Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics

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Durian: What You Need to Know Before Eating This Smelly Tropical Fruit

I tasted Durian for the first time at a night market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia with a group of happy, drunk couchsurfers. We purchased the fruit, as heavy as a baby and as sharp and prickly as a hedgehog, then watched the seller hack it open with a huge knife.

As soon as the creamy, soft flesh was exposed the odor hit our nostrils. It reminded me of rotting compost, or what my socks smell like in the Southeast Asian heat when I haven’t done laundry for a while. Even with the husk unbroken, this notorious fruit is so pungent that it is banned on Singapore Rapid Mass Transit and in many other public places in Southeast Asia. It’s aroma has been compared to rotting meat, feces and dead bodies.

I reluctantly sampled a spoonful of the gooey fruit.

At first, I was fooled into thinking that the taste was sweet. The initial impression on the tongue is sugary, but as the aftertaste takes over the flavour is pungent and bitter like rotten mushy onions. The final flavor stings the mouth with an acidic burn, like after vomiting.

I’m not a fan – and I’m not the only one. Writer Anthony Burgess compared the taste to “eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” In this Munchies article, the writer describes it as a “hellish monstrosity of Satan food”. There’s something quite heady and nauseating about the combination of sweetness and the earthy, ripe, rotten smell.

In an article in China’s Global Times newspaper there was a story of an early importer who brought samples of Durians to China. When a hotel cleaner opened the door to the importer’s room, she immediately vomited in reaction to the stench of the fruits inside.

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However, a surprising number of people like it! It is known as the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia and it is commonly used as a flavour in many yummy edibles including baked goods, biscuits, milkshakes, ice creams, candy and more. In fact, Pizza Hut in China is even using it as a topping! When durian is combined with other flavours such as in baked goods or pizza, some find that it’s potent taste is balanced and more palatable. You may agree, or you may think that there is no way this fruit could possibly be delicious.

Whether you love it or you hate it – sampling Durian is a must when you are traveling in Southeast Asia. Be adventurous and go outside of your comfort zone! Just be prepared with a drink to wash the taste out of your mouth if you don’t like it!

Things You Should Know About Durian

  • When choosing a durian, look for a fruit with light coloured spikes and avoid the ones with dark brown patches. Also, avoid fruits with bits of white between the spikes, as they are signs of over-ripeness.
  • Be careful when handling the fruit – the spikes are sharp enough to cut your skin. 
  • Watch where you eat durian – it is banned in many public places.
  • When it comes to washing your hands after eating the fruit, try running hot water on the durian skin. It will create a mild lye water which you can combine with soap to get rid of the smell.

Have you tried durian? Would you try it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How to Recreate Travel Food at Home

Discovering unique travel food from foreign countries you’ve never dreamed possible is half the fun of traveling. After diving into food classes and local markets, you may miss that favorite new dish when you’re back on familiar soil. What better way to take a trip down travel memory lane than recreating that dish once you’re back home?

Follow our tips outlined below for travel food and you can take your taste buds on vacation again and again —  right from the comfort of your own kitchen.

Start your research while you’re still traveling

The most important part of recreating travel flavors at home is to start your investigative journey whilst you’re still actually traveling. Take cooking classes, source authentic recipes, search for local English-written cookbooks and bring home the most essential ingredients, especially if you’ve never heard of them before. Everything back home will be a lot easier to source if you have detailed information and actual tangible ingredients to compare, as well as first-hand experience on how a dish is prepared. Locals the world over are always more than happy to enlighten you – and your taste buds – by helping you source out any travel food recipe or particular ingredient you’ve fallen in love with.

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How to find a local supplier: start local

Once you’re home and your precious supply of exotic spices is dwindling, it’s time to find a local supplier. First of all, it’s worth noting that just because an ingredient is foreign to you, it doesn’t mean you won’t find it at your local grocer’s. Our own local supermarkets can be full of surprises, especially as ethnic cuisines gain in popularity. Just a few years ago, you’d have to buy a return ticket to Jordan to restock your sumac supply but, nowadays, sumac is easily found alongside dried rosemary, thyme and basil at most supermarkets. So start with your local and most obvious choice first, before moving to dedicated exotic spice stores and specialty food stores nearby, which are only a Google search away.

