Breakfast Doesn’t Have to Be the Best, It Just Needs to Be Your Favorite

Fried eggs in Millvale

Sliding into a booth at P&G’s Diner, I’m overwhelmed by the smell of butter. P&G’s is an institution: a diner, pharmacy, and gift shop that anchors the town of Millvale, near where I grew up. Millvale lies across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, stretching from the river bank up a steep hill. The town is old, industrial, and a bit beaten up, but residents have plenty of local pride.

Pamela Cohen and Gail Klingensmith opened the first Pamela’s P&G Diner in Pittsburgh in 1980. Pamela cooked, Gail ran the business, and a friend helped out. As the diner grew in popularity, they were able to hire staff and expand, eventually running six diners in the Pittsburgh area. The chain’s diehard popularity spread … Read the rest

Hot Dates in the Saudi Desert

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The skylarks sing as they swoop and swerve in the predawn sky around date palm trees. More than two hundred miles away from the clamor of Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, my friend Yunus and I hit the main road and race the rising sun towards the carts and bids and boxes and auctions of the Unaizah Date Festival, the second-largest date extravaganza in the entire world.

Most storylines about the Saudi Arabia center around the Kingdom’s deep social conservatism, vast oil wealth, or geopolitical machinations in the greater Middle East. Yet to understand a country looking to modernize its economy and re-engineer its society all while retaining traditional power structures, the Unaizah date market helps bring things into focus.

Since 1980, the date festival … Read the rest

Drinking Through America’s Global Decline at the World Cup for IR Nerds

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Beer in New York City

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)—the World Cup for IR nerds and New York City’s annual gridlocked, diplomatic, securitized circus of oft-cursed proportions—kicked off its high-level week on Monday. Hundreds of heads of state made their way to midtown Manhattan to deliver important foreign policy speeches and address the most pressing international issues of the moment.

As helicopters of various types buzzed overhead and roadblocks and checkpoints went up to protect the assembled world leaders, diplomats, journalists, celebrity ambassadors, and protesters that joined the fray, everybody braced themselves for Donald Trump’s maiden UNGA visit.

I’ve worked on public diplomacy issues at the UN for more than a decade now, but never experienced an UNGA like this. I’m sitting in a nearby … Read the rest

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

Czot in Kashmir

It was my first time on a houseboat and my first trip to Kashmir. Standing on the deck of the boat, I was excited to start working on my first film when Ajaz, the owner of the houseboat, brought me a cup of tea. It was the first time I tasted Kashmiri nun chai. We Indians love our chai with milk, sugar, and, at times, I add a dash of cardamom seeds to make a Mumbai-style masala chai, but nun chai wasn’t like any other tea I’ve had. It was pink, and salty. (It’s usually served with milk, but I had it without.) I took a reluctant sip and was surprised to enjoy the unusual flavor. Over the three months we spent … Read the rest

A Light in the Dark

I remember vividly the disturbing stories Sébastien Van Malleghem told me the last time we spoke, in 2015. He was getting ready to publish Prisons, his long-term photography project about the incarceration system in Belgium, and though his images were just as haunting as his words, there was also an unsettling, cinematographic beauty to them. They were unforgettable. After our hour-long interview, I still wondered how he had managed to make hell on earth look so good.

His distinctive aesthetic is as present as ever in his new book, Nordic Noir, for which he’s currently raising funds. The claustrophobic prison cells have given way to expansive Scandinavian landscapes, yet their beauty is still marked by a sense of foreboding.

“Doing this work

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If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

Bagels in Auroville

With the blaze of the August sun in our eyes and yet a lightness to our step in Pondicherry, India’s beloved, dreamy beach town, and an erstwhile French colony, we set out for Auroville to have breakfast at the Auroville Bakery Café.

Our host—a dear friend who had grown up talking, breathing, and eating all things French in Pondy—had raved enough about it for us to want to sample the food there.

Auroville is an ambitious utopian living experiment, courtesy of the vision of philosopher-guru Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mirra Alfassa, aka The Mother. Founded in 1968, it was designed as a village-for-all, governed by multicultural harmony, where people from all over the world are welcome.

