Saturday #132: Calling All Foodies

As lazy bloggers tend to do in December and early January, I recently sat down to compile a ‘Best of 2016’ list. I spent an evening happily sorting photos and writing captions. When I was done I realized that 2016 had been a pretty good year and there was no way that I could list everything that was deserving of mention.

My solution was to split the list into four categories: Hostels, Transportation, Food & Other. That seemed workable until I took a closer look at the food pics.  Just two countries got the bulk of the attention: Spain (incredible) and India (either pretty good or really gross).  More variety was clearly needed.  

Thankfully I had a file of food pics dating back to July 1, 2014 – the day I kicked off this 2-1/2 year odyssey with a train trip from Toronto to Winnipeg.  I now have a much more diverse list of Best and Worst food experiences … but also a gigabyte worth of photos which is clearly a lot for one post.  

Rather than spend another evening editing photos I have opted to just post the damn thing as is and hope that most people are able to view it.  If it doesn’t load, please leave a comment and I’ll get editing!

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THE BEST & WORST OF 132 SATURDAYS: FOODIE EDITION

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Largest portions:

– Various locations in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan 

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Best pizza:

– ‘Sunday Roast’ pizza (lamb, cheese, roasted veggies, mint jelly) at Nomad’s Hostel, Auckland, New Zealand 

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Best smoked eel that I caught the previous night:

– Kohutapu Lodge, Lake Aniwhenua, New Zealand 

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Best lime soda that was made from scratch:

– Street vendor, Mumbai, India 

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Best root beer:

– Route 66 Root Beer, Needles, California

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Best beer signage:

– near Lima, Peru

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Best location for Christmas dinner (and nicest people to enjoy it with when you can’t be with family):


– The home of Randall Pearce and Manfred Unterfenger, overlooking the Sydney Harbor, Potts Point, Sydney, Australia 

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Best breakfast for under $4:



– Hotel Pushkar, Pushkar Lake, Rajasthan, India

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Best Caprese salad:


– Jojo’s, Madrid, Spain 

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Best Vietnamese pork belly steamed bun:


– Banh Mi Boys, 392 Queen Street W., Toronto, Ontario 

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Most blatant rip-off of an international restaurant logo:


– Sharqona ShaurMa, Bukhara, Uzbekistan 

Honourable Mention:

– KFC (King oF Chicken), Karakol, Kyrgyzstan  

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Most local currency required to pay for a modest dinner for six:

– Uzbekistan where the highest Uzbek note (1000 Som) is worth less than 50 cents and 100 Som notes are common.  Exchange $100 at a bank and they’ll give you a plastic shopping bag or an old shoe box full of cash!  It creates problems but at least you will feel rich.

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Best street food that was sweet, sour, crunchy, mushy, moderately spicy, and made in front of you for about 50 cents:

–  Various street vendors throughout India

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Best barbecued frog:

– Phnom Penh, Cambodia 

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Best homemade ‘Egg McMuffins’:

– Family reunion over the August long weekend at my sister’s cottage in Ontario, Canada 

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A beer that brought back good memories: 

– Molson Canadian on the patio at Clinton Raceway, Clinton, Ontario

I sat on the racetrack’s patio one Sunday afternoon in August, enjoying a Molson Canadian and reflecting on all I have done and seen since last visiting this little gem of a racetrack.  As I studied the program my thoughts turned to some better times in the industry – the early 90s when I spent hundreds of hours sitting at a rented photo typesetter as I designed the layout of the past performance page that was revolutionary at the time and is still used at many Canadian racetracks today.

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Best chai for about 20 cents:

– Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

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Best breakfast with a family in a classic stone mansion in Rajasthan: 

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Cutest birds that will be dinner in about 90 days:

– Jodhpur, India

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Best use of goat cheese:

– Various locations along the Camino de Santiago, Spain

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Best raclette: 

– Home of friends Marcel & Stefanie Buechele, Wettingem, Bern, Switzerland 

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Best Happy Hour Specials:

– Various locations in Vietnam and Cambodia 

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Best breakfast sandwich with “Canadian” bacon:

– McDonald’s locations in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 

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Best Foodie tour:

– The tour that starts nightly outside Kim’s Travel Agency, Hanoi, Vietnam

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Best “fresh” beer:

– Various locations in Hanoi, Vietnam 

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Best prawn fritters:

– Street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 

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Best retail display of fresh poultry:

– Various locations in India 

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Worst attitude by a bar owner:

– Neil Road, Singapore 

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Best group of people with whom to share several hundred meals:

– The crew that I started and ended my Silk Road trip with: Rodney, Kirk, Heather, James, Helen and Duncan were up to try ANYTHING and so we did, 2 or 3 times a day over 92 days and across 7 countries (from Beijing to Istanbul).  It was an amazing adventure that I will never forget.