Hone in on the foreign community closest to you

Your own wonderfully multi-cultural country is possibly a hub of delectable concoctions, with entire suburbs renowned for hosting specific communities, be they Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican or Malay. Whatever dish you wish to recreate at home, start with its corresponding community that’s closest to you. Or, if one can’t be found, a restaurant which specializes in the desired cuisine. Go straight to the source and ask locals in the know (ie. restaurant owners and chefs) where they buy their supplies and the best dedicated grocery store can be found.

Find alternative travel food ingredients

Ginger is the best substitute for Cambodian galangal and, if for some reason you can’t find Moroccan ras el-hanout spice at your local store, you can easily make your own by grinding together coriander seeds, cumin, chilli, cinnamon, paprika, cardamom, ginger and turmeric. For just about every exotic ingredient you discover on your travels, you will find either a substitute back home or, better still, a recipe to make your own. So get creative with your Google search and become the resourceful chef you always knew you could be.

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Order ethnic spices and pastes online

When all else fails and you really couldn’t possibly recreate your travel flavor at home without a teaspoon of whatsitnot, then look for it online. There’s a ton of amazing online spice stores, some offering over 450 hard-to-find spices hailing from every corner of the globe. From SpiceJungle to SpicesInc and a head-spinning array of Amazon online stores, you could easily fill your pantry with all sorts of incredible spices and flavors, without ever leaving the comforts of home.

There’s no better way to relive an unforgettable journey – and to cure the post-holiday blues – than by recreating travel flavors at home. Because even if you can’t pack your bags and travel the world at a whim…it doesn’t mean your taste buds can’t! So enjoy your culinary journey and continue the feasting long after the vacation has ended with these handy recreation hacks.

Step-by-Step: The Ultimate Taco Pizza

I had become obsessed with this idea of an ultimate taco pizza recently, but I wanted something with a Mexican authenticity that hasn’t been attempted. I wanted to take the flavors of the region and apply it to a tantalizing dish. I made this happen in my own home and I’ll show you how you can do it too.

I first heard of the taco pizza when I was about 12 years old. I vividly remember it sounding so strange and bold and the trepidation I felt as I sat in the pizzeria waiting for it to arrive to our table. Tacos and pizza couldn’t possibly go together… so what did we just order? When there was finally a slice on my plate, I dissected the elements: lettuce, tomato, beef, cheddar cheese, and crushed Dorito’s. While my taste buds accepted this, something didn’t seem right. I felt betrayed; lied to. As an adult, I have never ordered a taco pizza.

There have been a number of pizza’s that have gone viral in the past year, like the pizza served in a box made of pizza or the $2000 squid ink pizza with the 24k gold leaf sprinkled on top, yet there was one that really caught my attention: Tony Baloney’s taco pizza. The motif was so simple, and thus brilliant. Just put some tacos on top of the pizza. This was the taco pizza I had been expecting since I was a child! However, I am not going to New Jersey for a slice.

There are three simple elements in play here: pizza, tacos, and guacamole.

We will infuse the pizza with the smokey heat of chipotle peppers and use a blend of mozzarella and oaxaca cheese. We will build a simple street vendor style taco and make guacamole from fresh avocados.

This is what you’ll need:

Pizza crust

  • Tortillas
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella
  • 1 wheel of oaxaca
  • 1 lb of steak, diced
  • 2 limes
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 4 avocados
  • Pineapple salsa

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I prefer to throw the steak, ¾ of the chopped onion, and juice of 1 lime together to marinate and then throw it all in the pan to cook.

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While it’s cooking, mash up your avocados and throw in the remaining chopped onion and squeeze the juice from the other lime for a simple, fresh guacamole.

Build the pizza using the tomato and chipotle pepper blend as the base and be generous with the cheese! Bake at 425 for about 8 minutes or until the cheese is nice and bubbly. Protip: use the broiler briefly to get that nice touch of brown on the cheese. Slice the pizza into… let’s say 4 to 8 piece, depending on how generous you’re feeling that day.

