Dean and Linda’s Kobe Adventure

Today Dean and I traveled to Kobe, Japan. It is Dean’s first Japanese business trip. We are scheduled to be here for ten days.

Dean’s company is concerned about service interruptions due to the uncertain power situation in Tokyo. This is having a significant impact on employee’s ability to get to and from work. To mitigate the Tokyo risk, some employees are going to Nagasaki and others to Kobe while most remain in Tokyo. Dean was sent to Kobe, so we embarked on our first Japanese adventure outside of Tokyo.

Kobe is centrally located by Nara, Kyoto and Osaka – all places we want to visit. We had several mini-adventures today including the Haneda airport, our first flight in Japan, a new city and some amazing goyza (dumplings) for dinner.

For clarification, we still don’t think Tokyo is a dangerous place to live. The temporary relocation is to accommodate business continuity not because of safety concerns. It is disappointing as we have things to do in our new apartment and now we have to readjust to an adventurous spirit instead of one focused on home. Power cuts have not yet affected our central Tokyo apartment but there are outages and transportation stoppages affecting other employees at Dean’s company. This is especially relevant to the trains. To function, his office needs power to work, trains to bring their employees in etc.

For anyone worried, Kobe is 267 miles south of Tokyo and 364 miles from the Fukashima reactor. This should be good news for anyone worried about radiation. It takes one hour to get fly to Osaka from Tokyo, and another 40 minutes to Kobe.

The only negative I can think of is lack of an iP phone. With our iP phone, I chat away, as long as I want for the cost of a local call. Without it, we are back to international calling or Skype. So, if you want to chat skype me – I even have skype on my cell.

Today, Dean went to the office and I started walking around Kobe. I found hundreds of restaurants. Hundreds. Indian, Indonesian, Thai, Chinese, Belgium, German, Turkish, Russian and more. Then there are the Japanese; Don Don, Sushi, Tonkatsu, Okkaymayi, Steak, Shabu Shabu, Goyza, Curry, Sandwiches, baked goods etc. I’m sure if I could read I would know about even more.

Kobe gives me access to a new city, and lots of other historic and cultural sites. Tomorrow I will start exploring. Thanks again for your thoughts and support – lots of interesting pictures and stories should come from this trip!

One month in Japan

One month in Japan and I have learned the following things

Some of the Hiragana: the Japanese writing system is made up of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. For those of you who followed our China adventure, you may know how much I HATED being illiterate there. In Japan I am absolutely determined to learn to read. This is the first step. So far, I can read a few words, like cat, dog, horse and some colors.

Japanese like electronics and high-tech stuff. There needs to be much more information about this for you and much more education about it for me. High-tech is key here. This explains my bathtub, my toilet, my refrigerator, the elaborate fan system and venting in my apartment.

Japanese food is excellent and varied. Yakitori, soba, Udon, Korean BBQ, Tonkatsu, pickles and on and on. One great thing about Japanese foods is that they are generally basically the same. If you buy something with the same name from two different places, it will be pretty much the same. This makes it so much easier to manage.

Japanese tofu, I can’t believe I am back to this. In China, my favorite dish was Mapo Tofu. Pockmarked women’s tofu, with spicy Sichuan peppercorns. But what I have learned here is there are tons of different kinds of tofu and I like them. In fact Dean has been to a tofu restaurant. So far, I prefer grilled tofu – somehow it is grilled, then packaged and sold in the store just like regular tofu. What I need is something like an encyclopedia of tofu. So far, all I have been able to find is a 1970s book with some definitions in it, but maybe I’ll have something when my regular cookbooks come. I’m going to learn all about this miracle bean product.

Japanese snacks are amazing, and delicious and shocking. Doughnuts, rice balls, strawberry flavored Cheetos, plum flavored potato chips, a cold hot dog in a bun from the bakery? You can find it all here.

Sushi. Having our own local place, trying a few others and serving it at home are just the beginning. I’m going to buy a sharkskin grater and grate my own wasabi and after that, who knows? My first sushi class is Monday.

Japanese drinks are a completely untapped area of knowledge. Not just beer, though it is sold with different alcohol contents which are taxed at different rates. Beers are also seasonal, but I don’t quite understand how here. There is also sake, which is as complex as French wines. To add to the complexity there is also Shochu a beverage I really like. It is distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, buckwheat or chestnuts. Generally it is a little stronger than wine, but not as strong as vodka. It is a clear liquor and comes in bottles that seem like sake if you can’t read…much more needed on this. And there are also fruit flavored drinks – like a Japanese wine cooler, grape, lemon and others.