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Best drinking buddies from aforementioned Silk Road trip: 

– Rodney and Duncan, shown here on a truck ferry as we crossed the Caspian Sea between Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan and Baku, Azerbaijan.  Duncan did not drink on days that he was driving the truck but on days when we were stationary, look out!  Rodney can be convinced to go for a beer with very little coaxing, 24-7. 

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Best goat eyes:

– Various locations in Western China

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Further to the Uzbek currency issue, this is the TIP that we left the waiter after a dinner for 10.  I think we were on the cheap side.

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Best place to stop beside the road and have chai with friendly locals:

– The Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India

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Best vegetarian alternative to the Big Mac:

– Chicken Maharaja Mac, available at McDonalds locations in Rajasthan 

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Best take-out cups:

–  Recyclable, environmentally friendly clay cups used at numerous chai shops throughout Nepal
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Most tender goat meat: 

– Served the day after a particularly aggressive game of Kok-Boru (goat carcass polo) on the shores of Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan

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The only ‘Canadian’ food I craved:  

– Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken and sauce. (It’s Canadian, not Swiss)

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Freshest milk at restaurants and chai stalls: 

– Rajasthan, India where guys on motorcycles race around the cities delivering milk to restaurants several times per day

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Worst beer: 

– Everest beer, available throughout Nepal 

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The only beverage worse than Everest beer:

 

– Traditional Tibetan “hot beer” 

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Best use of candied fruit (dates?) in a salad:

– Time Out Market, Lisbon, Portugal 

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Best snack from a street vendor for under $3:

– Grilled bacon and white cheddar with rosemary and thyme, served on a fresh-baked rustic bun and a FREE glass of local wine in a working class Lisbon neighbourhood for under $3

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Best tapas with bread, cheese and unsweetened fruit spread:

– Burgos, Spain

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Best 3-for-1 tapas at a gay bar:

– Bar Cazador, Madrid, Spain

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Most deceptive advertising by a restaurant: 

– Lactuca, opposite Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain. 

The buffet was quite nice and indeed it was FREE!  The catch is they don’t offer take-out and there is a seat charge of 10.75 €.  

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Best head shop:

 

– Raj’s House of Goat, Jaisalmer, India 

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Best poultry shop: 

– Raj’s House of Salmonella, Jaisalmer, India 

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Most popular packaged snacks in some Asian countries:

– Anything labeled “American Style”

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Best sit-down lunch at an old man’s house: 

– Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan, where you sit cross-legged on a raised platform

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Best snack food that is said to be a natural alternative to Viagra:  

– At least that was the sales pitch from this market vendor in Jaisalmer, India.  I have no idea if you’re supposed to eat it, smoke it, or make tea with it and I did not fork over the requested 200 rupees.

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Most valiant first attempt at eating dahl bhat without utensils or chapati:  

– Lunch with the Shresha family, Kathmandu, Nepal 

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A cold beverage that is an acquired taste:

– Mate, available throughout South America and generally served in stainless steel cups with integrated straws

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Best chapati:

– Lunch with a Bishnoi family, the original “tree huggers”, Uttar Pradesh, India.  Google it!

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A family that insisted I stay for tea and sweets after I took some photos of their laundry business:

– Vytas (?) family of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India 

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Best free grape or orange snow cone served deep on the playa by a man who was not wearing pants:


– Soup Flavored Blankets Camp, Burning Man, Black Rock City, Nevada 

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Best dessert that I had never heard of:

– Pavlova or simply “Pav” is popular in Australia and New Zealand, especially at Christmas.  This one was prepared by my friend Randall Pearce and served at Christmas dinner, 2015.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavlova_(food)

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Best chicken shawarma:


– Mandhi Mehal (beach shack), Arambol Beach, Goa, India.

This photo doesn’t do these babies justice and this point I didn’t tealize that it came with a dipping sauce that tasted exactly like Swiss Chalet sauce.  

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Country where they want to put an egg on top of everything:


– Spain

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Best smoked turkey dinner with all the trimmings:


– Prepared by a neighbouring camper, Rich Anderson, at Burning Man, 2016.  Rich, you are King of the Grill!

