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Kabul Street Eats

September 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Destinations, Features, Food

Faghat seyr mikonam. For the adventurous eater venturing into Kabul’s street food scene, these three Dari words, which roughly translates to “I’m just looking,” are key. To stroll by Kabul’s food stalls is to run a gauntlet of aggressive vendors, stepping into your path and thrusting samples at you. However, the reward for wading into this chaotic scene is to foray into the varied cuisine of Afghanistan.

Follow Scott Ruddick’s tour of the Kabul food stalls:

To the outside world, Kabul has become synonymous with the strife and conflict afflicting the whole of Afghanistan. Yet beyond the headlines, the capital city is a vibrant community of three million people with a thriving street food scene.

The influx of foreigners and money since the fall of the Taliban has gradually transformed the Kabul restaurant landscape. Enterprising street chefs, tabang wallahs in the local parlance, serve up a variety of local cuisine.
street-stalls-kabul Kabul Food Stall © Scott Ruddick

Kabul’s food stalls are unassuming. They are often no more than a tin roof held up by a rough-hewn wood timber frame covering a cooking area. Electrical connections to run refrigeration are nonexistent and supplies are kept in coolers, lugged back and forth from the homes of the stall staff every day.

The best stalls are found around Shahr-e Naw Park, a large park in central Kabul that is popular with the locals for pick-up soccer matches and Friday bird fights. The stalls are clustered together along the wide sidewalks. In keeping with the business model of successful street food vendors everywhere, each stall will specialize in one or two food types, and build their business by offering a consistent, quality product at a reasonable price.
mantu-vendor kabob Mantu vendor and Kabob © Scott Ruddick

Each dish costs between 50 and 100 Afghanis ($1.25 and $2.50 USD). Busy times are lunch, the main meal in Afghanistan, when office workers and laborers are on the prowl for a cheap meal, and again in late afternoon as workers head home, and stop to pick up takeout for the evening meal.

Kabul’s street food stalls are both a cheaper alternative to more expensive sit-down restaurants and a respite from the heavy fare of traditional Afghan household cooking. A typical Afghan meal is centered on rice. Qabeli Palau or basmati rice with chopped carrots and raisins and pieces of meat is often the centerpiece, served with flat bread. While a well-done palau is a wonderful meal, the sheer ubiquitousness of it drives Afghanis and ex pats when they have been in country long enough to seek out different fare. The tabang wallahs are only too pleased to fill this void in the Afghan diet.

Kabob is the preferred takeout food for Kabul’s denizens meaning open-air kabob shops are to be found in every part of Kabul. Kabobs consist of lightly seasoned mutton, lamb, beef or chicken skewered on rough iron spikes then broiled over glowing charcoal. The kabob meat is wrapped in naan, a leavened bread that is baked by being slapped against the inner wall of a clay oven, which is in turn wrapped in old newspaper. The experienced kabob eater knows that naan serves as both a plate and an accompaniment. The rough side of the bread is always placed facing up with the meat piled on top of it. Chunks of the bread are ripped off and used to scoop up the meat. A typical mid-sized kabob stall will serve 110 pounds of meat a week.
boloni Boloni © Scott Ruddick

Other tabang wallahs serve up steaming plates of delicately spiced raviolis. Indigenous to northern Afghanistan, mantu (stuffed with minced meat) and ashok (filled with leeks) are steamed over large open-air pots and served with a tangy yogurt sauce.

Boloni or stuffed pancakes filled with either shaved potato and onion (sabzi) or squash (kadu) are deep-fried in bubbling cauldrons of oil.

The carb-heavy Afghan burger, a recent Kabul concoction, is a favorite with the city’s teenage boys. It is common to see groups of them gathered on street corners, devouring the local meal of a spiced ground beef patty with a smattering of onions, tomato, and lettuce that is wrapped in a pita-like bread along with a side of French fries jammed into the sides.

Shor nakhod or stewed chickpeas are served on large plates with an accompanying mint sauce, which serves as either an accompaniment or a stand-alone meal.
doogh-vendor Doogh stall © Scott Ruddick

Whatever your choice of entrée, wash it down with doogh, which is a carbonated yogurt drink seasoned with salt and mint.