Japanese temples are very interesting. They are complicated, so many details. What does it all mean? I have seen a bean throwing ceremony, some Shinto brides, barrels of ceremonial wine and paper lanterns. Fortunes, wishes and deities. Shinto, Buddhism, and Japanese culture come together – this is something I need to learn about.

Japanese fitness is different. Japanese gyms, at least mine are different form the American type. Even if they have the same equipment inside, they are still different. Hopefully during the time I live here I will figure out how to use the Japanese elliptical and maybe even manage some Japanese yoga. For both of us, the Asia diet is a good one, more walking and smaller portions.

And mascots? Mascots are very popular here. In fact there is a mascot book! So many creatures both real and imagined and they are everywhere. Pink, orange and green seem to be the popular colors. Some are copies of actual animals, others completely imagined. And Sanrio, don’t even get me started on it.

Pink seems to be the color of Japan. So much pink, everywhere. It is the beginning of spring, so cherry and plum blossoms are starting now – both pink. Cherry blossom watching seems to be a pastime. But pink is also acceptable for coats, shoes, all kinds of bags, cars etc. Pink is good. Embrace it.

All these things to learn about, and we haven’t even left Tokyo. In fact we haven’t even wanted to.

Tonkatsu

I don’t really recall eating pork chops growing up, and am pretty convinced the first time I ate one was at the sorority house around 1989. They were hard and gray. Therefore I did not like pork chops.

My husband adores pork chops and always wants to cook them or better yet have me cook them. I stuck to my position until he made a delicious, perfectly cooked chop with fresh rosemary. It was life changing as pork chops go.

After a few meals of that amazing chop, he introduced me to another favorite of his – Shake n’ Bake pork chops. Kraft owns this brand, which was apparently created by General Foods in 1963. It was introduced to my life around 1997. Shake n’ Bake, both pork and chicken are some of Dean’s favorites so we eat them at home with regularity.

While living in Shanghai, Dean would get a craving for Shake n’ Bake, I remembered this and brought a couple packages with me to Tokyo.

But while learning about food in Tokyo I came across something interesting, Tonkatsu. Tonkatsu is a deep fried pork cutlet. Fried in the Japanese style it is not as greasy as it sounds, and is breaded in panko. Apparently Tonkatsu is the single most popular type of restaurant in the Tokyo area.

According to Wikipedia, Tonkatsu or Katsu as it was originally called came to Japan in the late 19th century from the European culinary tradition, which was very popular at that time. Probably more like schnitzel or cutlet than Shake n’Bake. It is served on a bed of shredded lettuce/cabbage, with a bowl of rice, miso soup on the side and some Tonkatsu sauce if you want some. Tonkatsu sauce is basically Worcester sauce mixed with ketchup, though it is very popular here and comes bottled on its own.

We ate our first Tonkatsu in a restaurant near the Shibuya train station. It was in Vending Machine restaurant. It was my second time to a vending machine restaurant – I am getting closer and closer to the Jetson’s experience.

This time we did not need as much support as there was a menu with pictures and numbers on the window outside. We looked at the pictures, decided what numbers we wanted, added some yen to the machine and printed out tickets. Then we put the tickets on the counter and waited.

Tea arrived instantly. We both agree that Tonkatsu should be eaten with beer, but we don’t think this restaurant had beer, or any drinks other than tea. No one was drinking anything else, and there was nothing cheap enough to be a drink on the push-button menu.

After about five minutes the Tonkatsu arrived. We should have ordered one, not two. It was two large cutlets on a bed of lettuce/cabbage. Each of us got a bowl of miso soup and a bowl of rice. The pork was delicious, not at all greasy and not like any cutlet or schnitzel I have eaten before.

I still have three packets of Shake n’ Bake in my apartment, but when we run out or maybe even sooner this will be a great solution.

And you thought there was only raw fish in Japan!

First Day in Tokyo

Left JFK at an 11:30 am flight.  Tried to sleep, watched three movies, ate three meals – each worse than the last, read about Japan. 

Arrived at 3:30 PM on Sunday.  We were through immigration and customs, and had our bags by 4:00, plenty of time to take a shuttle bus to our hotel in Roppongi.  This is a trendy area comprised mainly of hotels and shops from what I can tell. 

