My Big Announcement on TBEX North America – Cancun 2014

It’s an exciting, yet nerve wracking, day for me as I finally get to formally announce some news I’ve been sitting on for a couple weeks. I am headed to Cancun next week for the big TBEX (Travel Bloggers Conference); however, I’m no longer going as just an attendee as I have for the last five or so conferences in North America and Europe.

Say hello to the moderator for a new session and panel discussion at TBEX Cancun!

Erin De Santiago TBEX Cancun Speaker

I am honored to have been asked by Mary Jo, the head of TBEX, to represent Belize and head up a panel discussion on “Blogging in Latin America.” I’m joined by one of my best friends and colleagues in Belize, Dorian Nunez from Ambergris Today, Cancun based Kelly McLaughlin from A Canuck in Cancun and co-founder of #MexChat, and David Lee, co-founder of Travel Blog Success and publisher of successful sites like Go Backpacking and Medellin Living. Together we will be discussing the advantages and challenges of blogging in, and about, Latin America.

TBEX Blogging in Latin America

What is even more exciting is that Dorian and I are being sponsored in part by Belize’s national airline, Tropic Air Belize. We are going to explore some of Cancun’s best activities — and food of course — to help promote tourism between Belize and Cancun.

Cancun Tbex Cover copy

Although I may not write about Belize exclusively on Our Tasty Travels, this is my home for a significant portion of the year, and is the subject matter of much of my freelance work. I am proud to say I wrote a majority of Belize’s official visitor magazine, Destination Belize, in 2013, and I am AFAR Travel Magazine’s local Belize expert and I authored the official AFAR Guide to Belize. And, the timing of this couldn’t be more perfect. Some of the coverage and media footage will be used in a couple upcoming projects, including the launch of my Belize destination site (finally!) I’ve had this in development for over a year and I’m hoping to launch by the end of 2014.

While some details and activities are still being worked out, here is some of what Dorian and I will be up to next week. Please follow the hashtag #TBEX as well as our special hashtag #TropicCancun for social media updates on what we are doing!

Moon Palace Resorts Cancun

Moon Palace Resorts is sponsoring our stay and is the host of the conference itself. This all-inclusive golf and spa resort has so much to offer it would take Dorian and I a week to experience it all! We will do our best to partake in such rough activities as eating at the restaurants, sampling signature drinks, lounging by the pool, and maybe making time for a spa session to ease my nerves before speaking!

Photo courtesy of Moon Palace

Photo courtesy of Moon Palace

Río Secreto

This is such an exciting aspect of our trip. We will be on an evening tour of Xibalbá, the Mayan underworld. We will be swimming in an underground river surrounded by stalagmites and stalactites, and then enjoying a traditional Mexican dinner afterwards. This is our speakers dinner and welcome reception — I can’t think of a better way to kick the conference off!

Opening Party – Xcaret Park

The TBEX opening party is at Xcaret Park. This is an archeological park that offers Mayan jungles and Mexican culture infused into over 40 attractions. Not sure what area our party will be in, but I am sure it will be exciting!


Expedia “Selfie” Party

One of the highlights of any TBEX conference is the Expedia-sponsored party. I’ve been to a Colorado ski resort rodeo, experienced movie star costume glam on an island in Toronto, tweeted up hashtag fun served with a glutton-like indulgence of Iberico ham in Costa Brava, Spain, and, most recently, imbibed on Oscar Wilde Gatsby-era cocktails in a historic train station in Dublin, Ireland. For Cancun, look for “More Selfies in More Places” with lots of margaritas and Mexican eats from the Moonlight Terrace of Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort. Special hashtag for the party is #ExpediaTBEX.

Expedia Selfie Party Cancun

Maya Culture Press Trip – Mayan Experience

After the conference, Dorian and I have been invited on a multi-day trip to experience the local Maya culture in Mexico. With Mayan history playing such an important role in Belize’s own history, we are very excited to learn more about the region’s cultural roots. The Westin Resort & Spa Cancun will be providing our lodging as we explore this part of Mexico.

