Starting with one of my trips to Seattle more than 20 years ago, I had noticed that the Seattle area has a distinct love of fish and chips, with the region having more fish and chips joints that I’m accustomed to, even for a fairly large area. Indeed, I’ve remembered more than a few trips out for fish and chips at Spud Fish N’ Chips after having beers with college friends in Kirkland, and even having more than one person in Alki get in an argument over which of the two Alki establishment (another of the Spud locations, or Sunfish just down the way) was the One and True[tm] place for fish and chips. Seeing that our Death March route had us looping around Green Lake in northern Seattle, it seemed almost mandatory that we at least stop by for a quick mid-day snack (at this point, we were right about the nominal halfway point). (And, confession time: we had originally planned to finish at Sunfish for comparison, but we got behind schedule and didn’t make it out there).
One of the challenges of planning one of my “Death March” 20+ mile hikes through is city is figuring out a route of the right length. Some cities (like New York) this is pretty easy, but for the more compact cities (like Boston) this often means taking some interesting loops through the city. In the case of Seattle, I wanted to do a basic “S” curve, starting near the center of Seattle, looping up through University of Washington to Phinney Heights, down through Downtown to Georgetown, and over to Alki Beach (we didn’t quite make it that far…). The map had a nice, fairly intuitive route if I started from Volunteer Park, but looking over the map, Volunteer Park and the surrounding part of Capitol Hill is still strongly residential. But I did notice one place that had fairly consistently good reviews: Volunteer Park Cafe.
One of the things I enjoy about visiting more metropolitan areas than my own is seeing the food fads that show up in particular cities. Like the sudden resurgence in fruit juice in 2013, or 2015’s bone broth craze, or the still-with-us circa 2005 cupcake craze (we’re past Peak Cupcake, but there are still a lot more cupcake places about). In Seattle, one of the 2016 trends was poke: the Hawaiian dish made from cubed, raw, marinated fish served over a bed of rice with a selection of toppings like garlic, the infamous “krab stick”, edamame, ginger, and various seaweed products. It’s actually a dish I rather enjoy (or, more usually, the closely related Japanese-inspired donburi, which is more common out my way). But it was definitely one of the current food trends in Seattle, since during our march we saw no fewer than a dozen places advertising their poke. And there were few better examples of the craze than the 45th Stop N Shop Deli.
Okay, it’s now time for Offbeat Eats to get back Stateside. Last August (yes, yes, I’m behind again), we joined friends of ours from college and TivoCommunity in our annual tradition: a Death March. That’s a 20+ mile hike through an urban area exploring all the food options, and this year we decided to give Seattle a try. There were a few reasons for this: (a) it’s been a perennial top finisher in the polls when we’ve been selecting cities to visit, and (b) my college roommate Steve had just moved there from San Francisco back in 2015. So we rounded up the usual cast of Death Marchers plus a few locals from the Pacific Northwest, and set out on our hike (basically a giant loop starting by Volunteer Park and looping through University of Washington, over to Phinney Ridge, and through downtown, ending up down near Georgetown). One of our first stops was a find by Steve: Mighty O Donuts.
As I mentioned in my last article, despite the immense wealth of information available on the internet these days, there’s still a good niche for a properly-written travel guide. And since I’m hot off the heels of my last trip to Edinburgh, I though this would be a good opportunity to review Only In Edinburgh by Duncan J. D. Smith. One of his “Only In” series, these guides are based on his own personal travels, and aim to give you a lot of detailed insight into some of the unique and hidden attractions of a city. And Edinburgh, in particular, makes for a rather nice city for one of his guides.
It wasn’t that long ago that a cornerstone of having the exotic travel experience was the act of heading off to the travel bookstore and picking up a travel guide, and using that as, well, a guide to your travel. Selecting an itinerary, figuring out the sights, finding hotels and meals… The arrival of the internet didn’t change it much, at first. Indeed, it was mostly positive (some guides, like Lonely Planet, really started coming into their own in the internet age, and Amazon certainly made it easier to get obscure titles). But I’ve noticed that in a few cases in recent travels, the market has shifted a bit. Indeed, when discussing the planning of my recent trip to the Faroe Islands (an obscure destination, at least for the non-Danish tourist), I noticed that when I brought out the travel guide (a rather good one from Bradt Guides), more than a few of my friends and a fellow traveler both made comments about “Wow! You’re still using travel guides?! Don’t you have the internet?”
Our visit to London this time was a short one, so after just a few days we found ourselves looking for one last good ethnic meal before our departure, and my brother decided that it would be good to head over to Kilburn and get some Afghan food. Kilburn has an interesting assortment of ethnic restaurants, with more than a few places serving Afghan food, but Ariana II is one of the best-regarded (for those curious, the original Ariana is in New York City. I’ll have to check it out sometime).
One of the fabulous things about London is that it has has a lot of ethnic foods available that aren’t easy available in the US (on the negative side of things, there are also ethnic foods that still haven’t really arrived there: most Latin American food isn’t really available aside from Mexican, which is still somewhat a developing scene). One of these is Xinjiang cuisine. Xinjiang is a really good example of how China isn’t a monotlithic country; as one of the northwest provinces, much of the population is historically more Turkic than Chinese, much of the population is Muslim Uyghurs, and the resulting culinary tradition is a blend of Turkic and Chinese traditions. Lamb soup and kebabs are standard fare, and there’s even a variation of naan. And, in the London district of Camberwell, there’s actually a well-regarded source for Uyghur cuisine: Silk Road.
After three days of exploring Edinburgh, we boarded our train and headed down to London to spend a few days with family. One of the things I enjoy about London is that, being one of the world’s largest cities, there is never a shortage of new places to try. So I figured this would be another good opportunity to get together with Krista from Passport Delicious and try out a place that had been on her radar: Padella in Borough Market.
After a long day exploring Edinburgh, and a relaxing afternoon nap at the New Club, it was time to head out for dinner. Three Birds, a pleasant little bistro (with approximately 20 seats, so call ahead) with a relaxed atmosphere located in the Bruntsfield neighborhood about a 20 minute walk from downtown Edinburgh. Focusing on local ingredients and in-house food preparation (smoking, pickling, and roasting), Three Birds is based upon doing a few things really well. They don’t have a huge wine list or beer list, but a well-selected group of decently priced wines and Scottish craft beers. They have about half a dozen appetizers all designed for passing and sharing, and a small list of entrees focusing on local, fresh ingredients.