By 6:30 we were in our room.  Despite an overwhelming desire for sleep, we showered and went to dinner at a Yakitori restaurant.  It cost $85.  We drank 3 large Asahi beers which cost about $7 each here.  The same beer, imported to China cost about $3 there as I recall.   Yakatori means the food comes on a long stick, grilled over a small charcoal grill.  In Yakatori restaurants, this is generally the main food served. 

Our meal started with chinese broccoli cut small in a sesame based sauce.  Next two skewers of chicken, and two skewers of basil chicken.  The basil chicken appeared to be chicken rolled around basil and sliced to make a pretty circle.  I didn’t like the chicken too much, but the cumin flavor was nice.  There were also skewers of sliced grilled leek.  I don’t think the leek was the type of leek we buy in NY, I think it was more like a giant green onion. 

Also there was a gorgeous giant scallop, cooked gently and served in a light sauce with mushrooms and seaweed.  It was served in a giant shell.  There was some other kind of tentacle added, which was not as good but this was so lovely I should have taken a picture of it. 

Chicken meat balls and pork meat balls were both delicious.  Chicken and beef chunks were good.  Squash, asparagus and okra were excellent. 

Yakatori will become a favorite for us here.  As you can imagine, once we had finished eating we feel straight into bed slept as long as we could.  Awake at 6.

Eating Tempura

Monday, December 6, 2010 at 9:39am

Tempura seems to be the ultimate fried food.  On Friday for lunch we had two pieces of tempura as a part of a set menu.  One was a shrimp – delicious and delicate.  It came with the head and tail on, but we chose NOT to eat them.  The second piece was some kind of long pepper.

Friday night I ate curry soup, which requires a post of its own.  It also came with a tempura shrimp and two tempura green beans.  The shrimp was good, but not as good as the one we ate for lunch.  The beans were completely amazing.

Saturday night we decided to eat in a tempura restaurant.  We selected it since it was located in the complex where we are staying and we could find it on a map.  Not the strongest criteria.  We sat at the counter.  I love sitting at the counter, or bar in Japan.  In the US, Dean loves sitting at the bar, but my legs get tired since they are not that long.  The counters or bars here in Japanese restaurants are just my size!  Sitting at the bar we could watch the chef cooking the tempura.  We shared a set meal which was made up of 6-8 small courses.

It started with pickles and quickly moved to various pieces of fish.  Shrimp was served in two pieces – one was the body and the other was the head.  I think each of the shrimp was just sliced in half down the middle.  It was good, we did not eat much of our shrimp heads.

Our place settings included a bowl for some grated daikon and sauce, and a small dish to put the pieces we did not eat into.  Like the shrimp heads…

I think we had two or three pieces of fish, all tasty and then we saw the eel come up for cooking.  I’ve seen live eels at Chinese groceries in the US, and in the markets in China but had not eaten one before (at least not to my knowledge).  I was afraid.  It came in a large snake-like piece, with some skin.  I confess a serious feeling of dread.  But Dean popped a piece into his mouth and said it was good. He was right – just like eating fish.

After the eel, our waitress told us the next course was the daily special.  She reported it was fish stomach, and showed us on the menu.  I was not familiar with it.  She also told us that most foreigners don’t like it and offered us something else.  We decided we would have plenty of time to eat a fish stomach over the next two years and had lotus root instead.

We also had eggplant, some kind of squid, mushroom and some kind of bean that looks like a grape.  We had these beans with our sushi too, I think they might be soy beans but I am not sure.

The final course was scallops, they were available tempura style, or on rice or in soup.  We had them on rice, and miso soup came on the side.  The scallops were small, and kind of mixed into a brown sauce then fried up together en masse.  I was not sure about this, but they were delicious.  It was also the second time we have had miso soup with tiny clams in it.  They are hard to eat, but delicious.

The meal ended with green tea, some kind of jelly and jellied beans, they were better than they sound.  Tempura is interesting, since you really eat just one or two pieces of each item, you can eat lots of different things.  The tempura coating also keeps most of the food from tasting oily.  Maybe in time I will even like shrimp heads.

Oh beautiful tomato

Today is December 2 in this island nation.  How can the cherry tomatoes taste so good?  The first one I ate could have been a fluke.  It was randomly cut in half and placed on tip of my take out sushi.  Weird, I thought but I ate it anyway.  Amazing.

Later that night, on a salad.  The next night at happy hour, on a vegetable tray.  Today at breakfast on a vegetable tray.

