3 Unforgettable Experiences From A Fearless Food & Travel Writer
Carey Jones is an experienced travel and food writer who’s always up for an unconventional meal. Her bylines have appeared in global publications like Food + Wine, Departures, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, and she also authored the well-received book, Brooklyn Bartender. She has traveled extensively all around the world, eating, drinking, and mingling with the willing locals. So for our Explorer issue, we reached out and asked her to share some of her most memorable international experiences.
FARM TO TABLE IN RURAL CUBA
Let’s not mince words: Eating well is not easy in Cuba. Not for a traveler. (Other than that pig roast at an artist’s mountaintop retreat. But that’s a story for another time.) A centrally planned food supply and government-run restaurants ensure sameness and mediocrity. After a week subsisting on pork and chicken, rice and beans, I craved greens in a way I didn’t think was possible. Who can lust after a salad? A traveler who can’t find a single goddamned vegetable.
Such was my state when I discovered Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso in Viñales, two hours west of Havana. The family-run farm and restaurant welcomes diners on a blue wraparound porch looking straight into the dramatic valley, with imposing karst peaks and verdant tobacco fields. The grounds are lush with flowers and fruit and — oh, so crucially — vegetables. So many vegetables.
“Let’s not mince words: Eating well is not easy in Cuba.”
When rigid bureaucracy keeps vegetables from your hands, grow them yourself. I feasted at El Paraiso. I recall incredible roast pork. But far more vividly, I recall grilled squashes dotted with just-picked herbs, thin ribbons of marinated zucchini, fresh avocado, slim pickled green beans. The table groaned with more than a dozen dishes. Never had I taken so much pleasure from the simplest of things.
A BONFIRE FEAST IN FINLAND
It never gets dark in June, not in North Karelia, in the eastern reaches of Finland near the Russian border. In fact, when I ducked inside the wooden cooking hut, my eyes hadn’t experienced such darkness in days.
“Eaten in the glow of the flames, it felt like a holiday meal, a winter feast.”
The Finnish dream, my guide Eva told me, is simple: A cabin in the woods. A traditional sauna; Finns treat the sauna with the reverence of a religion. A lake. And it doesn’t hurt to have a cooking hut, one that brings to mind an elf house, for your meals. “We’re a forest people at heart.”
Summer though it was, stubborn patches of snow still clung to the ground. So I appreciated the roaring bonfire that gave forth our meal: Karelian pastries topped with egg butter, a richer cousin to egg salad; potatoes and foraged mushroom salad; coffee and blueberry cakes; and outside, deserving a fire of its own, vibrantly-hued sides of salmon. Eaten in the glow of the flames, it felt like a holiday meal, a winter feast. Emerging from the hut hours later, close to midnight, giddy with food and drink, I expected twinkling stars, perhaps a gentle snowfall. But this was summer in Finland. I reached for my sunglasses.
A HIDDEN SPEAKEASY IN GINZA, TOKYO
Tokyo never stops feeling surreal. Within 24 hours, I’d gnawed tuna jawbone in a smoke-filled izakaya; sipped Champagne in a bar smaller than my New York closet; let a Shibuya photobooth turn me into an anime character, with glassy skin and enormous eyes; been presented with horse and chicken sashimi — yes, sashimi. (Raw horse I could do. Raw chicken, I draw the line.)
And I’d sipped extraordinary cocktails in the barely-lit basement at Bar MASQ, in the upscale Ginza district. Thus I was thoroughly buzzed and more than a little disoriented when I scaled the stairs to Ginza Suki Bar.
“Was this real, or a Nikka-induced fever dream?”
Up four grungy flights that recalled a dormitory staircase — down to vintage liquor ads Scotch-taped onto the walls — waited the pocket-sized bar, decorated in street art, with a rickety balcony overlooking glitzy Ginza. Our bartender was quiet at first, pouring our Asahi and our Nikka whisky, neat.
Perhaps the whisky was to blame, but one moment I was sitting at a nondescript bar; the next, I was watching a series of rap videos starring our bartender, also the proprietor, himself. Under the moniker DJ MonStar, he’d created a series of music videos for the Japanese Milk Promotion Board — all the kids in the club, all chains and tattoos, toasting the night with… flutes of milk. There he was, in the fields, rapping to cows. M to the I to the L to the K, he sounded out in English before lapsing back into Japanese I couldn’t decipher.
Was this real, or a Nikka-induced fever dream? Had my time in the city so infected me with a sense of fanciful wonder that I could fall into a hallucinatory state? Or was I truly sitting five stories above Ginza watching a Japanese barman rap to a cow?
It was morning when I stumbled out the door, not dawn but hours past, the sun hot on my face, well-attired men and women streaming to their offices. Later, I found only one blurry photo — of a screen with a very confused-looking cow. Perhaps it had been real indeed.
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