Here’s a look at some of the sights and activities we will be experiencing:

  • Tulum – pre-Columbian Maya walled city
  • Cancun Maya Museum
  • Dinner cooked on hot stones, traditionally eaten under a palapa on the beach
  • Coba – Nohoch Muul pyramid (not sure I’m brave enough to climb the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan)
  • Meet with a Maya family in Laguna Chabela
  • Visit Tres Reyes, an authentic Maya village
  • Swim in a Cenote
  • Eat a traditional Mayan meal
  • Learn about Yucatecan cuisine
  • Experience an authentic Temazcal — traditional Mexican steam bath that takes place in a round or domed structure made of stone or mud.

We are still trying to put together one or two more activities while we are in Cancun. Please follow our various social media accounts for updates!

Shark Related Kitchen, Wine and Bar Products To Get You Ready For Shark Week

Hard to believe it’s already time for another Shark Week on Discovery Channel!

Not familiar with Shark Week?

Shark Week first premiered in 1988, and was originally developed to raise awareness and educate people about sharks. Over the years, the programming has continued to expand in both quantity and style. Today, Discovery Channel even has a nighttime talk show called Shark After Dark LIVE, hosted by comedian Josh Wolf.

Shark Week is now broadcast in over 70 countries and typically takes place in July or August. It’s the longest running cable television programming event. If you haven’t kept in the loop, Shark Week 2014 starts Sunday, August 10.

This year, I’ll be watching Shark Week from a new condo here in Ambergris Caye, Belize, that I moved into last month. Before the move, I became obsessed with finding tropical and marine animal themed tablescapes and home decor for the new place. During my exhaustive Amazon searches, I came across some pretty cool shark-themed kitchen and dining items.

In honor of Shark Week 2014, here are some of the best shark-themed kitchen and dining items to get you in the mood.

Shark Wine Bottle Holders and Wine Stopper

These shark wine bottle holders are awesome. From the more realistic sharks to the whimsical Great White that reminds me of myself after a few glasses of wine, shark week fans should definitely have one of these shark wine bottle holders. I’m debating between ordering either the second or third…or all three.

Mako Great White Land Shark Wine Bottle Holder

Great White Shark Single Wine Bottle Holder

Great White Shark and Coral Single Wine Bottle Holder

Shark Head Wine Bottle Stopper

Shark Wine Bottle Stopper #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels #wine

Shark Head Wine Bottle Stopper
$12.54 (Photo: Amazon)

Shark Game Room, Barware, and Accessories

If you aren’t necessarily a wine drinker, no worries! There are plenty of cool bar related shark accessories available. Try shark themed coasters, glasses, bottle stoppers, decanters, and even shark fin ice cubes — one of my personal favorites! If you are into art at all, the shark coasters are designed by artist Michael Godard one of my favorite artists from Vegas. A lot of his artwork used to adorn the walls of bars and restaurants and his distinctive style is very well-known. When he opened his gallery several years ago, I flew to Vegas for the grand opening and purchased the pool shark beer tap handle, which he signed. It’s one of my favorite collectibles and I’m hopeful I’ll have a game room and pool table again where I can display it.

Meeting Michael Godard in Las Vegas in 2007 #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels

Meeting Michael Godard in Las Vegas in 2007

Hand-Blown Shark Glasses

Hand-Blown Shark Glasses #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels #wine

Hand-Blown Shark Glasses,
$28.97 for 2 glasses (Photo: Amazon)

Shark Fin Ice Tray

Shark Fin Ice Tray #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels #wine

Shark Fin Ice Tray
$3.97 (Photo: Amazon)

Shark Decanter

Shark Decanter #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels

Shark Decanter
$57.95 (Photo: Amazon)

Michael Godard – Pool Shark Drink Coaster Set

Michael Godard Pool Shark Dart Cabinet

Shark Tea Infusers

If I don’t have a glass of wine in my hand, I’m likely drinking a cup of Asian tea. Three years in Taiwan taught me a lot about the art of tea. As my knowledge base has grown, I’m figuring out I can appreciate the more expensive teas, which are typically loose leaf. Other than my favorite Taiwanese tea ceremony cups, tea infusers tend to be boring. Thankfully, some creative folk have come up with some really ingenious infusers that make drinking tea a lot more fun. While I could share all my favorites, going to stick here to the shark ones only since it’s Shark Week time.

Shark Fin “Sharky” Stainless Steel Loose Tea Infuser

Silicone Shark Tea Infuser

Blue Shark Tea Infuser #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels #tea

Silicone Shark Tea Infuser
$9.92 (Photo: Amazon)

Shark Coffee Mug

Not a tea drinker? Check out this cool “shark attack” coffee mug.