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Best meal served on a train (economy class):


– AAA Alberta Prime Rib and garlic mashed potatoes served on VIA Rail’s ‘The Canadian’ between Saskatoon and Vancouver

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Best restaurant mascot:


– Namaste McDonald, various locations throughout Asia    🙏 

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Breakfast that made me feel like a kid again:


– Scrambled eggs and sausages, private home, Vancouver, BC 

My host Barb Tyson had the same everyday china (Friendly Village pattern) that I ate off of for the first 19 years of my life – after the Bunnykins dish, of course.

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Best Eggs Benedict:

– Markham Bistro, Kathmandu, Nepal 

The Nepalese chef at Markham Bistro uses Serrano ham and fried potato cakes instead of English muffins.  The potato cakes are crispy outside and insanely creamy inside.  This should be enforced by law in all other countries.

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Best sweets:

– Various locations throughout India

I tried some that looked good and some that looked a little dodgy but every single one was better than YOUR grandmother’s best Christmas cookies. Honestly, incredible.  The photo doesn’t do them justice.

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Best spot to roast marshmallows:

– Darvaza Gas Crater (AKA ‘The Gates of Hell’), Darvaza, Turkmenistan 

Photo: Jill Potter

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Worst experience at a Starbucks:

– Returning to an old haunt on King Street East in Toronto only to find it closed due to the 170-year-old building having been declared structurally unsound.  It was my favourite Starbucks as it was close and the staff knew me by name.  I also know the owner of the heritage building who would have been hit hard by the extended closure and the  repair bill.

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Best experience at a Starbucks:


– Connaught Circle, New Delhi, India

I left my daypack containing an iPad on the back of a chair while I used the washroom at this busy Starbucks in Delhi.  When I discovered that it was gone about an hour later, I assumed the worst but decided to ask the staff if anyone had turned it in.  “Yes, the manager locked it in the safe,” said the barista.  The manager had left for the day so I had to return the next day.  Sure enough, they had it and nothing was missing.  The manager even apologized for causing me  to make a second trip into the city.

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Weirdest experience at a Starbucks:


– Lisbon, Portugal 

I was sure this woman was sleeping but other customers were convinced that she was dead.  When they left for about one minute to alert the manager, the woman woke up and rushed out a side door.  The concerned patrons returned with the  manager who seriously doubted the whole story. 

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Best line by a waiter:  

A waiter in Goa (India) saw me dissecting the last bit of this clubhouse sandwich so he came over to ask if everything was okay. I told him the sandwich was tasty but I could see no hint of the chicken that was mentioned on the menu. He pointed to the fried egg and said: “Yes, THERE is chicken, sir.”

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Best hams:

– Spain

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Largest piece of meat to be roasted whole:

– Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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Knock-off product that was better than the original:

– Rize biscuits by Krfoa, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam  

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Best duck bills:


– Various street vendors in Bangkok, Thailand 

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Best food-themed meme that sums up my thoughts on cooking beef:


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Best food-themed meme that I don’t feel very good about posting but will anyway:

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Best place to sip Chilean wine while watching a sunset:

– Easter Island, Chile

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Best Pisco Sour:

– From the bar car at the back of a Peru Rail train  

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Best group of Aussie and British “kids” to camp and share meals with:


Ian, Juztin, Jen, Andrew, Kelly, Rach, Igor and others, Yosemite National Park, USA

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Friendliest market vendor selling chicken heads and feet while his own infected foot rests on the counter:


– Jaipur, India 

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Hottest (spiciest) street food:

– Pushkar, Rajasthan, India 

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Hottest (hottest) noodle maker:

– Pushkar, Rajasthan, India 

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Best place to dance and enjoy a free drink while riding around 4000 acres of open playa at dusk on a scissor lift and listening to dance music at about 7 gazillion decibels:

– Burning Man, Nevada (where else?)

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Best uncooked breakfast:

– Fruit salad and yogurt garnished with shaved coconut at The Corner Cafe, Pushkar, India 

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Best hawker stalls:

– Newton Circus, Singapore 

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Best candy bar offer/promotion:

– Buy a KitKat in India for 50 Rupees and get a code worth 25 Rupees on Amazon

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Freshest bread:

– Samarkand, Uzbekistan where many restaurants receive HOURLY deliveries of warm bread 

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Best candy that is custom-made by a fez-wearing street vendor:

– Istanbul, Turkey

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Best Jiz-Biz:

– Tashkent, Uzbekistan 

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Worst candy bar offer/promotion:

– Buy what you think is a Kit Kat but which turns out to be Iki Kat with a Best Before Date of 10/31/2011, somewhere in Kyrgyzstan 

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Best Easter Bunny:

– Frey Swiss Chocolate, even better when it’s a gift from friends like Marcel & Stefanie in Switzerland 

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Coolest guy to watch a hockey game and drink a Molson Canadian with: 

Guy St. Jacques, at the time Canada’s Ambassador to The People’s Republic of China, while attending “Hockey Night in Beijing”

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 Worst snack food / teeth cleaning and strengthening aid:



– Aaruul (dehydrated Yak milk), available at finer yak farms throughout Mongolia. 

