Essays. Considered opinion / Global
Unpack what it means to travel and to arrive with our global tour from cab to departure lounge, hotel desk to airborne presidential suite.
All hail Beirut’s taxis
by Venetia Rainey
Of all the key moments in getting the hang of a foreign city, figuring out how to get around like a local is at the top. In London that means knowing the quick back routes to change Tube lines at the big stations. In Mumbai it’s making sure your rickshaw driver doesn’t take you for a metaphorical ride as well as a literal one. And here in Beirut visitors must wrestle with the shared-taxi system, locally known as a servees.
Unlike the numerous modern taxi-sharing apps, the Lebanese servee requires the customer to go to the road to find a cab. But which will have the most traffic? Do you know the name of where you’re going? Exact addresses don’t exist here so it will have to be a the nearest landmark: a bank, a mosque, an abandoned tower block or a bridge. Can you pronounce it exactly?
In any case, the first few drivers will probably turn you down because they’re taking people in another direction or can’t be bothered with your destination, an experience that feels oddly personal at first. Further, negotiating how much you pay requires firm bargaining, a smattering of Arabic and working knowledge of how far you’re going and how much traffic there will be.
Once in the cab, however, the benefits come into play. First, the basic journey costs just lbp2,000 (€1.20). Second, drivers are hugely impatient, know the best short cuts and have an instinct for traffic. Third, it’s a chance to chat to a stranger, whether the driver or a fellow passenger.
Most taxi drivers are friendly and curious to the point of being nosey. Foreigners are grilled on what they do and where they are from. Invariably the driver will have a cousin or brother there – cue much discussion on whether they should try to move there too, and how the food, people, prices and internet compare with Beirut.
For Lebanese, talking politics is the equivalent of the fallback weather topic that provides such easy conversation for the British. Heated debates on political developments are common, usually ending in agreement that all politicians are liars and the country is in trouble. Newcomers and residents alike can take the mood on the street and get a different perspective or three.
Of course, it doesn’t always feel so safe. For women, constant enquiries about their marital status – however well meant – get annoying quickly and, as with any taxi system, there are (rare) reports of more serious harassment. The cars can beggar belief, with some so old they have holes in the floor and others with drivers so old it’s just as well traffic lights are only a suggestion anyway.
But the benefits outweigh the downsides. Research by MIT’s Senseable City Lab in 2011 showed that 40 per cent of taxi journeys in New York could have been eliminated if people shared cabs. That, however, assumes that everyone would be willing to share, which researchers admitted was unrealistic. People can find sitting with a stranger in a car an invasion of private space – plus they might have to actually talk to them.
But that’s the argument for the shared taxi: it breaks down barriers. In Beirut, where public space is negligible, it is a window in which a Beiruti businessman, a Filipino maid, a Syrian student, a UK journalist and a Lebanese taxi driver can muse on everything from road closures to the absence of government. Even with the car horns and circuitous routes, that’s a beautiful thing.
About: Venetia Rainey, Monocle.
Our Beirut correspondent has lived in the city for three years and reports from across the Arab world on everything from human rights to design and food.
Come on, sunshine
by Robert Bound
At the beginning of your holidays, after the heat has sideswiped you as you skip down the airbridge, there’s always a tremor of excitement as you turn the key in the hire-car ignition and wonder what lies ahead. Well, what lies ahead first is that you’ll engage the windscreen wipers instead of the indicator, kangaroo-juice it around the carpark roundabout three times and then pull onto the fast-moving motorway in fourth gear instead of second. But then? Then switch on the radio and unleash the real beginning of the holiday.
Just as holiday hire cars are hoary old excuses for misdemeanours on wheels – the “anything goes” adventure that actually cost €15,000 – holiday radio stations are the real stars of the show. Thank God, then, that there is a part of the world – let’s call it “Europe” – where radio stations still pump out the hits without the tiresome requirement to provide context or theme them as part of a narrative or feel the need to go all light-and-shade on their listeners. Oh no. Because the sunnier climes of the continent we love deal exclusively in light.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Mallorquin marvel Melodia FM (you can tune in to it in many different parts of Spain but it suits Mallorca best by miles). The programmers and DJs at Melodia FM, with its evocative, never-more-on-holiday call-sign “¡Melodia Eff-ay Emm-ayyy!”, are on something that you wish you could bottle and sell. Maybe it’s just sunshine, maybe it’s something stronger and more rigorously regulated by the law. Whatever the case, on goes the radio in the little Lancia and straight out of the starting blocks we’re socked around the ears to grinning point by Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop Song”. That’s followed by Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, which gives way to Hall & Oates’s “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”.