A typical Afghan food stall will open late morning, and close around dusk Sunday to Thursday. This schedule is reversed during the religious month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. During this 30-day period, the stalls will open for iftar, the fast-breaking meal that takes place at sunset, and close at around sunrise, when the last meal before the dawn-induced fast begins.

Scott RuddickScott Ruddick is an international development specialist and a freelance writer who focuses on the developing world. Learn more about Scott on his website.

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Who Travels the Most? [Chart]

August 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel News

Ever wonder which regions around the world have the most travelers? According to the World Tourism Organization or UNWTO, Europeans travel more than all other regions combined with a whopping 52.8 percent of all outbound tourists. Asia and the Pacific (21 percent) and the Americas (16 percent) make up most of the rest of the outbound travelers with the Middle East (3.8 percent) and Africa (2.9 percent) rounding out the field.
who-travels-the-most Who travels the most by region [Data © UNWTO and Chart © Enduring Wanderlust]

It’s not surprising that Europe lands in the number one spot, but it’s eye-opening that more Europeans travel than the rest of the world as a group. Despite the massive population advantage of the Asian region, it’s still curious that the Americas fell behind that area. The Americas had more tourists from 1990-2005, but Asia and the Pacific has maintained the lead since 2005. That said, it’s nice to see that all regions have seen significant gains in overall outbound tourists in the past two decades.

Where do all these tourists go? Read about the 10 most visited countries.
gennaro-salamone-photo.jpgGennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing an article or photograph for publication.


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5 Great Reasons to Visit Japan

August 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Destinations, Features

Japan has had a tough time of it recently, to say the least. When it was struck in March by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, and in the following weeks had a potential nuclear catastrophe to contend with as well, things looked desperate. But the Japanese people have handled the disaster with exemplary stoicism, and the good news is that tourism is now picking up again. In no particular order, here are five great reasons to go on holiday to Japan according to Rachel McCombie:

The food

Japan may be famous for its sushi, but that’s by no means the only dish you’ll have the chance to try on your trip. Whether you choose to play safe with a delicious bowl of noodles, or brave something more outlandish such as the famed puffer fish, you’re sure to come away from Japan with a host of new favorite foods. You’re also likely to notice the very Japanese custom of restaurants displaying plastic food in their windows to show you what’s on offer – a surprisingly convenient way of ordering food if you don’t speak Japanese!
miniature-sushi Miniature Sushi © Stephanie Kilgast

The culture

Japan’s captivating culture makes for an enriching experience even for the casual tourist, but those with the curiosity to delve deeper will be even more greatly rewarded. Japan has a highly refined and ceremonious culture, and is perhaps most famous for its tea ceremony and enigmatic Geisha. It also has a wealth of stunning temples, with 2,000 in Kyoto alone, while tranquil gardens with meticulously laid out vegetation and paths provide welcome respite from the frenetic pace of the major cities. You’ll even be able to see fascinating and well-preserved castles and samurai quarters, which have survived the centuries to see huge modern cities grow up around them.

The cherry blossom

Early April sees the arrival of the cherry blossom or sakura season in Japan, a glorious natural spectacle and the subject of much celebration in Japanese culture. This wonderful event makes April arguably the best time of year to visit Japan, as the clouds of pink blossom make the temples and gardens even more photogenic than usual. You’ll see people having picnics under the cherry trees to celebrate the blossom, creating a lively and jubilant atmosphere that will be the icing on the cake for your visit to Japan.
mt-fuji-sakura tokyo-metro-woman Mt. Fuji and sakura © Tanaka Juuyoh and Woman waiting for the train © John B. Mueller

The trains

Public transport might sound like an odd reason to visit a country, but Japan is famous for its trains. With an efficiency that puts other railways to shame, the Japanese rail network is highly refined and punctual to the second. Its pristine bullet trains – known in Japanese as Shinkansen – are capable of speeds in excess of 180 miles per hour, making travel between Japan’s major cities both easily manageable and comfortable. A recommended journey for your Japan holiday is a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto by bullet train, a stretch of which offers stunning close-up views of Japan’s iconic volcano, the snow-capped Mount Fuji (providing it’s not too cloudy!).