Shark Attack Coffee Mug

Shark Attack Coffee Mug #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels #wine

Shark Attack Coffee Mug
$28.50 (Photo: Amazon)

Shark Salt & Pepper Shakers

These shark salt and pepper shakers are definitely a fun addition for your Shark Week meals. Which is your favorite? Mine is the cute shark holding the salt and pepper shakers. If I hadn’t just bought lobster themed ones for my Belize condo, I’d definitely be adding him to my kitchen!

Shark Ceramic Salt and Pepper Shakers

Great White Shark Salt and Pepper Shaker Set

Shark Fin Salt and Pepper Shakers

Shark Fin Salt & Pepper Shakers #shark #sharkweek #ourtastytravels

Shark Fin Salt and Pepper Shakers
$28.35 (Photo: Amazon)


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Belizean Brown Sugar Mini-Donuts Recipe

Not sure what came over me, but I woke up early Saturday morning with loads of energy, inspired, and ready to bake. I haven’t had a working oven down here in Belize in well over a year, but I recently moved into a new condo that has a beautiful American style stove and oven. Figured it was time to try it out, and I baked a lot in Taiwan with horrid humidity, how bad could it possibly be here, right?


Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa Donuts #recipe #belize #donuts #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa Donuts


I attempted two recipes, and while my mini-donuts were quite good, I had an epic fail with my cookie butter cardamom cookies. What was supposed to be a batch of light and fluffy cookies ended up as a single, very thin cookie-blob that might as well have been run over by a steam roller.

Thank you humidity!

I should’ve known better after having to freeze the dough to even roll the cookies in the first place. My mistake was not putting the dough balls back in the freezer to set up before putting the cookies in the oven to bake.

Despite their hideous appearance, the cookies were rather tasty and I’ll try them again so I can write up a recipe.

In the meantime, I did manage to pull off pretty tasty mini-donuts that were baked rather than fried. And the best part is, these were made utilizing local ingredients like Belizean brown sugar and cocoa.

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa

If you have a Wilton Nonstick 12-Cavity Mini Donut Pan, try your hand at baking these Belizean brown sugar mini-donuts.

Dining in Belize: Casa Picasso Offers Caye Coffee Experience

Spending most of my time in Belize doesn’t afford me as many opportunities to attend the fancy wine pairing dinners I was so fond of in Taiwan; however, every once in a while something interesting pops up that I just can’t resist.

Casa Picasso in San Pedro, Belize, has become one of my favorite restaurants for a nice night out. Each week, the creative culinary minds come up with a new theme for “Tasting Thursday,” a multi-course Chef’s Tasting Menu dinner, usually available with a paired wine flight.

This month they came up with a tasting menu that instantly caught my eye — coffee. We have a local coffee roasting company here on the island, Caye Coffee Roasting Co., that is quickly climbing the ranks as one of my top coffees from around the world.

Caye Coffee Roasting Co. in San Pedro, Belize #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Caye Coffee Roasting Co. in San Pedro, Belize

For the special event, all five courses were created utilizing Caye Coffee products as an integral part of each dish. Wondering how a five-course dinner paired with coffee and a wine flight turned out? Here you go!

Casa Picasso’s Espresso Martini on the Rocks

Not your average espresso martini. Made with Caye Coffee, vanilla vodka, creme de cacao and Kahlua, this was the perfect pick-me-up to start the dinner off right.

Casa Picasso Espresso Martini Aperitif #cocktail #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Espresso Martini Aperitif

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte

We started off with the first course, “Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte.” Local shrimp, flash sautéed with garlic, espresso, and a touch of cream, served over crispy, grilled cheddar grit cakes and a bourbon espresso glaze.

I loved so many aspects of this dish, but it was a little much for my palate when put all together. Not sure if it was the “bite” from the espresso, combined with the sweet glaze, heavy cream, etc., but with the acidity of the wine, it didn’t work strikingly well. That being said, the dish on its own was great and so was the wine.

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte

Wine Pairing — Yalumba, Y Series, Sauvignon Blanc, South Australia

Front Street Coffee Encrusted “Jerk” Chicken

Each of the Caye Coffee products is named after one of the three main streets here in San Pedro, Belize. While the streets have official names, we typically refer to them as Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street.