There’s no letting up other than for the frequent, cringeworthy commercials aimed at selling you things you definitely don’t need, because you’re on holiday. Washing machines? Bah! Insurance? This isn’t even my car! Back to the studio mic comes the station’s resident cackling old geezer, armed with a mean bag of records. It feels like he’s stubbing out a Marlboro on the sole of his espadrille and laying a practised, tanned hand on your knee as he introduces Duran Duran, Roxette (“Amazing! Roxette!”) and the only U2 song he likes, “Sweetest Thing”. Phew!
Turning the dial north to the south of France, the all-killer-no-filler philosophy is equally alive and well at Nostalgie radio. The station (Les plus grandes chansons!) will soundtrack your drive from Perpignan into Provence with a string of songs that consistently accentuate the positive (can you get diabetes from this much positivity?). This is radio that turns up its nose at the merest suggestion of reflection or introspection: “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite; Madonna’s boilerplate latino holiday paean “La Isla Bonita”; Kylie’s “Locomotion”. Good God, I’m going 200 km/h; this stuff is like rocket fuel!
Do these radio stations work out of their vacational context? Can they cheer up the cold, dull-white skies of a bin-end London summer? Well, no, not really. But if you happen to be lost near Toulouse or gripped by the certainty that the bay at Deia is the work of divine intervention and requires a suitable soundtrack, keep it local. Sure, the Cloud is racked out with your carefully “curated” playlists and yes, your smartphone can speak with crystal clarity to your dashboard; and they are fine things but they are also controlled and unlovely. Instead, make sure the frequency is tuned to a radio station that positively reeks of factor 12, embrace the holiday humour and turn on, tune in and freak out. What lies ahead? Falco, probably.
About: Robert Bound, Monocle.
Bound is monocle’s culture editor and a great believer in going local when it comes to holiday in-car entertainment. He’s planning a trip to Kanagawa just so that he can listen to Shonan Beach FM in a rented Lexus.
Higher state of concierge
by Adrian Moore
It dates me more than I care to admit that, at the beginning of my hotel career when I was a junior concierge at a five-star hotel on the avenue des Champs-Élysées, I have faint memories of using a Minitel, that French harbinger of public-access internet.
The Minitel was a machine we used to make train reservations when our travel agent was closed. For noting guest requests and passing relevant information between shifts we still relied on a giant, leather-bound agenda. As for mobile phones, this was a time when they were the size of bricks and the web was still tiny and sparsely connected.
Today even the most stalwart of luxury hotels cannot escape the embrace of the digitalisation of our chosen metier. Technology is at the forefront of virtually every service business and no concierge in a luxury hotel of any reasonable size can complete his day’s work without a variety of organising software and specialist websites. Technology, like in other businesses and parts of life, has permeated worldwide culture – mostly for the better, even though one global hotel company seems serious about the silly idea of adopting AI-driven concierge androids.
But has the role of hotel concierge changed? The true master hoteliers are still appreciated for their character, informed personal opinions and deep contacts in a world in which the vast majority of the travelling public is obsessed with best-of lists and insider guides from (highly addictive) purveyors of online bullshit. Is old-school service still obtainable in the modern age? Has listicle culture superceded your trust in the smiling human being behind the desk, waiting to satisfy your every wish?
Have confidence in your hotel concierge and start your relationship before you arrive with a simple email or telephone call. Don’t rely on a one-size-fits-all, mass-market media whose correspondents create “content” without the benefit of deep local knowledge.Instead, open a communication line with the person who wouldn’t be doing an often-thankless job, with long hours and the stress levels of a neurosurgeon, if he or she wasn’t passionate about it.
To get the best out of your relationship with the concierge you’ll want to work out what you like; ask yourself what kind of an experience you are looking for. If you’re craving a delicious casual meal from a talented and as-yet unknown chef, summon the restaurant expert from behind the marble desk. A handwritten address or a crumpled business card from a cool bistro he tested the night before may be brought forth, or your concierge may ruminate on seasonal tasting menus accompanied by small-production wines while invoking a shabby-chic dining room full of cute neighbourhood creatives. If you play your cards right, you can tell your friends and colleagues about that secret address before they read about it in international glossies weeks or months later.