The foundation for the bakery was … Read the rest

The Familiar Shame of Ordering a Foster’s in a Real Ale Pub

Ale in Oxford

The heart of scholarship in the Anglophone world, Oxford is host to the oldest and probably most renowned English-speaking university. For a thousand years, philosophers, scientists, literary types, and politicians have spent their formative years here, learning and researching and crafting ideas that have helped define the progress of the human species.

Inevitably, that involves drinking. And along with a millennium of scholarship comes a millennium of misbehavior. At the Turf Tavern—a hideaway watering hole that dates back to the 14th century—a blackboard hung up on the ancient stonework in the beer garden celebrates the spot where Bill Clinton did not inhale. Another commemorates the 1963 achievement of a Rhodes Scholar named Robert Hawke, who set a world record for downing a yard-glass … Read the rest

Where Eating Only Two Rounds of Breakfast is the Height of Rudeness

Ghee roast dosa in Chembur

I am at a table with three strangers. We don’t talk; our mouths are busy shoveling down idlis, wadas, and upma. The only sounds we make come from the cracking of a crisp dosa, and the slurp of hot filter coffee.

A waiter hovers, ready to refill our bowls with ladles of fragrant sambhar. The thin and tangy vegetable stew coats the idlis (steamed lentil rice cakes) on my plate, giving them an orange tint. In another bowl, the soup-like rasam, made with tamarind juice, tomato, chilies, and spices, soaks through the medu wada (crisp fritters made with urad dal), softening them up. I wipe both dishes clean, resisting the urge to lick my fingers.… Read the rest

A Successful Introduction to Indonesian Wine

Wine in Ubud

In Ubud, we drank when the clouds came in. Every afternoon of my stay in the hub of traditional Balinese arts and crafts, the skies became overcast around 4 p.m. Like cigarette smoke weaving a singular sheet of haze across a crowded room, the clouds steadily drew in, blotting out the sun. The threat of an imminent downpour wasn’t always real, but often persuaded me to postpone more cultural pursuits. There was always tomorrow.

Most days, that first afternoon drink was an ice-cold Bintang, the Indonesian beer that seems to feature on every drink list in Bali. On one particular day, though, we drank Indonesian wine. Specifically, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, created in Bali by local producers Plaga Wines. I had spotted … Read the rest

Is This the Syrup We’ve Been Waiting For?

Hickory syrup in Indiana

My drive to work in Indiana is mostly flat, mostly corn and soybeans, mostly uninterrupted. So when one of my co-workers mentions she’s made a locally foraged syrup, similar to maple but different, using the local hickory trees, I’m ready for it: I’m ready for change.

The bottle she gives me is lighter in color than most maple syrup; she explains that rather than tapping trees and letting sap drip out, foragers in Indiana collect naturally shed shagbark from hickory trees and steep it in a simple syrup—the sweetness comes from regular table sugar, but the thick, smoky, tree flavor comes from the hickory bark.

The syrup begins as fallen bark, which needs to be scrubbed to remove external dirt and growing … Read the rest

There’s Always Something to Do If You’re Not Averse to Day Drinking

New Zealand Pale Ale in Moscow

Heavy, almost tropical late summer rain forced us to abandon our plans of meandering around Gorky Park. Still peaky from last night’s intake of Russian imperial stout, I feigned disappointment. It was my second-to-last day in Moscow, and as a first-time visitor, I had failed. Kremlin line—too long. Ostankino—turned away by grumbling guards for arriving late. Red Square—fenced off and full of scaffolding ahead of a military festival.

Antipodeans aren’t averse to day drinking. I needed only a gentle nudge from my friend Nikita to get us out of the downpour and into Vanya Nalyot, a craft beer bar hidden in the city’s former Red October compound. Now a red-brick maze of bars and galleries, the factory once churned out … Read the rest

The Laksa Origin Debate, Borneo Edition

Laksa in Sarawak

I had done a bit of research about Sarawak laksa before arriving. Not that I was any the wiser. Depending on who you believe, the most authentic pastes have 20, 30, 36 or even more components, among them garlic and lemongrass, as well as various spices.

It’s often said the first laksa vendor in Sarawak—a Malaysian state on the northwest coast of Borneo—was a Cantonese man who moved to Kuching from Indonesia at the end of World War II. He gave or sold his recipe to a Cantonese lady, who may or may not have passed it to a Mr. Tan who, in the 1960s, made a fortune selling factory-made “Swallow” brand laksa paste. None of these creation myths mention the other forms … Read the rest