I am considering buying a large batch of them at the grocery store and just eating them.  They taste like tomatoes fresh from the sun.  Amazing.  delicious.

Icelandic Hakarl

Per the trusted Wikipedia source, Hakarl is fermented shark.  The reason it is fermented is because the shark itself is poisonous when fresh due to a high content of uric acid and trimethylamine oxide (aka urine).

Yum.

The reason I know this is we returned from Iceland about 3 hours ago and some people in Iceland consider Hakarl a food.

As background for the uninitiated, Hákarl is traditionally prepared by gutting and beheading a Greenland or basking shark and placing it in a shallow hole dug in gravelly-sand, with the now-cleaned cavity resting on a slight hill. The shark is then covered with sand and gravel, and stones are then placed on top of the sand in order to press the shark. The fluids from the shark are in this way pressed out of the body. The shark ferments for 6-12 weeks depending on the season in this fashion.

Following this curing period, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. During this drying period a brown crust will develop, which is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving. The modern method is just to press the shark’s meat in a large drained plastic container.

First-timers are sometimes advised to pinch their nose while taking the first bite as the smell is much stronger than the taste. It is often eaten with a shot of the local spirit, a type of akvavit. Eating hákarl is often associated with hardiness and strength.

Those new to it will usually gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it due to the high ammonia content.

We had not read this last part before our trip, but a picture (or series of pictures) is worth a thousand words.

Pho

An Introduction to Pho

We love to eat pho, a Vietnamese beef noodle soup.  We had pho for the first time (not surprisingly) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  We sampled the dish at a few different restaurants, our favorite being Pho Hoa.  I have since returned once and hands down, this is the best pho I have ever had.

Leveraging content from Wikipedia, pho consists of white rice noodles in clear beef broth, with thin cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket).  This is all served in a bowl.  The broth is generally made by simmering for several hours a collection of beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, charred onion, and spices. Seasonings include Saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, cloves, and sometimes black cardamom pods.  The noodles, called bánh pho in Vietnamese, are traditionally cut from wide sheets of fresh rice noodles, although dried noodles (also called “rice sticks”) are also used (frequently in the US, based on our experience).  A bowl of pho is garnished with a combination of green onions, white onions, coriander leaves (cilantro), ngò gai (culantro, or long coriander), Thai basil, lemon or lime wedges, and bean sprouts. Several of these items are served on the side, along with fish sauce and a collection of hot spices and peppers, so you can concoct your own bowl based on personal preferences.

We eat pho tai, which is pho with thin slices of rare eye of round.  The slices are thin enough that the hot broth cooks them through.  Broth, noodles and sides are standard – variations (and names) are based on variations in meat content, which can include tendons and organ meats if you are so inclined.

A surprisingly thorough history of pho, including a recipie, is found at Vietworld Kitchen.  We have not tried this recipie having concluded from prior (largely successful) attempts at homemade pho that it is easier and cheaper to go to a restaurant (expect $5 to $6 per bowl).  Recipies generally result in 4-6 quarts of broth – that makes a lot of pho – far too much for 2 people.  For those that do not live within a 15 minute walk of several pho joints, invite some friends and give the recipie a go.  Keys are paraboiling the bones, star anise, fish sauce, slightly freezing the meat so it is easy to slice thinly, and using fresh noodles if you can find them.

Our Continuing Pho Journey

Upon return to Chicago in 2006, we scoped out local Pho restaurants.  Linda has a cousin from Vietnam (no joke but an extended story) who had a few suggestions and took Linda to lunch one day when I was out of town.  Chicago has several immigrant neighborhoods – including 2 Vietnamese areas plus a variety of Asian ethnic groups in and around Chinatown.  We had two regulars in Chicago – Pho Hoa (review) on Broadway between Lawrence and Argyle and, nearby, Pho Xe Tang (Tank Noodle Restaurant – review), on the corner of Broadway and Argyle.  Both are good – I found the broth at Tank Noodle to be more flavorful – but we did not really frequent one more than the other.

Pho in New York is superior in quality and flavor.  My all-around favorite is Cong Ly (review) on the corner of Chrystie and Hester on the Lower East Side / Chinatown.  Debating pho is a dicey proposition, especially as a non-Vietnamese.   My point of view is that there are 5 basic pho evaluation criteria – the broth, the noodles, the meat, the sides, and the ambiance of the restaurant.

