when it gave the public access to the code for the Google Maps interface.
All of a sudden anything and everything could be turned into geography with a mash-up of data overlaying a map.

A Google Maps mash-up brought us a map of farm stands to shop for locally grown produce. A mash-up pinpoints every fast food hamburger from coast to coast, and another tells if a locality has more strip clubs, pizza parlors, or guns. There’s a map of happy hour specials for every day of the week, a  food truck location spotting map, and a map that can guide you through a multi-state burrito roadtrip, complete with reviews.

If it’s edible and mappable, it’s been mapped. […]

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Mmmm. Tastes Like Brooklyn.

Exit Sign: Brooklyn Bridge, southbound at Cadman Plaza West.

The hot dogs and pastrami will be halal when the Brooklyn Diner opens this week in Dubai.
This, the third location and the only one outside of New York, will will have the same neon signs, Ebbets Field mural, and brass plaques with names of American celebrities and sport figures as the original. Noodle kugel will be served with the pot roast and egg creams will be made with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup. They’ll still be using challah in the diner’s French toast, but it will be called egg bread, and the kosher pickles will be referred to as ‘sour dills.’
You don’t want to be too Jewish in Dubai. […]

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Best Food Town Around


Is it a cluster of Michelin-starred restaurants?
A distinct regional cuisine?.
Is it the availability of ingredients or the edible imprint of ethnic enclaves?

What is it that makes a place great for food lovers? […]

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The Food Hotel: Like sleeping in a supermarket aisle



Sweet Suites
A table that looks like a soup can, shopping cart chairs, and pillows shaped like Oreos. Luggage is stacked on supermarket shelving and clothing is stashed inside a freezer case. It’s a hotel room for someone who eats, breathes, and now sleeps food. Thirty-six of Germany’s biggest household names, including international brands like Coca-Cola and Unilever, teamed up with the hotel’s management to create unique, food-themed guestrooms.

The hotel is located in the Rhineland town of Neuwied, […]

Posted in food business | Tagged , | 5 Comments
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