Back in the day, the concierge (from comte des cierges, or “keeper of the candles”) was the man about the house in noble residences, ensuring the lights were always on and guests were always safe, warm and full of wine and victuals in a strange city. This tradition evolved over time so that, with the advent of modern luxury hotels at the end of the 19th century, les hommes aux clefs d’or – members of the Golden Keys – had refined their position and dedicated their lives to service in legendary palace hotels.
Nowadays, when the word concierge has become a catchall, an all-encompassing term referring to everything from mowing lawns to walking dogs, we should celebrate old-school service. Connect on a human level and you’ll be surprised at the doors that will open to you. Don’t let the talented hotel helper go the way of the dodo. Or be replaced by a robot.
About: Adrian Moore, Concierge.
Moore is a Canadian-born, American-educated British writer whose day job is assistant head concierge at Mandarin Oriental, Paris. He is the author of "Inside Chefs’ Fridges", published by Taschen.
by DBC Pierre
I decide to work on the plane. Why not? I could write Chapter Six. I could use the disconnection from the ground to be like a focused executive; a person with multiple phones and a colleague in a turtleneck called Dr Kredel. Because a plane lives up in the metaphor of clear, thin air where writing gels, where words are born pure as swirling iceflakes, ideas as light as nitrous oxide. I might even start at the airport, itself full of the gas that covers travel like a cloud, with gut-butterflies, with people on best behaviour or worst behaviour or just plain dazed.
Chapter Six. Plane. With this decided I take a stroll through duty-free, where the perfume scents are as native to flight as kerosene. Then I check out the coffee place, study the sandwiches, wonder how lettuce can be born so green, and go to the bathroom. Finally I make my way to the lounge: a workplace.
There are some suits in there and the sound of purposeful tapping. To work at the level I propose, in the stratosphere of thought, I’ll need coffee. I see there is a trio of children flailing around the place like moths. A suited man is watching them, glowering. He rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head. I take my coffee to an easy chair and watch. The children’s parents are oblivious to the unfolding micro-drama but I have a front-row seat. The kids get rowdier until the man, perhaps bolstered by sharing an eye-roll with me, finally snaps: “Are they yours? I didn’t come here to sit in their playground.”
The parents are startled. A moment passes while they weigh the options. The mother is tetchy but the father gathers the kids together, distributes their luggage and leads the group from the lounge. The complainant looks to me with a shake of the head. But as he spreads out and grows smug, even mumbling to himself, the family is back at the door, defiant, standing five abreast.
Not much writing gets done in the lounge. In fact none gets done. There are no children or businessmen in Chapter Six. Still, nothing is lost to a writer; there will be chapters where the stuffing is shot out of the chairs. I wander through the concourse until the flight is called. It involves two long sectors: LA to Papeete then Papeete to Sydney. Chapters Six to Nine would fit in there. I wonder if I’ve been ambitious enough. I strike a compromise: I’ll eat dinner, write Chapter Six, recharge with coffee in Papeete in the middle of the night, eat breakfast, then Chapter Seven, then sleep before Sydney. Once the plane is airborne we succumb to the hiss and thin air, like larvae who fall catatonic and melt onto branches.
A man two rows ahead is in distress. He started the flight slumped with his head in one hand but now he hisses and sighs rhythmically, as if suffering contractions. They’re attention-getting sighs, to say nothing bad about getting attention when you need it. A steward passes and the man stops him. He asks for something and the steward kneels beside him, frowning, listening closely. The man may be crying. The high notes of their conversation waft back.
The man has left the love of his life, suddenly, in a rage. He stormed out and bought a ticket to far away. Now he’s cooled down and every strand of him aches to run back to her. But he can’t. He’s at 40,000 feet on his way to Tahiti and Australia. Through the dead of the flight, in low light and grainy air, the steward kneels like a knight to counsel the man. I feel his bind in my chest.
Maybe there should be yearning hearts in Chapter Six. Not a lot of writing gets done. In fact none gets done because life is unfolding. Travel isn’t a disconnection, it’s a connection: made for soaking up, taking in. Nothing is lost. For instance, I just wrote this trip.
The man didn’t reboard the flight in Papeete. I think he returned. I hope he called her. In my mind’s Chapter Six he turned in the night and ran to her before the damp of coconut matting could settle on his clothes.
About: DBC Pierre, author.