Almost every Pho restaurant I’ve been to is a dump – floorescent lights, formica tables, and tile floor – so they all score evenly on this criteria (our favorite in Vietnam has no windows).  Definately not a first date kind of place.  The sides are consistent – bean sprouts, fresh basil leaves, fish sauce, hot sauce, and hot peppers.  Variations include the freshness of the sides, soy sauce (on the table or not) and lime versus lemon.  My wife informs me that in Vietnam (and Asia), pho is served with a kaffir lime, that kaffir limes are not widely available in the US (or are expensive), and that lemons are frequently recommended as the closest readily available alternative.  I don’t use either, but the distinction is important to Linda.

The big difference between noddles is fresh versus dried.  Thin, fresh rice noodle makes a positive difference.  Broth may be the most important item and is partly personal preference – I tend to prefer a meaty broth with a noticeable star anise flavor.  Who knew I liked star anise?

Cong Ly has flavorful broth, fresh noodles, and good meat (quality and quantity) – and a particularly dreary ambiance.  So far tops in our domestic quest.

Since we eat pho almost every week, in addition to Cong Ly, we have a few regular destinations here in New York.  Pho Grand (review) is closest to our apartment.  On a good day, this place has the best broth, though quality varies between average to very good.  Similarly, the quality and quantity of meat varies.  Noodles are Pho Grand’s downfall – consistantly average (dried).  Inconsistency aside, at worst Pho Grand has good Pho and some days it is <arguably> the best in town.

Also good is Pho Bang (review), where we frequented most regularly before finding Cong Ly.  This is probably our second choice.  Pho Bang is dependable, has the best noodles, the freshest sides and is Linda’s favorite as a result.  The broth is consistent but lacks the flavor of Cong Ly or (on a good day) Pho Bang.  Again, the differences are slight between the three restaurants, and if you don’t eat 52 bowls of pho a year, will likely be undetectable.

If you have a personal favorite in the United States, please share.  Off this morning for a bowl of pho.

Faking Orgasm

Have you ever seen the movie When Harry met Sally? You know that scene where Harry and Sally are in a deli and Sally is telling Harry about fake orgasm, then she fakes one herself to show him? That scene takes place at Katz’s Deli in New York.

The first thing on the menu at Katz’s is the pastrami sandwich. And when you eat there, you should get the pastrami sandwich. Unfortunately no one told Sally to have the pastrami. If she had been eating the pastrami, she would not have had to fake her orgasm- and you won’t either.

At Katz’s the corn beef is good, the French fries are good and the pickles- locally made and aged to different degrees are terrific. But the pastrami is what you should eat. You can order pastrami for $22.80 per lb from Katz’s website: www.katzdeli.com though I can’t imagine it could be as good as when they slice it for you while you wait. In fact, if you order at the counter, the give you some of the edge pieces to eat while they make your sandwich – the pastrami is so good that some people can’t even wait until they sit down to start eating it.

The sandwiches are expensive – $14. They are also big, you really only need to eat half but you will want to eat the whole thing.

Katz’s delis is located at 205 Houston St. It is five small blocks from our apartment.

Photo by Greg Bakes

French Bordeaux and America’s Constitution

Since there have not been any recent posts, you may be wondering what we have been doing. We have been drinking and we have been reading.

Sometimes, I do read things other than The Economist. We are daily subscribers to the Chicago Tribune. We get the Sunday New York Times delivered to our door. I read Playboy for the articles, jokes, and – let’s be honest – the lovely pictures. Until recently, I had not been traveling as much as usual. Airplane time is generally personal time for me, so the more I travel the more time I have to read.

constitutionWhen is the last time you read the Constitution of the United States? While it only takes about 25 minutes to read the Constitution, it took me quite a bit longer to complete Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Constitution: A Biography. The 477 page biography PLUS 150 pages of notes proved a bit more challenging than expected, but the first few chapters aside, this was an enjoyable book. There was interesting and thoughtful analysis of the impact slavery had on the development of our country. It is equally remarkable how little the document has changed over more than 200 years. Recommended. I have always enjoyed history, and completed an excellent biography of John Adams in 2005. I feel more knowledgeable having read America’s Constitution.

Reading a 600 page biography of the US constitution, however, is not something you do over a beer. It requires more sophisticated refreshments. My bourbon addiction is well chronicled and was well matched to the book, though unfortunately sourced from a former slave state – I’ve never seen a Land of Lincoln bourbon. A less obvious match is French Bordeaux. Remember that is was the French who both sponsored the Revolution and sold us large chunks of land as we expanded westward.

