Cool stuff I didn't know about chayote

For years, my mum would talk about this green vegetable called chou chou. All I knew was I didn’t want to eat it as a kid. While I still haven’t tried it (I don’t think, at least not knowingly), I knew it was part of my heritage and I recently discovered it on holiday in France… with spiny skin! So I looked it up and finally found out more about this mysterious vegetable.

The facts of chayote

  • It’s technically a fruit.
  • Its more common name is chayote, derived from the Nahuatl word chayohtli. Chou chou is used predominately in Jamaica but also Mauritius and it is also called christophene in the UK and other parts of the Caribbean (I know my Bajan dad calls it that). They call it chuchu in Brazil.
  • It’s part of the gourd family (pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, luffa, and some other melons).
  • Sometimes they’re spiny, sometimes they’re smooth.
  • Besides the fruit, the root, stem, seeds and leaves are also edible.
  • The fruit is high in amino acids and vitamin C while both the leaves and fruit have anti-inflammatory properties and can act as a diuretic. The leaves can also make tea that people have used to treat high blood pressure and kidney stones.
  • It’s used in a variety of global dishes in the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa and Europe.

My favourite chayote story involved McDonalds and apple pies in Australia:

In Australia, a persistent urban legend is that McDonald’s apple pies were made of chokos (chayotes), not apples. This eventually led McDonald’s to emphasise the fact that real apples are used in their pies. This legend was based on an earlier belief that tinned pears were often disguised chayotes. A possible explanation for the rumor (sic) is that there are a number of recipes in Australia that advise chayotes can be used in part replacement of canned apples to make the fruit go farther in making apple pies. This likely arose because of the economies of “mock” food substitutes during the Depression Era, shortages of canned fruit in the years following World War II, and the fact that apples do not grow in many tropical and subtropical parts of Australia, making them scarce. Chayotes, on the other hand, grow extensively in Australia, with many suburban backyards featuring chayote vines growing along their fence lines and outhouses.

via Wikipedia

Chayote recipes

Here are some recipes I found on the internet. Please check the ingredients for further dietary requirements. Dairy alternatives can be used in place of things like butter, cheese or milk:

A blog post about Japanese geishas and kimonos

I found these articles in October and thought I’d share them.

The first one, from Vogue, is an interview with a Japanese kimono culture expert and she shares her beauty and wellness secrets some of which had been followed by “Geishas and Japanese women over 100 years ago”:

On her detailed skincare routine

“In the morning, firstly, I wipe my face with cotton soaked in plenty of rose water. Secondly I apply a serum, toner, and the Kyoto Secrets’ Beni Balm on the lip, around the eyes and smile lines to reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles. Lastly, I apply an oil and sunscreen. At night, when I wash my face with fluffy soap foam, I use a silk puff to gently caress the foam away. Fine Japanese silk helps to smooth the skin. From the aristocrats of 1100 years ago to the Geishas of 100 years ago, it is understandable that they used to wash their faces with silk cloth to keep their smooth fair skin. Other than sunscreen, it’s almost the same routine as in the morning but I put on a face mask regularly. The neck and the backs of the hands show our age easily, so I take the same care of my face. I use a silk puff to cleanse my body and slather body lotion all over.”

On home remedies

“I apply Sakekasu (white liquor solids produced during the process of making Sake) that is used to make a face mask. The hands of Sake craftsmen, even men in their sixties, are white and beautiful, and many of them look like women in their twenties! Kyoto is the best place in Japan to make Sake, so we can get a lot of good quality Sakekasu. Women in Kyoto have been using face masks with Sakekasu for a long time, which makes their skin look moist.

For my hair mask, I use a mixture of eggs, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, honey, etc., depending on the conditions at the time. Especially for the special hairstyles I do for Kimono, I use more oil or spray than usual. Applying this hair pack before shampooing my hair will loosen up the hardened hair smoothly.”

The second one looks at the “Niigata Geigi”, a group of geishas from Furumachi in Niigata City, far from the more commonly known region of geishas (Kyoto):

Niigata’s geisha tradition dates back more than 200 years to the Edo era (1603-1867) when the city was a major port on the Kitamaebune (literally, “north-bound ships”) shipping route that connected Osaka with Hokkaido. Thousands of cargo vessels made this journey each year. As the capital of Japan’s largest rice producing area, Niigata became the busiest port on the Sea of Japan coast. By the early Meiji Era (1868-1912), Niigata was among the wealthiest, most populous parts of the nation.