When not travelling far and wide, DBC Pierre divides his time between England and a mountainside in Ireland. "Vernon God Little", his debut novel, won the Man Booker Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award, and was followed by "Ludmila’s Broken English" and "Lights Out in Wonderland". His new book, "Release the Bats", is published by Faber.
Winging it with the president
by Mark Knoller
Whether by name or by appearance, there’s no more recognisable aircraft in the world than Air Force One. It’s the well-known name of the blue, white and silver 747-200b that serves as the US presidential aircraft. There are two of them. Tail numbers 28000 and 29000. In fact, Air Force One is a radio call-sign applied to any usaf plane on which the US president is flying.
Besides the two 747s, military designation vc-25a, the fleet of presidential aircraft also includes 757s, 737s and a variety of Gulfstreams. Occasionally, even c-17 cargo planes have served as Air Force One. No matter which plane, most US presidents cite Air Force One as among the perks they miss most on leaving office.
During his eight years in office, George W Bush flew 1,675 flights on Air Force One. And with seven months to go in his second term President Obama, by my count, is not far behind on 1,277 flights. Accommodations on the 747s vary. For the president there’s a stateroom with two daybeds, a dressing room, toilet and shower. Also an office, conference room and medical facility in which the White House physician can perform emergency surgery. Senior staff have First Class seating and workspace as well. Of lowest rank among passengers on Air Force One is the 14-member press pool. It includes print reporters, photographers, a TV correspondent or producer, a network camera crew and a radio reporter. We occupy the rear starboard cabin on the plane. The US Secret Service cabin is directly ahead of us, which ensures the press doesn’t go wandering towards senior staff or the president. And, contrary to movie lore, Air Force One has no escape pod for the president and there is no parachute ramp.
Two galleys can prepare up to 100 meals at a time. During the Clinton years, press could tell by the menu if the First Lady was accompanying President Clinton on a flight. If baked salmon was served, she was aboard. If it was cheeseburgers and fries? Not a chance. I remember one dinner flight east from Albuquerque, Air Force One hit severe turbulence while the galley crew was preparing Mexican meals. The galley floor was covered in refried beans and Secret Service agents spent the rest of the flight blotting taco stains from their shirts. For once it paid off that the press cabin was last on the plane to be served their meals. As a reporter, I made my first flight on Air Force One covering Gerald Ford in 1976 but one of my most memorable flights aboard Air Force One was in the press pool that accompanied then president George W Bush on his final trip to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 – just weeks before his presidency ended.
For obvious reasons the trip was cloaked in secrecy and security. As a member of the pool I was informed of the trip only the day before and was honour-bound not to share the information with anyone but a single executive in my news organisation.
It was a night-time departure but President Bush boarded the aircraft while it was still parked in its bomb-proof hangar. Before taxiing, the window shades were ordered closed and exterior lights that illuminate the markings of Air Force One were extinguished so that we could take off under cover of darkness, drawing as little attention as possible. If any word of the trip leaked out in advance of our arrival, the security plan was to scrub the visit and return to the US.
To reduce the risk of the approach into Baghdad we executed a spiral descent to minimise our exposure. But even flying into warzones, you feel safe on Air Force One. It was on that visit to Baghdad that an angry Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President Bush. Back on Air Force One, Bush joked with reporters about ducking the hurled footwear. If nothing else, I told him, it showed he wasn’t a lame duck.
About: Mark Knoller, CBS News White House correspondent
Knoller has covered the White House since 1976, reporting on every US president since Gerald Ford. Though he’s diligent at tracking US presidential flights, he’s lost count of his own trips on Air Force One.
The heat is on in Hong Kong
by James Chambers
As a brief sojourn at Midori House in London draws to a close I am gearing up for a 12-hour flight back to Hong Kong and my third sweltering summer in the city. The thermometer there is already at 30c and for the next four months a subtropical climate will blanket the densely populated city. Then there are the torrential downpours. Summer is high season for tropical cyclones so locals pack an umbrella all year round. Water-cooler conversations cheer on the progress of approaching weather systems: a category 8 (out of 10) typhoon alert or a black rainstorm warning means workers are required to stay home. Until then, millions of people will shuffle around an unrelentingly humid concrete landscape in which only older Chinese men can get away with hoiking their shirts up to their chests, freeing their bellies to hang out in the breeze. For the rest of us, less drastic survival strategies are required.