Casa Picasso nailed a home run with this course in my book. The chicken breast had a spicy jerk marinade, crusted with the Front Street grounds and then slow roasted. It was served over fried plantains with a chipotle mole sauce. I have to admit, while I love a good mole sauce, I found myself eating the chicken and sauce separately. I loved the coffee crust on the chicken so much I didn’t want anything to detract from it. And the mole sauce? Trust me, not a drop left on my plate! I could’ve brought home a to-go container of the mole to use on everything.

Coffee Crusted Jerk Chicken #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Front Street Coffee Encrusted “Jerk” Chicken

Wine Pairing: Duck Pond, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Lobster Cappuccino

Throw out the Italian rule of no cappuccino after 11am here. I was excited for this course after having a number of cappuccino soups in Taiwan over the past few years. Certainly a heavy dish, but worth it. Casa Picasso’s Lobster Cappuccino was made with buttery poached lobster, served in a rich Caye Coffee cappuccino-infused lobster jus, and topped with lemon thyme cream. This is how all cappuccinos should be served!

Casa Picasso Lobster Cappuccino #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Lobster Cappuccino

Wine Pairing: Antinori Bramito del Cervo, Chardonnay, Italy

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragù

This was a hard one…my pick for the best course of the night was between this and the jerk coffee crusted chicken. The creativity in this one really impressed me. Caye Coffee does not make a Turkish coffee, so Casa Picasso made a Turkish-style coffee ragù using the bold Back Street blend.

The dish was made with a braised pork shoulder in the Turkish coffee ragù, complemented by hints of balsamic, black olives, cardamom, and sweet tomatoes. The noodles it was served over — delicious homemade vanilla-scented, buttered noodles.

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragu #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragu

I have to comment on the wine pairing with this course again…surprisingly, I loved it. I was never a fan of Seghesio Zinfandels despite so many people raving about them in Northern California. Living close to Lodi’s famed Zinfandel region and drinking 100-year-old ancient vine Zins out of Contra Costa County probably keeps me a bit biased. This is the first time I can say; I really loved a Seghesio Zin!

Wine Pairing: Seghesio, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California

Caye Coffee Dessert: Irish Coffee Crème

Prior to attending this dinner, I politely offered to take all donations of this course from any local CrossFit people who are bulking, shredding, avoiding carbs, eating paleo, or whatever else I’m missing. Sadly, no one took me up on it. Guess they wanted this for their “cheat day,” and who can blame them! If I could’ve gotten away with it, I might’ve tried to smuggle a couple of these out of the kitchen (sorry Jackie!)

This was a miniature chocolate cup filled with Jameson’s whiskey and Caye Coffee liqueur, topped with a Bailey’s whipped cream and chocolate covered coffee beans.

Casa Picasso Irish Coffee Crème #food #dessert #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Irish Coffee Crème

So, what will a dinner like this set you back in Belize? Try only 75 BZ for the dinner itself and the wine flight was another 45 BZ. In US dollars, that is only $60 for a five course chef’s tasting menu and four glasses of wine.

If you’re coming to Ambergris Caye, I highly recommend reserving one night to visit Casa Picasso. They are closed Sunday and Monday and open for dinner Tuesday – Saturday. Be sure to try one of Nicolai’s amazing martinis, and tell the owners, Jackie and Adam, I sent you! They will take excellent care of you on your special night out. And, since you won’t experience this particular tasting menu, be sure to grab a bag or two of Caye Coffee to take back home with you — it’s better than Starbucks…sssshhhhh!

Where to Eat on Santorini: Assyrtico Wine Restaurant in Fira

It’s no secret that eating on the island of Santorini can be pricey, especially at restaurants in Fira that offer stunning views back to the sea. While some tend to be tourist traps offering ‘ok’ food at inflated prices, there are some definite gems on the island, like Assyrtico Wine Restaurant.

Returning to Santorini after seven years, I was determined to locate a restaurant that not only offered good food with a view, but also one whose menu featured a number of local Santorini specialties. We found this in Assyrtico Wine Restaurant. You might recognize the name Assyrtiko, as it’s one of Santorini’s best-known wines; however, the restaurant is actually spelled Assyrtico.

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant Santorini Entrance #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant’s entrance

The masterminds behind this innovative venture are two of the best chefs on Santorini. Nikos Pouliasis from Koukomavlos and Vasilis Zaharakis from Nichteri joined forces to create Assyrtico Wine Restaurant, offering a creative take on some traditional Santorini dishes.

