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”.)

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)

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 at 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 and consider a donation to the Pygmy Hippo Foundation.

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?

The Instagram account capturing Japanese facades

japanese facade

With any populous nation, there are varying levels of architecture; you get spectacular modern buildings, decadent classical monuments, or harsh, functional structures. Naturally, you get facades with them too (the exterior side of a building, often at the front).

On Instagram, a graphic designer who goes by the username @ka_nai has been uploading photos of Japanese facades and, while that will sound boring to most people, I love them. Every image is a little different in colour and style, mostly industrial or concrete/brick clad but occasionally you get something more uniform or vibrant.

View this post on Instagram

路地裏の黒い三連星。 #ザ壁部

A post shared by ザ壁 (@ka_nai) on

View this post on Instagram

裏アカ発見。 #ザ壁部

A post shared by ザ壁 (@ka_nai) on

(via Pen Magazine)

Indo apples, samurai, and Japanese farmers

Indo apple

Gastro Obscura’s Emily Warren wrote about Japan’s apple history, including the nation’s first cultivated apple, the Indo apple:

Prior to a trip to the United States in 1871, Hosokawa Junjirō—who is best known as a legislator, not a farmer—heard from an American agriculturist employed by the Meiji government that apples would be worth growing in Japan. While traveling in the United States on a mission to study the country, Hosokawa acquired a large number of Ralls Janet apples, a variety famously cultivated by Thomas Jefferson. The trees arrived in Japan in 1874, and within the next year, they were distributed to research sites in Hokkaido, northern Honshū, and Nagano. Apples also found their way into farming communities through other pathways. John Ing, a Methodist missionary in Aomori, introduced a different sort of apple to Hirosaki City, and from it, former samurai Kikuchi Kurō cultivated Japan’s first apple, calling it “Indo,” after Ing’s home state of Indiana. This would become the parent breed of a number of popular Japanese varieties, such as the Crispin.

After hard work and a number of decades, the Fuji apple in 1939 when pollen from Red Delicious apple plants was mixed with Ralls Janet flower pistil. It was originally named “Agriculture-Forestry No.7” but almost ceased to exist:

As World War II raged, the apple-growing communities of Japan struggled. In 1941, an early frost wrecked the crop. In 1944, it was a typhoon; the next year it was an ill-timed snowfall that completely wiped out the harvest. Just after the war ended, a man-made disaster ensued in the form of new taxes that knocked the wind out of the apple industry, followed by a price collapse in 1948.

Of course the Fuji apple didn’t disappear and with some clever marketing and a reignition of the apple industry in the 50’s, it was back and more successful than ever.

Today, the Fuji apple is one of the most popular apple cultivars in the US and in China in 2016, its fresh apple exports reached 986,000 tons of which Red Fuji apples accounted for about 70% (my rough maths says that’s the equivalent weight of over 100,000 African elephants).

The night photography of Junya Watanabe

Junya Watanabe cityscape

I love night photography but they often follow a theme of neon lighting, especially when Japan is the setting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but something unique always catches my eye and Junya Watanabe did that.

Watanabe (not to be confused with the fashion designer) is a Tokyo-based photographer and retoucher that captures the essence of the city that’s bright but unsaturated, giving a unique type of vibrancy you don’t see very often in night photography.

He was born in 1992 in Shiga, Japan and started photography in 2017. Already, he has amassed a spectacular portfolio working with the likes of Nikken, Gaku Ramen, and Orphe Shoes.

Check out his website, his shop where he sells his presets, and his Instagram.

(Thanks to kottke.org for the recommendation.)