It’s to those that my mind will turn on the way to Heathrow. At least I am better prepared than when I first touched down in Hong Kong two years ago at the height of summer. The heat hits in the airport taxi queue, where arrivals wait outdoors for a red cab to downtown Hong Kong. Shedding layers of UK-appropriate clothing, pale skin glistening, I found out that standing still, even in the shade, is no defence against the oppressive humidity. Air-conditioned taxis are a godsend; a new trial of premium cars this summer, manned by service-trained drivers, will also enhance the human side of things.
These days I take the train from the airport, arriving home within an hour without having to step foot outside once. This kind of boast, which started out as an odd ambition, has become a pastime. On the morning commute I can get the metro to within 200 metres of the monocle bureau without breaking sweat by crossing under the harbour, switching lines, taking subterranean passageways and then walking through three shopping malls. Fortunately Hong Kong’s metro network, including the Airport Express, is world-beating at shuttling residents around the city. MTR Corporation – a government-controlled entity that also operates the lines – is so successful at building shopping malls above stations to finance rail expansion that it makes more money as a property developer than it does as a public-transport provider. Stations are cavernous and spacious carriages blast out air-conditioning (just about making up for a curious ban on drinking water).
The challenge for Hong Kong commuters only comes when leaving this temperature-controlled bubble. A trio of cheap and cheerful transport options traverse Hong Kong’s hilly terrain, each exposed to the outdoors and embracing the slow life. The centuries-old Star Ferry floats back and forth across the harbour, guided by weather-worn staff wearing blue-and-white sailor uniforms. An outdoor escalator – the longest in the world – carries workers from the residential hills to the central business district below. Idling along between these is a picturesque tramway, barely moving fast enough to generate a breeze.
Getting to work earlier, leaving later and wearing plenty of linen are trusty coping mechanisms in the tropics. It also pays to keep good pit-stops in mind (the food shop at the midway point on the escalator has a cracking fridge for loitering by to cool down). Sound travel advice dictates doing as locals do but Hong Kongers’ habits for adapting to the heat, such as walking slowly, drinking tepid water or napping on a lunchtime tabletop, take time to pick up. Whitecollar workers wear T-shirts as an underlayer to soak up the perspiration and insulate against icy indoor temperatures.
Yet this requires acceptance of the inevitable and I am still fresh enough to fight it – but I have gone native in one respect. As my London colleagues complain of the UK capital’s unusual humidity, I reach for a jumper. Two years away and I’ve grown as soft as the jersey fabric. I’m beginning to warm to summer in Hong Kong.
About: James Chambers, Monocle.
Our Hong Kong bureau chief finds the local weather to be like everything else: an ideal balance of his former abodes in Shanghai and Singapore.
Get your motor runnin’
by Kaori Shoji
When I tell people I ride a Harley, their eyebrows go up. If they happen to be Japanese male, they look at my full height of 157cm and grudgingly profess to be impressed. At which point I have to come clean and tell them that it’s my husband who drives and I just ride on the back. They relax and give a little laugh.
Most Japanese men go through a motorcycle phase in their teens and some of them never outgrow it. My husband is one of them. But once they get a job and put on a suit, the motorcycle – even if it’s just an item on their secret wishlist – recedes into the distance. As solid citizens, Japanese men are expected to ensconce themselves inside fully automated vehicles of steel and metal, with power windows and air bags. So their internal reaction to my Harley admission goes something like this: “How dare this woman – a mere Japanese – zip through the city in a cracked leather jacket and tattered jeans? How dare she allow herself to be so reckless and incredibly selfish?”
My internal riposte is that I’ve been riding on the back of motorcycles for as long as I can remember. Throughout my teens and twenties, I made sure all my boyfriends rode motorbikes so I could put my arms around their middles and straddle their hips with my knees. I hate seat belts and I’ve never owned a car. Or a television. Or an air-conditioning unit. My own mother accused me of being an alien from a distant planet.
My husband is the proud owner of a secondhand Harley Road King and it’s the most expensive thing he’s bought for himself. Early on Saturday mornings he takes me to the fish market, located downtown on the eastern tip of inner city Tokyo in a working-class district called Adachi. The fish sold here is cheap and abundant and on request the muscular young men at the stalls will scrape off the scales and gut a freshly caught red snapper free of charge. There’s an authentic sushi restaurant with seating for just 10 people, presided over by an owner-chef and his wife. (A full-on sushi meal is ¥3,000 – €27.) There’s a diner where a plate of fried prawns, sautéed pork and garnishings come to ¥600 (€5). It’s a fiercely blue collar slice of real Tokyo that’s increasingly hard to find.