And the view is pretty amazing. Assyrtico is located up a set of stairs where you are met with a beautiful arched balcony that looks directly back to the caldera of Santorini. It was pretty windy the day we were there, but we braved the less than ideal weather to sit at one of the best tables.

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant View #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Oh what a terrible view in Santorini!

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant Santorini #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Just in case you didn’t get enough of the “terrible” view from Assyrtico Wine Restaurant

Assyrtico offers an excellent Greek and International wine list. If you are interested in trying some of the best local varietals, the staff is quite knowledgeable. We opted with a P.D.O Assyrtiko from Hatzidakis Winery as recommended by our server.

Assyrtiko Wine #wine #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Local Santorini specialty is wine made from Assyrtiko grapes

Normally, I have trouble choosing between appetizers to try and this was my worst challenge yet. Assyrtico’s six different starters made it so hard to choose – we opted to forgo an entrée and try all six since they represented some of the best in local Santorini dishes.

Amuse Bouche – Homemade Breads and Hummus

We started off with a basket of homemade breads and hummus. The bread had local Santorini capers baked inside and the hummus was one of the best I’ve had in Greece.

Assyrtico's homemade bread with local capers #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s homemade bread with local capers

Assyrtico's fresh hummus #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s fresh hummus

Tomato Ball Pancake

Made with sundried tomatoes, spearmint and watermelon chutney with lime and feta cheese from Tripoli. Light in texture, the tomato ball pancakes were well balanced and the watermelon chutney with feta was a nice way to cut the richness from the pancake.

Assyrtico Tomato Ball Pancakes #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Tomato Ball Pancakes

“Like” Zucchini Fritters

These are giant beans from Prespes and zucchini from Santorini, mixed with a sesame crust and served atop a curry avocado yogurt sauce. I was worried the sesame crust was going to overpower the delicate bean and zucchini flavors, but they worked well together. The curry sauce added some cool spice and a subtle hint of sweetness that was a nice finish.

Assyrtico Zucchini Fritters #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

The “Like” Zucchini Fritters appetizer at Assyrtico


If you try only one thing in Santorini, it should be fava. Fava beans are locally grown on the island and absolutely delicious. Typically served as a puree, Assyrtico’s version is served with pickled onions in forest fruits, mousse of smoked pork from Mani, capers and sage scented olive oil. This was easily my favorite dish – the fava puree was divine and the pickled onions were so flavorful, but not overpowering in the slightest. I could’ve eaten two, maybe three of these myself!

Assyrtico Fava Puree #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s phenomenal Fava dish made with locally grown Santorini fava beans


The saganaki appetizer at Assyrtico features Gruyere cheese from Mytilini Island aged in olive oil. It’s wrapped in a pastry crust and served with a chutney of Greek dry fruits marinated in Vinsanto wine. The chutney on this dish was a clear winner with both of us. The Gruyere was mild and the pastry crust not soggy in the least.

Assyrtico Saganaki #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Saganaki Cheese – another specialty in Greece

Kataifi Fillo

The kataifi fillo was one of the most stunning dishes we had that afternoon. It’s made with four types of Greek cheese, scented with mastic, mandarin sauce, and rose petals confit. It’s hard to argue with this dish just looking at it. It’s delicate – both in presentation and flavor. If you’ve never heard of mastic, it’s a Greek specialty product. Mastic is a “gum” found only in the mastic tree, which is grown in only one part of the world – the Greek island of Chios. Mastic is used in a variety of products, from culinary specialties to skin and beauty products made in Greece.

Assyrtico Kataifi Fillo #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Kataifi Fillo featuring four different types of local Greek cheeses

Assyrtico Kataifi Fillo 2 #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Loved the presentation on the Kataifi Fillo so much I had to post both photos!


“Santorini” Bruschetta

The last dish featured several Santorini products as well – sautéed squid, smoked mouse of white Santorinian eggplant, topped with an aioli sauce with cuttlefish ink and seaweeds. At first glance, the seaweed and the thick cuttlefish ink may be a turn off to some, but don’t skip this one. The squid was perfectly prepared and the white eggplant mousse was sublime. The seaweed and cuttlefish ink were perfect accompaniments for this appetizer and had we still been hungry, I would’ve been tempted to order another Santorini Bruschetta.