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When the meat is ready, scoop into the tortilla and sprinkle some cilantro on it.

Add as much guacamole and pineapple salsa as you prefer.

From here, just build a ring of tacos directly on the pizza until you can’t fit any more. On my pizza, I was able to fit about 12 tacos all the way around.

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Did you figure out how to eat this thing? Let me know how you tackled this glorious pizza!

5 Coffee Shops Worth Instagramming

Coffee shops are no longer just for those with newspapers in hand looking to relax or to gossip with your friends on the couch like an episode of Friends. Shops today are not only trying to satisfy customers with their product but are looking for the total package appeal. From engaging interior design, beautiful gardens, and unique exterior appeal you can now find some of the most eye catching, photogenic, Instagram worthy spots to have a cup of joe. This article is going to name a few of the best coffee shops worth stopping at to capture unique photos that will have all your coffee enthusiast Instagram followers beaming with envy.

Truth Coffee, Cape Town, South Africa

Truth Coffee has been recognized as one of, if not the best coffee shop in Cape Town, South Africa. Its outdoor scenery might not be at the top of the list, but its indoor charm is one for the books, simply beautiful. It is so unique and detailed in its decor and not lacking one bit in its quality of food and coffee. It has a distinct modern industrial design with exposed piping, beams, and lighting, displayed typewriters and singer sewing machines, and a vintage cast iron drum for hand roasting coffee. The intention of its interior design matching the quality of their coffee is both unique and detailedly magnificent. Many simply state, Truth Coffee, is THE Truth!”.

Salvaged Ring Cafe, Nha Trang City, Vietnam

The Salvaged Ring Cafe was ranked in the top 20 of the world’s best architectures in 2014 at The World Architecture Festival. This economically friendly and all around beautiful cafe is located among the countryside of Nha Trang City in Vietnam. The cafe was eloquently designed by the architects of a21 studio and constructed primarily of scrap wood, coconut leaves, and locally sourced rocks. The circular flowing architecture blends into its natural surroundings and provides a feeling of being one with the outdoor scenery. Its open contoured design encourages refreshing air flow and natural light, and its curves provide a beautiful outpouring from the highway where you arrive down to a flowing river and lush courtyard. The natural allurement of this cafe will help you relax while you enjoy a cup of coffee in a tropical oasis.

Dreamy Camera Cafe, Yangpyeong, South Korea

The Dreamy Camera Cafe in South Korea is a dream Instagram post for the photograph enthusiast. A bold red Rolleiflex camera makes the shape for this unique cafe that sets among the grandiose South Korean landscape that is picturesque in all four seasons. Inside its camera exterior this cafe also provides a museum where you can interact and marvel at evolving photos and technology.

Take a few polaroids to leave behind and enjoy the view of the rolling hills outside of Seoul, South Korea. There’s good reason why this Cafe is ranked #10 by Buzzfeed’s “Coffee Shops Around the World You Have to See Before You Die.”

Fair Folks & Goat, New York City, United States 

An entrepreneur and coffee addict’s paradise, Fair Folks & Goat describes itself as a “membership cafe.” For $25 a month customers can enjoy unlimited coffee and tea including signature cold brew imported from New Orleans. The funky cafe is also a clothing and accessories shop that helps deliver inspiration to the artists, start-up staffers, writers, and other laptop warriors you’ll see in inside. The turquoise exterior is too cute for words. Oh, and the goat-themed items will be a hit on your Instagram feed.

Open Farm Community, Singapore

Among the open air and lush greenery this farm to table restaurant and cafe has so much beauty inside and out. This is not only a quaint spot for lunch or coffee but a total dining experience. If you’re into Instagramming your food — this is your place. Each plate is a work of art almost too beautiful to eat. You can also take a tour of the farm from its local farmers and immerse yourself in herbs and vegetables soon to be transferred to the table through the Open Farm culinary experience. A cafe, gift shops, and kid-friendly exterior houses activities for all ages.  Enjoy a hot mug in the cafe or sit out on the patio and observe the wonderful 35,000 square feet of charming terrain.