A thriving entertainment district grew up in the Furumachi neighbourhoood of the city to cater for the countless wealthy merchants and other visitors. Geishas (or geigis, in the local dialect) began performing at Furumachi’s many teahouses, ozashiki (banqueting halls) and ryotei (luxury restaurants). Politicians and even members of the Imperial family figured among the clientele. By 1884, nearly 400 geigis were performing in Furumachi.

Related to kimonos and Japanese female culture: Chiso is a 466-year old Japanese kimono house and Seitō, a 1911 Japanese magazine exclusively for women.

The cultural taboos of pointing at rainbows

TIL: it’s a no-no to point at a rainbow in many cultures around the world.

Robert Blust has spent the last few years exploring these rainbow-pointing taboos and why they all exist. His first encounter with the belief came in 1980 in Jakarta, when he was a university professor:

[…] One of the teachers, seeing Blust’s gesture, politely informed him that, in Sumatra, pointing to rainbows was considered a no-no. Another chimed in to say the same was true where he came from, in a different part of the archipelago. Both had learned as children that if you broke the taboo, your finger would become bent like a rainbow.

He later found that the forbidden gesture wasn’t specific to south-eastern Asia:

Blust began to cast a wider net. He sent questionnaires to colleagues and missionary stations around the world, inquiring about rainbows and taboos related to them. He would soon amass evidence for the rainbow taboo—in some form or another—in 124 cultures. The prohibition turned up in North America, among the Atsugewi of northern California and the Lakota of the northern plains; in remote parts of Australia and isolated islands in Melanesia; among the Nyabwa of Ivory Coast and the Kaiwá of Brazil. At one time it was present in Europe, too: one of the Grimm brothers noted it in his book on German mythology. The belief was not found in every culture, according to Blust’s search, but it was present globally, across all inhabited regions.

Although the reasons differ, the general idea behind the rainbow-pointing taboo is bad luck. I wonder how many “successful” or otherwise happy people have done it and how it affected them, if at all. And does it count for rainbow drawings (of which there have been loads in the UK during the pandemic)? Cultural anthropology is fascinating.

(via Atlas Obscura)

Kashmiri chai

Kashmiri chai
credit: jslander, via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While Kashmiri chai is a green tea, it’s actually pink in colour.

Originally a Himalayan drink, pink tea goes by many names across South Asia, some which reference its unusual color and flavor, from nun chai (salt tea) to gulabi chai (rose-hued tea). Salt and baking soda are key ingredients. Salt acts as an electrolyte to prevent dehydration at high altitudes, and baking soda is the catalyst that turns it pink. Infused with spices such as star anise and topped with crushed nuts, the tea is tailor-made for cold weather. In Kashmir, nun chai is drunk piping hot several times a day, accompanied by an array of breads: crispy kulcha, dimpled girda, or bagel-like tsochwor.

via Atlas Obscura

There are plenty of recipes online (some more authentic, some quicker and easier) but the key to its pinkness is getting in the right reaction between the baking soda and your green tea leaves and how long you brew it for.

What was François Mitterrand's final meal and why was it so controversial?

The ortolan is a small bird from the bunting family that lives in Europe and western Asia. It is also the last meal that former French president François Mitterrand ever ate, 8 days before his death. But eating ortolans is illegal in France (even though some chefs will still make it) and it comes with some… unique traditions:

[…] To prepare it, the ortolan is drowned in a glass of Armagnac. This is not a metaphor. It is actually drowned, and then it is cooked in a cassoulet.

[…]

You place a white cloth over your head and pick the bird up with your fingers, and then you eat it whole, wings, feet, organs, head, everything except the feet. The ortolan is supposed to represent the soul of France.

The white cloth is to create a closed sensory world of just taste and scent.

The cloth is also, traditionally, to hide the act from God.

via Interconnected

For more on Mitterand’s last meal and the ortolan, read Michael Paterniti’s 1998 piece for Esquire magazine. You can also read this Smithsonian article on the ortolan from 2018 and how it is/was eaten into extinction. (A note that while the ortolan’s global conservation listing is “Least Concern”, in France, it is “Endangered”.)