Assyrtico Santorini Bruschetta #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s take on local Santorini Bruschetta was amazing

Due to Santorini’s landscape of volcanic ash, there are no natural trees and very few plants, making local food products somewhat of a rarity. Items like fava beans, tomatoes, and certain grape varietals thrive in volcanic soil, helping earn the island an excellent reputation within the gastronomic community. Santorini’s fava bean production is so respected, it has been granted P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) status.

Prices at Assyrtico are reasonable, especially as compared to similar restaurants along the “waterfront”. Appetizers range from 8 euros to the most expensive at 11.50 euros (as of May 2014). Assyrtico’s main courses looked amazing as well but we obviously didn’t have near enough room to try one nor the desserts sadly. We definitely plan to return again and try the chefs’ individual restaurants as well.

Assyrtico Restaurant

Φηρά, Σαντορίνη (Fira, Santorini)
84700, Ελλάδα  (84700, Greece)
Phone: +30 22860 22463,
+30 22860 34255


This is the first in a series of upcoming posts from Our Tasty Travel’s 23 day tour of the Mediterranean on Holland America’s MS Noordam. Follow the hashtag #OTTMED14 on Twitter and Instagram for more yummy photos and social media recaps from our incredible adventure of the local culinary culture in many parts of the region. 

Tea Tuesday: Masala Chai Tea

Featuring an aromatic blend of black tea and Indian spices and herbs, Masala chai tea is a very popular type of tea. Spices like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon are important components to a true Masala Chai.

As its name might suggest, Masala Chai means spiced tea. In Indian culture, masala means a blend of spices while chai is the name for tea. Spice blends can vary, especially in Indian homes where families are producing their own masala chai. Look for recognizable ingredients like star anise, cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, allspice, coriander, and more.

Masala chai tea (photo: Flickr, Nomadic Lass) #tea #ourtastytravels

Masala chai tea (photo: Flickr, Nomadic Lass)

It’s very common to see milk added to masala chai — the more rich and full the milk, the better the flavor will be. Sugar is also typically added so many people forego the whole milk and add condensed milk to cover both the milk and sugar bases.

Traditionally, masala chai is made via a process called decoction. Decoction extracts chemicals, oils, and organic compounds from herbal or plant materials by boiling. When it comes to masala chai, the mixture of milk, water, loose leaf tea, sweeteners, and spices are all boiled together to produce a quality spiced tea.

Some people believe masala chai has a wealth of health benefits including helping Type 2 Diabetes sufferers maintain regular blood sugar levels and reducing PMS symptoms and bloating, fatigue, and more. However, while masala chai has a lot of health benefits, the added sugar and milk (especially for those of us who are becoming lactose intolerant as we get older) may not be the best to consume in large quantities.

Do you drink masala chai? If so, do you purchase it store bought or make your own? Next time I’m going to experiment with making my own at home!


Photo of the Week: Liechtenstein Wine

Liechtenstein wine #wine #ourtastytravels

Liechtenstein wine

The first time I visited Liechtenstein, I was blown away by how much I fell in love with this tiny country that is often just a passthrough for visitors traveling around Austria and Switzerland. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the country was its culinary scene — all locally sourced products, fresh seafood, and wines produced just down the road. In two days, I managed to try both of the top restaurants in Liechtenstein and, both times, the degustation menus were paired with Liechtenstein wines. And it’s not any surprise the wines are quite good — the Prince of Liechtenstein is the powerhouse behind the winery!

Street Food Eats: Kushikatsu in Japan

Many people feel Osaka is more the food capital of Japan over Tokyo and in many instances, I won’t disagree. When it comes to street food eats, I’ve definitely experienced some of the best during my visits to Osaka. One of the specialties in the area is Kushikatsu. The Shinsekai neighborhood is among the most well-known areas for this Japanese specialty.

Kushikatsu in Osaka #japan #food #travel #ourtastytravels

One way to spot a kushikatsu restaurant is to look for a giant skewer outside

Kushikatsu is simple — it’s basically a deep-fried kebab. It can be made with meat, vegetables, pork, seafood, and even cheese! The word kushi refers to the skewers used in holding these tasty treats together, while katsu refers to the deep fried cutlet. One of my favorite dishes is katsu, especially with a curry sauce.