Not even many Tokyoites know about the Adachi market, obscured as it is by the giant food market in Tsukiji, the subject of countless documentaries and several foreign movies, such as Isabel Coixet’s Map of the Sounds of Tokyo. But Tsukiji is overrun by foreign tourists and one by one, shops that used to deal in fresh produce and dried goods have morphed into overpriced sushi joints or fake Japanese-pottery shops selling stuff from Chinese factories. The market streets are crammed with people wielding selfie sticks and the noisome smell of grilled seafood permeates the air.
In comparison the market in Adachi is a fortress of tourist-unfriendliness that suits my temperament just fine. The older you get in Tokyo, the more you need to jump on a motorcycle – even if it’s just the pillion – and ride to some unknown fish market where the toilet has no paper and the sink is crawling with spiders.
Afterwards, when my body stinks from car fumes and my face is sticky from smog, I tell myself I do this because I’m free and not just because of colossal selfishness. They may be one and the same thing but, you know, you have to forgive yourself sometimes.
About: Kaori Shoji, journalist.
Shoji writes for publications in both Japan and the US.
Dining with a difference
by Josh Fehnert
Travel and food are inextricably linked but as chefs cross borders, muddle, mix and forge new cuisines from older ones – and push the culinary envelope – aren’t restaurants themselves all starting to look a tad samey?
You know the culprits: low-lit dining rooms hemmed in by exposed brick walls, Edison lightbulbs and faux-industrial fittings. Places with whitewashed, shop-bought aesthetics and ill-conceived wooden floors that bounce back conversations from neighbouring tables or offer sightlines into modishly open-plan show kitchens. Maybe there’s a mural by a graffiti artist to establish the venue’s street cred, if you’re unlucky. Cliché is becoming a culture and it’s a troubling trajectory when new openings in LA and London are indistinguishable from those in Stockholm or Seoul.
While we are the first to honour the restaurants that are able to liberate great food from its home and render hot Thai in Tokyo or Greek eats in Sydney (see our Restaurant Awards), there’s also a point to dishes, dining rooms and delights that are best enjoyed in their native surroundings.
Milk bars, for example, are a deeply Polish phenomenon. These cut-price restaurants originally aimed at workers are a hangover from the Soviet era but remain a characterful part of the city today. Prasowy (literally “Press Bar”, from its days as a haunt of journalists) on Marszalkowska in Warsaw originally opened in 1954 and has stayed true to its heritage after a 2011 revamp. Inside, the smartened-up joint has kept its hearty canteen-style fare that allows diners room to imagine how the space was used in the desperate and desolate years under communism. It’s aspirational but respectful to the city’s past, contemporary but poignant. Plus there’s not a single €10 filament bulb in sight.
In Tokyo the global march of homogenised coffee franchises is in contrast to independent coffee shops called kissaten (of which there are 70,000 around the country). They are monuments to the tea-drinking nation’s 20th-century love affair with the bean. These idiosyncratic, often retro-looking spots resolutely stick to time-tested filter coffees and simple menus of tamago sando (egg sandwich), melon soda and milkshakes made with fresh eggs and sugar. They’re refreshing, both to visit and to reflect upon – bastions of Japanese culture enjoyed for generations and with a character all their own. Starbucks can’t get close.
Istanbul’s meyhanes are atmospheric working-class restaurants that are perfect for whiling away a languid lunch. Here people share stories over meze and clink glasses of pokey, anise-flavoured raki as they have for generations. Rough-hewn and rowdy, these places betray the courtly origin many assume is behind meze: paranoid but parsimonious Persian kings who, fearful of poisoners’ plots, would lavish their food tasters with teeny portions of each dish to consume.
Think of the charm of Bavaria’s kitsch beer halls, Hong Kong’s dim sum dives, an American diner or a bolthole pub in Blighty. Travel and food are inextricably linked. Chefs are better than ever at honouring provenance, piping up about slow food and shouting about sustainability. All good things, I’d say. But it would be a shame if those culinary values get lost amid fake industrial shells and bleached-wood counters. In future, a dash more local flavour may well be the difference between a decent dish and an experience worth savouring.
About: Josh Fehnert, Monocle.
Fehnert is in charge of our latest title bringing together the best from the world of food and drink. Published by Gestalten, the 300-plus page book is available from September 2016.