Bird-related: the 13 birds of Christmas

Photos of the Bookshelf Theater in the Kadokawa Culture Museum by Ryosuke Kosuge

Japanese photographer Ryosuke Kosuge captured the majesty of The Kadokawa Culture Museum’s Bookshelf Theater – a library with 8m tall bookshelves, containing over 50,000 titles. It’s like a film set or a modern, dizzying interpretation of the Library of Alexandria.

Related: The Instagram account capturing Japanese facades, the captivating neon photography of Liam Wong and the night photography of Junya Watanabe

Fumi Ishino's 'Index of Fillers' chronicles Japanese culture in the 80s and 90s

someone making stir fry in a wok

Index of Fillers is the artist’s second monograph following his acclaimed publication rowing a tetrapod (MACK, 2017) and is the first artist book published by Assembly. Composed of found images of Japanese culture from the late 1980s and 1990s along with Ishino’s own photographs, Index of Fillers is a recreation of the artist’s elusive memory of growing up during this era in Japan.

I like the Japanese comic strip panelling he uses for his images. There’s nothing dramatised or embellished about the subject matter; it’s literally an index of cultural fillers and while that may seem mundane to some, it’ll be refreshing to others.

Buy it on the Assembly Art website.

The Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan

Deep in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan lies something extraordinary: a 230ft-wide hole with fire in it. Known to locals as “The Gates of Hell”, the crater (officially known as the Darvaza gas crater) was the result of a disputed accident:

[…] a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate.

To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. The Soviet drilling rig is believed to still be down there somewhere, on the other side of the “Gates of Hell.”

The hole has been on fire for 40 years. For more pictures and the story of a Canadian explorer who went down, check out this Guardian article.

(via Atlas Obscura)

Update: the Turkmenistan president is planning to close the crater

A Japanese study classified fish-shaped soy sauce containers into species

The fish-shaped soy sauce container

A Japanese entomologist has ventured from his area of expertise to delve into the taxonomy of these plastic fish and he has actually sorted them into distinct families and genera. You may wonder, why? Perhaps it is an ode to the humble soy sauce container, perhaps another outlet for a taxonomist to channel OCD, or perhaps just because.

The author of the book, Yoshihisa Sawada, is an expert in Japanese insect taxonomy and has worked at the Museum of Nature and Human Activities in Hyogo, having published several scientific papers in this field. He took his taxonomic expertise and applied it to an unlikely subject, seemingly below his expertise: plastic fish-shaped soy sauce bottles. He applies his same methodology and treats his subject with all the reverence and seriousness of an actual taxonomic study on living animals. The book was published in 2012 and, alas, is only available in Japanese. The rough translation of the title into English is “Soy sauce sea bream”. “Bream” refers to freshwater and marine fish from a variety of genera that are typically narrow and deep-bodied.

More on fish: Europe’s only fish tannery, did Danny DeVito eat a real fish in Batman Returns, and the vantafish that absorbs nearly all light.

(via ZME Science, h/t Alex Cassidy on Twitter)

Chiso is a 466-year old Japanese kimono house

Truly great gowns, beautiful gowns from Chiso, a traditional Japanese textile producer in Kyoto, Japan.

When Yozaemon Chikiriya established his garment business, Chiso, in Kyoto, his primary customers were monks who required fine clerical vestments. That was 1555. More than four centuries later, the company’s intricately cut robes are coveted as luxury garments, and Chiso—having persevered through shrinking economies, shifting trends, wars, and more—has found itself among the last of Japan’s bespoke kimono houses.

The history of US racism against Asian Americans

Up until the eve of the COVID-19 crisis, the prevailing narrative about Asian Americans was one of the model minority.

The model minority concept, developed during and after World War II, posits that Asian Americans were the ideal immigrants of color to the United States due to their economic success.

But in the United States, Asian Americans have long been considered as a threat to a nation that promoted a whites-only immigration policy. They were called a “yellow peril”: unclean and unfit for citizenship in America.

(via The Conversation)

Tam Tam: the cutest baby pygmy hippo in Japan

Tam Tam, the pygmy hippo looking at the camera

Tam Tam is a pygmy hippo from Osaka, Japan. He was born in February 2019.

