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Monday, August 22, 2011


PALERMO - There are moments when I come back to this city and wonder if it isn’t the coolest place on Earth.

(This is before I’ve been here too long and the too-close buildings become too close, but till then, hoo boy.)

I cooled my heels after some field research for my WSJ gelato story, sat outside of Caffè Malavoglia, ordered a whiskey (they were out of Fernet), and slow-sipped until peckishness settled in and I realized that even on a Monday, I could roll down to the nighttime fest of the Ballarò market for a panelle sandwich.

Who would have thought that a chickpea fritter sandwich from a street vendor could be so good?

Here’s why: extra-fresh bread laden with sesame seeds, extra hot fritters, along with a shot of lemon and a spritz of salt to wake it up, all in an atmosphere that makes you feel alive.

Hoo baby. So good, I burned the roof of my mouth. Twice.
After that, as my good friend Francesco says, the shutters go down. Time for bed.

This is Joe Ray reporting from The Motherland.

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Friday, August 12, 2011


On a recent trip to Richmond, B.C., the value of a good guide was reaffirmed when exploring Chinatown. (Anywhere, for that matter.) With thousands of options, how do you figure out where to go, let alone the two specialties on 100-item menu?

Craig Nelson figured out Manhattan’s Chinatown on his own. Not For Tourists guide editor by day, Nelson spent years worth of lunches trying every place he could walk to near their offices. Then he made his own app – Chinatown Chow Down. (Insert gong sound here).

We started with pork buns at Mei Li Wah Bakery – brown (baked) or white (steamed) – is about all you need to say at the counter. We scarfed them in the street - they’re packed with sweet, meaty flavor. Total cost for both? $1.60! Cheaper than a Snickers bar!!! Ha!

We had sit-down handmade noodles around the corner, fritters and a mustard green sandwich from a street-food vendor which we ate in the park under the West Side Highway. We capped the tour with my favorite – fresh sour plum juice at Yuen Yuen. It’s sweet, sour, funky and smoky. How did they make it smoky? No matter – just keep it coming. How much? $1.25! Fresh juice for less than a Coke! Where’s that gong?!?!

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