Bordeaux Primer

Time has expanded my knowledge of wine, though French wine has proven a challenge over the years. The real reason for the recent Bordeaux binge is that 2005 had great weather in many of France’s wine growing regions – cool and wet at the beginning so the grapes grow fat, hot and dry at the end so the grapes shrivel up and concentrate the fruit. In anticipation of this great vintage, I resumed effort on deciphering French wine. Purists will not be impressed with my analysis. To educate myself, I buy a lot of wine and use The Oxford Companion to Wine as a reference.

Common to pretty much all wine is the vintner (who makes the wine) and the vintage (the year the grapes were harvested). Technically, vintner means wine merchant – who sells the wine – which isn’t necessarily the same as who makes the wine. Just like a single factory can make a VCR sold by both Sony and Toshiba, a single wine producer can sell their wine via different brands. We will ignore this – it is the same VCR regardless of the label. Vintage is important because the weather plays a large role in the quality of the wine – this is no surprise if you think about it – wine is basically an agriculture product. Some years are better than other years, as any farmer will tell you.

Two other important pieces of information are the type of grape used to make the wine and where these grapes are grown. While this is standard information, the main difference between US and French wine is how this information is communicated.

In many areas of the world, including the United States, wine is often named by the primary grape – Merlot, Cabernet, and Shiraz are all types of grapes frequently used to make wine. Just like at the supermarket, some grapes are red and some grapes are white. The type of grape reveals a lot about the wine. Drink enough wine made from different types of grapes, and you can develop an understanding of what types of wine you enjoy based on the grape. A common question at a wine store is ‘What type of wine are you looking for – Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay?’

Drink even more wine and you develop an appreciation not only for what types of grapes you like, but where your favorite type of grape is grown. Syrah grapes are grown all over the world (called Shiraz in Australia) – drink enough Syrah / Shiraz and you can taste the common differences. Just like at the supermarket, you can get a Florida red grapefruit or one of those wonderful Ruby Red grapefruit from Texas – both red grapefruit but I know which one I buy. Geographic information is almost always found on the wine’s label.

As an example, last night we had a bottle of 2003 (Vintage) L’Ecole No. 41 (Vintner) Cabernet Savignon (type of grape) from the Walla Walla Valley (where the grapes were grown). The Walla Walla Valley is a popular wine growing region in Washington State.

The basic challenge with French wine is that the type of grape is generally not provided explicitly on the label. The reason is that in France, where the wine is from almost always communicates the type of grape as well. An elaborate history of Government-controlled categorization supports this classification system. Champagne, for example, is actually a region in France that produces a lot of – surprise – champagne. Other regions that may sound familiar are Bordeaux, Languedoc, Beaujolais, and Cotes du Rhone. Because I haven’t memorized the types of grapes grown in each of France’s wine growing regions, I carry a cheat-sheet.

Bordeaux is one, important wine growing region and home to approximately 13,000 vintners across 247,000 acres (about 400 square miles). The region is further subdivided into appellations. Most Bordeaux wines are blends of Cabernet and Merlot grapes, with a few additional varieties of various types. Bordeaux is basically separated by the Gironde River. Knowing if one of the 37 appellations is on the ‘left bank’ or the ‘right bank’ of the river is suggestive of the predominate grape. Appellations Saint Emilion and Pomerol generally produce predominately Merlot-based wines, while Appellations Margaux and Pauillac generally produce Cabernet-based wines. Just like knowing I live in Chicago is useful information, knowing I live in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood is even more useful.

As an example, I am planning to drink a 2003 Chateau Vray Croix de Gay Pomerol Bordeaux. Chateau Vray Croix de Gay made the wine from predominantly Merlot grapes grown in 2003 in the Pomerol area of the Bordeaux region. Piece of cake once you have a cheat sheet.

China

bonesAs this post suggests, I’ve probably been doing more wine drinking than book reading, though I did finish another excellent book, Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. This is more of a beer book – ‘wo yao yi bing ping Tsing Tao pi jio’ (I want 1 cold bottle Tsing Tao beer). Prior to moving to China, I read several books on Chinese business etiquette and what I could expect living in China. None of these books prepared me in any way for living and working in China. I like to think that had Oracle Bones been published in 2004, this would have been a superior read in preparation for an assignment in China. Certainly after the fact, the book is full of ‘yes, that is exactly what it is like’ moments that only an American in China would fully appreciate, but that even a novice should be able to comprehend. If you’ve been to China or are planning a trip to China, read this book.