The landscapes and cityscapes

For many people, the image that immediately springs to mind in conjunction with Japan is skyscrapers, bright neon lights and cutting edge technology. In the bustling capital city of Tokyo this is certainly true, but there’s a lot more to Japan than its urban landscapes. The stunning spectacle of Mount Fuji has already been mentioned, as have Japan’s many temples and gardens, but further afield the scenery turns to magnificent rugged mountains – an ideal destination all year round, whether for summer hiking or winter skiing.

Rachel McCombieRachel McCombie is better known for her Rachel’s Rome Writings blog, but has traveled to and written about other countries as well. She went on a trip to Japan a couple of years ago and has been an avid enthusiast of Japanese culture ever since.

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Rice Farmers of Thailand Through the Lens

September 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Features, Photography

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand. A combination of natural beauty and countless cultural activities makes the area a popular tourist stop. Travelers have the opportunity to visit local hill tribes, sample delectable local cuisine, and raft along the Ping River. On this day, a local guide led our small group of travel writers on a tour of Lanna or the “land of a million rice fields.”

Follow this photographic journey featuring the Akha hill tribe transplanting rice:

khum-lanna rice-paddies-thailand Khum Lanna + Chiang Mai Rice Paddies © Gennaro Salamone

We were set for a sunrise biking tour along the rural country road from San Kwang village to Phrao to visit the local markets. Leaving the charming Khum Lanna, we were met by steady rains that prevented a view of the sunrise. Despite that, the early showers on the emerald-green rice paddies provided a tranquil atmosphere for the sojourn.

traditional-thai-people thai-women-working Akha Hill Tribe Transplanting Rice © Gennaro Salamone

We visited the local markets, stopping for tea and an interesting traditional drink that consisted mainly of raw eggs, before heading off to the area of the rice paddies where the Akha tribe was transplanting rice. Working in the rice paddies appeared to be labor intensive, but smiles were common among the inhabitants. This work is essential to the economic success of Thailand, which is the world’s biggest rice exporter according to the Bangkok Post.

thai-man gennaro-salamone-rice Local Farmer © Gennaro Salamone + Overzealous Travel Writer (Taken by Ted Beatie)

The highlight of the morning was an opportunity to join the Akha in the rice paddies for some hands-on learning. It’s one thing to observe the nature of the labor, but having your legs ankle deep in mud while bending to stick rice plants into the ground gives a new level of understanding. We were fortunate to have a guide who had relationships with the community. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile to forgo complete independence while traveling.

I was joined on the trip by travel writers: Angela Dollar, Ted Beatie, and Carlo Alcos. Visit and bookmark their websites. After that, view Lake Titicaca photos featuring the Uros people.

This trip to Thailand was courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The content and opinions in the article are those of the author.
gennaro-salamone-photo.jpgGennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing an article or photograph for publication.


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Rock Climbing Over Rice Paddies

January 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Destinations, Features

Few activities cause your adrenaline to flow to like rock climbing. The excitement of scaling natural rock formations is accentuated when paired with a unique location. Vang Vieng, Laos provides the perfect combination of scenery and climbing opportunities. The most popular destination for newcomers along with experienced individuals includes a short hike through stunning rice paddies (below) and countless formations.
rice-paddies-laos.jpg Rice Paddies, Laos © Gennaro Salamone

Vang Vieng is a standard stop for backpackers on the Southeast Asia route. Though there is plenty of space for peaceful contemplation, the center of the town tends to be filled with young travelers enjoying re-runs of Friends and The Simpsons at the various restaurants. The diners often remove their shoes to sit cross-legged at tables encircled with couch-like seating.

That being said, the majority of the wanderers who enter the town are looking to break a sweat. Rock climbing, tubing, and mountain biking are just the beginning of the early morning activities. The cost for 1-3 days of rock climbing depends upon the number of travelers in your group. For up-to-date rates, examine the rates of well-established Green Discovery. If the sound of all that “work” is too much for your holiday, consider an inexpensive ($5-10 per hour) massage in the evenings.
rock-climbing-laos.jpg Rock Climbing, Laos © Gennaro Salamone

Be sure to befriend a couple of fellow travelers in Vang Vieng. It is one of the easier places to meet people in Southeast Asia.

Read about meeting Buddhist monks or fishermen in Laos.
gennaro-salamone-photo.jpgGennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing an article or photograph for publication.


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