I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

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All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

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It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

California love*

Happy camper, right here. So happy, in fact, I'm doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

California sun and a nice drink make for a happy camper. So happy, in fact, that I’m doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

I’m usually in a bit of a funk after I come back from a good trip somewhere. You know, the ol’ post vacation blues. But since coming back from California last week, where I spent a damn near perfect eight days, I’ve managed to not only not be mopey, but rather hold on to my vacation high!

Gorgeous weather in both Los Angeles and San Francisco (read: sunshine, cool breezes and not a single tiny bit of humidity), amazing friends who showed me the best time, and for the purposes of this blog: SO. MUCH. DELICIOUS. FOOD. Seriously, SO much.

Come think of it, if i’m still buzzing off my vacation, it could be that I’m actually still digesting all of the great things I ate. I know, it’s kind of a gross thought, but it’s true. I ate a lot of stuff.  Tasty stuff that I’m gonna tell you about a little at a time so as to not overwhelm anyone (myself included) with all of my California grubbing memories.

ceviche

Problems I like to have: too much delicious ceviche

To start off, let’s talk ceviche, which I looove.  Fresh, colorful, zesty, delicious ceviche, which is just the kind I had with my darling friend, Arlene at La Cevicheria in LA.  It was a no-frills kind of place, but the ceviche we had, both humongous bowls of it, was great. They were both different, but to be honest, in my hunger induced frenzy to wolf it all down as soon as it came out, I forgot to jot down what they were. What I can tell you though, is that octopus, shrimp and crab were involved, as were limes, avocado, onions, Worcestershire sauce and something I don’t remember ever having in ceviche before but loved, mint. Add a little dash of hot sauce and scoop a big heap on to a crispy tostada and you’re looking at a fantastic meal.

fish taco

Not surprising that a place that makes great ceviche would make fantastic fish tacos.

But because I tend to struggle with moderation at times like these, we also got an order of fish tacos. Each soft tortilla was stuffed with a fat, juicy hunk of crispy fried fish, shredded cabbage, avocado, tomato and cilantro.  Simple and perfect, one of the best fish tacos I’ve had.

It was my first time in LA, and even though I was prepared to not like it (because I imagined it would be the Miami of the west coast, and that’s an off-putting thought for me), I ended up loving the City of Angels.  It was the weather, the beautiful people (i.e. my friends) and yes, the delicious seafood I scarfed down that afternoon.

La Cevicheria on Urbanspoon

 

*Note: Yes, the title of this post is a Tupac reference, cause you know what, I’m a big ol’ Tupac fan.  Boom. Chew on that. 

Not those kind of balls

Some people like to kick off the weekend with drinks, and while I’m usually right there with those people, this weekend, which for me officially began at 3:30 this afternoon, started off with balls instead. No, not those kinds of balls. Octopus balls. Yea, no, still not those kinds of balls. Jeez, c’mon, an octopus doesn’t even have those kind, does it? Either way, we’re getting off topic here. I’m talking takoyaki, delicious fried Japanese savory snacks.

As soon as my shift ended I walked over to the tiny Otafuku in the East Village, known and loved for their takoyaki and other Japanese street eats, and got an order of octopus takoyaki.  Otafuku has them in three varieties— octopus, cheese and plain— but from everything I read online (i.e. a million and one gushing reviews) octopus was the way to go.

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Octopus tokoyaki from Otafuku. The weekend has officially begun

For $6 I got half a dozen golf ball sized, fried-to-a-golden-brown-on-the-outside-and-gooey-hot-on-the-inside balls filled with octopus, scallion and pickled ginger. The guy at the counter handed them to me naked and asked what I wanted on them so I asked him what was good. His answer? “Everything.” Letting him go to town on my balls (you’re loving this ongoing balls thing, aren’t you?) I watched him dress them up in a drizzle of mayonnaise, a generous all-over pour of okonomi sauce (a thick, tangy, sweet brown sauce), a dusting of aonori ( crushed up seaweed) and finally a topping of bonito flakes (bonito being a type of fish).

Always a fan of mixed textures and tastes in my food, I liked that the octopus balls were slightly crunchy on the outside put softer and a bit creamier on the inside. The sweetness of the okonomi sauce also paired well with the tanginess of the mayo, both making for a thick, tasty sauce to go with the subtle flavor of the octopus.

The only thing that could’ve made my start to the weekend even better? A frosty beer to go with my balls.

Otafuku on Urbanspoon