As pygmy hippos are classed as Endangered, it’s remarkable to see newborns anywhere, let alone Far East Asia where they aren’t native. But the World Conservation Union estimates that fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos are left in the wild so captivity is, unfortunately, the safest place for them.

The video below shows Tam Tam swimming in the pool showing his growing teeth and nursing underwater. But above all else, it shows him being the cutest baby pygmy hippo in Japan.

Stream it below.

ミニカバの赤ちゃん 手乗りサイズだったけど大きくなりました! / Adorable baby pygmy hippo at Japanese aquarium

Hippo related: Pablo Escobar’s hippos and 10 hippos from cartoons, literature, and other media.

Places I want to go when it's safe

A plane wing above clouds in the sky

COVID-19 has ruined a lot of things and while people are still travelling for their own reasons, holidays shouldn’t be one of them. And so I’m staying home until it’s safe to travel for that reason.

But when I can, I hope to visit these 5 cities at some point.

Lisbon, Portugal

I visited Lisbon for the first time in 2017 for my birthday and it was a revelation. I’ve never felt so comfortable in a new city in my life. The food was awesome, the architecture was breathtaking, and it cleansed my soul. I returned in 2018 but I’ve not been back since (I went to Nice to spend time with my parents for my 30th birthday).

It’s my mission to go back as soon as it’s safe and legal to fly.

Nice, France

It helps that my parents live there now but before that, I’d visited with my parents on holiday a few times, and my then-partner in 2015. Another Mediterranean city, it’s gorgeous in the summer, lovely food again, and more great architecture as well as a cool modern art museum featuring works by the likes of Yves Klein.

Leeds, UK

I was born in Bradford but never really spent time in Leeds besides the carnival as a kid. In my adult years, I’ve been a few times and it’s a really nice city. My last visit was last year for a solo Valentine’s vacay and my hotel was kind enough to do this:

Shout out Clayton Hotel. I will be back soon!

Chicago, USA

Last visit: July 2012. I went to see friends and, prior to Lisbon, it was my favourite city in the world. It still holds a place in my heart and I hope once it’s safe in all aspects of the word, I would like to go back and see my friends.

Tokyo, Japan

This is the only city on the list I’ve never visited but it’s on the proverbial bucket list. Besides experiencing the culture, trying the food, and taking lots of photos, I want all the Pokémon things and all the Game Boy things. And some vinyl. I’ll probably need £1000–£2000 spending money and an extra suitcase and I’m not joking.

Related: Photography by Liam Wong in Tokyo and Japan travel tips for first timers

Shoji Morimoto: a Tokyo "rent-a-person"

Sometimes you just need someone to be there for you, especially during times like this. Not to say or do anything—just be there. Shoji Morimoto, a 37-year-old Tokyo man, can offer that service for ¥10,000 per request (about £71 or $96).

Shoji Morimoto has been advertising himself as a person who can “eat and drink, and give simple feedback, but do nothing more,” since June 2018, and has received over 3,000 requests.

His work has garnered high praise from his clients and people on Twitter:

“I’m glad I was able to take a walk with someone while keeping a comfortable distance, where we didn’t have to talk but could if we wanted to.”

“I had been slack about visiting the hospital, but I went because he came with me.”

“He listened to me without shaming me about going to the adult entertainment shop. It felt like a support to just have him by my side without forcing his opinions on me.”

Semi-related: The insular world of hikikomori and the internet cafe refugees of Japan

(via The Mainichi)

How to brew Chinese tea correctly

How to brew Chinese tea right

Forget everything you know about brewing Chinese tea as Goldthread has the inside scoop.

In their video, they look at the “right” way to brew Chinese tea, including the ceremonial process known as gongfu cha:

Gongfu means skill, and cha means tea. It’s a form of Chinese tea service that dates back to the 14th century in Fujian. It places emphasis on the tea’s taste, temperature, and quality.

The ceremony of gongfu cha is a far cry from the American TikToker who made tea in a microwave with a truckload of sugar and milk. If there was a spectrum of tea making, China and the US would be on either side.

Stream the video below.

How to Brew Chinese Tea the Right Way

Tea related: Is tea the new wine?