I’m sure Dr. Ballard must have visited Mongolia in the 50s and thought, “Hmm, Americans will never eat this stuff but I bet they’ll feet it to their dogs.” And so an industry was born. This is Milkbone!  Mongolians love it.  I would break every tooth in my head before I’d get that piece of arul down to a swallowable size.

http://www.mongolfood.info/en/recipes/aaruul.html

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Best sidewalk sign for a restaurant / bar: 

– Zambrero (take-out burritos), Adelaide, Australia 

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Most sensible portion sizes:

– India, where a Regular or Large McFlurry is about one-third of a typical North America serving

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Best FREE make-your-own sandwich:


– PB&J Camp, Burning Man, Nevada

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Best grilled brie sandwich with candied figs and elderberry compote:


– Dusty’s, SOMA Food Truck Park, San Francisco, California 

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Best ceviche:


– Ballestas Islands, Peru

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Best hand scooped and decorated ice cream cones:

– Giapo, Auckland, New Zealand 

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Best meal served in a clay pot:


– Testi Kabob, various locations in Turkey. The meat and veg is cooked in a clay pot which the waiter will ceremoniously break with a hammer at your table.

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Best foodcourt: 


– Time Out Market, Lisbon, Portugal 

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Best tarta de nata:

– various locations, Lisbon, Portugal 

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Most self-control at a buffet:

– This cat who resisted the urge to grab and run at the fish market in Jaipur, India 

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Cutest friend to share a biscuit with:

– Karni Mata Temple, Bikaner, Rajasthan, India. (AKA The Temple of Rats)

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Best sirloins:

– The Healthy Butcher, Queen St. W., Toronto, Ontario (later grilled to perfection by nephew Chris Hamilton) 

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Worst name for a restaurant:


– The Captain’s Boil, Yonge St., Toronto, Ontario 

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Most questionable name for a packaged food product:

– Big Sheet, various locations in Thailand

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Best grilled sardines:

– Old Jao (street vendor), Lisbon, Portugal 

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Most Personable Restauranteur in Laos who turned out to be Canadian and who grew up with James Reimer in Steinbach, Manitoba:

– Tyson Lee of Tyson Kitchen, Vientiane, Laos 

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Best poutine:

– The food truck parked at Ritchie Bros. auction yard, Ottawa, Ontario 

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Best Thanksgiving Dinner:

– Prepared by my sister, Karen Ionson, and share with family, Collingwood, Ontario 

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Best breakfast at a greasy spoon diner:

– With my friend Kate at Morrison’s, Kingston, Ontario 

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Best funnel cake:

– With my niece Alison at Canada’s Wonderland, Vaughan, Ontario 

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One amusement ride that you don’t want to ride immediately after consuming said funnel cake:


– Leviathan featuring several nearly vertical drops, Canada’s Wonderland, Vaughan, Ontario 

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Best garlic prawns:


– Orange, Lisbon, Portugal 

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Most economical alternative to a dozen wings at Kelsey’s or TGI Fridays:

– Chicken feet, less than 5 cents each at various locations throughout China 

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Craziest overall menu: 

– Wang Lo, Shangxi, China 

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Best meal cooked by a local family over an open fire in a sealed cream can:


– Yak meat, root vegetables, hot stones and a few ounces of water sealed in a cream can and cooked over a fire for about 90 minutes, 300 km and 1000 years from Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

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Best homemade frozen meat: 

– Various locations throughout China 

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Best selection of sardines:


 – Various locations throughout Portugal 

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Best Shaanxi Old Elbow:

– Various locations throughout China 

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Best cheddar, tomato, cucumber and fried egg sandwich on fresh brown bread:

– German Bakery, Varanasi, India 

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One Asian snack food that might sell in America:

– Krack Jack, available throughout India  

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Best fruit smoothies served by a (shy) father and his three (camera hogging) sons:

– Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

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Best grilled cheese sandwiches for about 30 cents:

– Various street vendors in New Delhi, India 

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Best breakfast on a train:

– On VIA Rail’s ‘The Canadian’ between Saskatoon and Vancouver 

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Most red wine poured over people’s heads in good fun:


– San Fermin Festival, Pamplona, Spain

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Most scenic spot to stop for a picnic while bicycling:

– North Yungus Road, AKA The Death Road, near LaPaz, Bolivia

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Best old sheep’s head meat:

– Various locations throughout China 

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Best scallop meat smell of urine burst:

– Various locations throughout China 

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Freshest milk served at breakfast: 

– Annapurna Massif, Nepal 

The milk was fresh because I was up at the crack of dawn to help milk the cows!

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Most blatant trademark ripoff in a restaurant name:

– iPho, various locations in Thailand 

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Best cherry liqueur:


– Ginjinha, served from then same tiny shop/bar for 150 years, Lisbon, Portugal 

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Best free tapas at a bar:

– Golf course near Burgos, Spain

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Best seared foie gras for about $2:

– Burgos, Spain 

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Worst wine at the best price:

– Free wine from a fountain outside Bodegas Irache (winery), La Rioja, Spain.  

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Best “Canadian” pizza:


– ‘Canadian eh’ pizza at Tyson Kitchen, Vientiane, Laos 

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Best beer for about 40 cents:

– Various street vendors in Hanoi, Vietnam 

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Cafe name that I’d consider changing:  

– Dung Coffee, Hanoi, Vietnam 

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Cheapest energy drink that just might make you attractive: 

– Man Some, about 60 cents at 7-11 stores in Bangkok, Thailand 

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The restaurant most likely to cause larger diners to skip dessert: 

– Big Belly Restaurant, Kathmandu, Nepal  

The Big Belly is located beside Hotel Pushkar but not in Pushkar, India

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Every dishwasher’s best friend:

– Kirk from Australia who I watched clean plates all along the Silk Road and again when we met for this photo at The Keg in Etobicoke, Ontario

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A food-themed T-shirt that may not be officially licensed:

– McShit shirts on sale in Bangkok, Thailand 

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Best free coffee served in a thrift store mug that you take with you by a generous but cranky man who at age 73 can still flex to display a well defined 6-pack:

– Burning Man, Black Rock City, Nevada

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Strongest mojito:

– Served by a street vendor at Pride, Madrid, Spain

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Messiest sandwich to eat:

– Bacon, lettuce, tomato and egg sandwich, Mola Hostel, Madrid, Spain

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Best selection of Canadian food and wine served in a jam-packed restaurant located in a foreign country:


– Altes Tramdepot (brew pub), Bern, Switzerland 

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Best duck bills: 

– Various street vendors in Bangkok, Thailand 

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Best muesli:

– Zurich Youth Hostel, Zurich, Switzerland 

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One food that is an acquired taste:

– Vegemite, served at every hostel breakfast in Australia

These photos show me trying Vegemite for the first time.  Apparently I put waaaay too much Vegemite on that piece of toast.  According to many Aussies, it should be spread so thin that it adds a slight tinge of brown to the toast and in no way should it resemble gobs of road tar on toast.

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American food that may be considered a luxury item in Thailand:


– Hormel SPAM (several varieties) is priced much higher than comparable amounts of fresh meat at local markets in Thailand 

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Best meal shared with Canadians in a foreign country: 

– Steak and seafood paella in Santiago de Compostela, Spain 

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Best complimentary cappuccino:

– Served while waiting to be checked-in at Once Again Hostel, Bangkok, Thailand

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Freshest pork:

– Rural area of northern Thailand

I know the meat was fresh because the pig’s last sounds woke me up at 7:00.  He was bled out and butchered by 10:00.

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Best coconut-milk based soups and curries:

– Various locations throughout Thailand

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Best egg and cheese dish for about 40 cents:

– Street vendor outside the main train station in Mumbai, India 

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Best vegetables grown in a mold:

– Various locations in Cambodia and Vietnam 

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Cutest photos used on a menu:


– Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   

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Best American-style fast food restaurant with non-sensical signage:

– Phnom Penh, Cambodia 

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Best oxtail soup:

– Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

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Best name for a pub:


TIE:

– Lady Hamilton’s, Zurich, Switzerland 

– The Belfry, Calgary, Alberta, Canada 

My father’s name was William Belfry Hamilton and he went as Belfry.

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