Kushikatsu menu #japan #food #travel #ourtastytravels

Menu of some Kushikatsu offerings in Osaka

Kushikatsu are often served plain or with a Worchestershire-based sauce called tonkatsu sauce.

A variety of Kushikatsu skewers #japan #food #travel #ourtastytravels

A variety of kushikatsu dishes

I ate at several kushikatsu restaurants in Osaka and tried everything from quail eggs and vegetables to Camembert cheese and chicken organs. The options are varied and rather extensive so it’s easy to sample a number of specialties, even if you are not keen to try some odd or bizarre eats.


And don’t forget the ‘golden rule when dining at a kushikatsu joint — only dip once as it’s a community sauce bowl!

Have you tried kushikatsu in Japan? Where is your favorite spot?  

Foodie Friday Foto: Jellyfish Salad

jellyfish salad

Jellyfish salad at dim sum in Taipei, Taiwan

I still remember this day well as it was the first time I tried jellyfish salad — the team of Our Tasty Travels was at dim sum with out of country travel friends visiting and the server said jellyfish was one of the day’s specialties. This pretty simple dish is typically made with rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and is sometimes topped with sesame seeds. This particular version I tried had thinly sliced carrots, peppers, and cucumbers. I am not 100% sold on it as I didn’t get a ton of flavor, just the very chewy texture.

Have you tried jellyfish salad? Thoughts on this dish? Love it or skip it? 

Wine Wednesday: Horizontal versus Vertical Tasting

One of the coolest tastings you can do when wine tasting is either a horizontal or vertical tasting. Unfamiliar with what these terms mean? Here’s an introduction to get you started on your way to learning how to elevate your wine tasting experience.

Horizontal Wine Tasting

As the name suggestions, you are tasting wines of a similar nature — whether it be a particular year’s vintage, a region’s production, etc. Common horizontal tastings are the same year’s vintage of a particular wine from various producers, i.e., 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, or 2009 Rieslings from Washington State. Typically, horizontal tastings are done with wines from varying wineries to establish differences in winemaking styles, however it is interesting to sample the same producer’s offerings from a particular vintage as you might be surprised at how different they can be, even with the same winemaker!

Two of the most interesting horizontal tastings I’ve done were both in Napa. The first was from single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon powerhouse Nickel & Nickel. We sampled all their Cabs from a particular year from across the Napa Valley region. This tasting highlighted the terroir and actual vineyard differences that make their wines so special. These wines are pricey, but Nickel & Nickel produces some of the best Cabernets in the Napa Valley. I love their wines because they do a stellar job of showcasing the importance of the proper grape growing process and how vineyard location, climate, soil type, and such (all part of terroir) heavily influence the final product.

The other intriguing horizontal tasting was the comparison of a particular vintage of Rieslings from Hagafen Cellars in Napa Valley. With different vineyard locations and varying sugar levels, these wines were strikingly different. If you don’t understand sugar levels in Rieslings, tasting them side by side is a great way to figure out what sweetness level is your ideal match.

Hagafen Rieslings

Horizontal (and vertical) Riesling tasting from Hagafen Cellars in Napa Valley

Vertical Wine Tasting

If horizontal tasting is similar wines from the same vintage, it stands to reason that a vertical tasting is the same wine from multiple years. It’s not uncommon to have the opportunity to taste the same Cabernet Sauvignon from three different vintages when you are visiting a winery in Napa Valley. If you are extremely lucky, you might visit on a day when they are treating visitors to library editions or older reserves you may not otherwise get to sample (or afford in some cases). I’ve lucked out with tasting some older Cabs and Zinfandels that are well above the $200 bottle range on a regular basis. Vertical tastings are ideal if you love a particular wine as you can see the vineyard’s characteristics over time.

Just recently, the team of Our Tasty Travels did a vertical tasting of library Cabernet Sauvignons in Napa. We both fell in love with a particular label from Silverado Vineyards, and we were able to sample a number of vintages. Based on our preference for the older, more aged characteristics of this particular wine,  we purchased a bottle that was several hundred dollars without even trying it! We were able to tell enough about the consistency of the winery’s production and we opted for one of the prime years for Cabs in Napa. Now to find a special dinner to pair it with!

Have you done a horizontal or vertical tasting? What has been your experience and did it enhance your wine knowledge and understanding?

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