Sunday, September 30, 2012

Costa Rica Day 1 (San Jose)

My plane landed in San Jose Costa Rica just before noon.  I went through customs and got my luggage without too much hassle surprisingly.  However, once I stepped outside I was hounded by taxi drivers asking me to go with them.  I've seen aggressive people before, but these men and women are aggressive and tenacious to the point that I just wanted to really push them out of the way.  Natalia, who was my couch surfing host in San Jose, suggested to take the bus and get off at the last stop at San Jose.  I trusted her of course, and I eventually found the bus.  On the bus I met an American guy by the name of Jacob.  We chatted it up on the entire bus ride.  He was there for half vacation and half business.  He works for Whole Foods, which is pretty awesome and was there to look at potential produce for the supermarket.  Then this where the conversation starts going crazy.  I asked him if he was into couch surfing.  He said he was totally into it, but unfortunately he could not find a host due to him doing last minute couch requests.  I mentioned I was staying with a girl named Natalia, and his eyes lit up.  He mentioned that he remembers asking a girl with that name if he could stay with her for a few nights, but she declined him because she already had a guest which was me.  Jacob shows me her profile on his phone, and lo and behold that was Natalia.  Jacob and I were both freaked out at just what transpired, but in a positive way.  Also Jacob happened to be on my flight to San Jose.  What are the odds of meeting a random person on the bus who happened to be on the same flight as you and also knows your couch surfing host?  These kind of things rarely happen, and I'm sure this won't happen a whole lot in the future or even at all.  Jacob and I parted ways when the bus made its final stop.  I got his number in case Natalia changes her mind.

I had some hours to kill before meeting Natalia at Parque Central.  Just walking around San Jose for the first five minutes, I realized why people don't come here to sight see.  Downtown was relatively dirty, and there were many American stores and restaurants.  I don't have problems with that, but it was pretty much overkill in San Jose.  In fact I had a bad feeling about San Jose when the bus passed a Denny's five minutes into the ride.  It felt like the city lacked culture and authenticity.  I'm a hopeful person, and I hope Natalia would show me the awesome parts of San Jose.  I did stop for some lunch at what I thought was a local fast food joint called Pollo Campero.  I had two pieces of chicken, which pretty much tasted like KFC's extra crispy chicken.  Nothing to write home about, but not terrible at all.  I later found out though that Pollo Campero is actually global and there are some restaurants in Texas.  In fact it was not even started in Costa Rica.  That was so epic fail on my part.  Don't worry, I made it up eventually.  Here is the picture of the chicken I ate.  The whole restaurant also seems eerily similar to Los Pollos Hermanos from the show Breaking Bad.  I wonder if the creator of Breaking Bad was inspired by Pollo Campero. 

I walked around a couple hours more.  Nothing really too exciting other than seeing people dressed up in cool costumes for a show(I assume for their independence day festivities) at the park.  Natalia met up with me at Parque Central, we hopped on a bus to her her apartment outside of downtown San Jose.  We definitely got along from the get-go.  It also helps that she is pretty passionate about food and was relieved that she was not a vegetarian.  We made it to her apartment, which is a two story townhouse.  She gave me a brief tour of her pad and told me about how to use the bathroom the Costa Rican way.  Apparently in Costa Rica, you have to throw the toilet paper in the trash as opposed in the toilet.  The reason being is that the pipes in Central America have much lower pressure, and that toilet paper clogs up the pipes easily.  As any American I was first disgusted by the fact that I would have to put toilet paper in the trash.  However, I was in a different world and I have to tolerate this for a week.  After a day though, I got used to it.

I told Natalia about Jacob, and we decided to give him a call to see if he was still interested in staying with her.  He called back and was down with it.  Before we picked him up, Natalia and I checked out the Independence Day parade near her house.  It was basically kids holding up homemade lanterns.  My favorite lantern was the one with ox and the cart.  There is of course a history to this.  Here is the link for more explanation; Costa Rica Independence Day Traditions.  What I also liked about this parade is looking at the happy faces from everyone.  You could clearly tell that they have so much pride in their country.

After the parade, we went to Walmart which I was surprised that Costa Rica even has one.  I'm not a huge fan of the store because of their business practices, but I couldn't help but be a little intrigued by it to be honest.  The weirdest part about Walmart was that in order to even park at the parking lot, you have to pass through a security checkpoint.  Even in the United States, there aren't even any security checkpoints at Walmarts in shady areas.  It does make sense since from what I hear crime is an issue in San Jose, but I think it's a little overkill.  Inside Walmart, it was quite bright because it had yellow walls and surprisingly a fun place to shop.  I love that many of the meat and fish in the store are local, and I got an opportunity to take a picture of Chocolate Frosted Flakes in Spanish.  Also another good thing about this Walmart was that no customer was a candidate for the People of Walmart website.  I go on that website every so often, and I just shake my head sometimes of the people that go there.

After we left Walmart, we went to fill up Natalia's car with gas.  The gas stations are full service which I find interesting.  If I lived in Costa Rica, I don't think I would ever get used to the idea of full service gas stations. I trust the people that fill up my car, but I like to do it myself mainly because I'm used to it.  

We picked up Jacob at the hostel he was staying at, and we all decided to go to one of the college bars in the city.  We ended up going to a bar that had the name Buffalo.  I can't remember the full name of it.  Anything that has the word buffalo has to be good.  Basically we just hung out, had some awesome nachos which I should have taken a picture of, and had my first Imperial beer, which I will discuss in more detail in a future post.  Below is the slideshow from my first day at Costa Rica.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Costa Rica Day 1(Flying)

A couple months ago, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go on vacation.  For one, I knew I didn't want to go somewhere within the United States or Canada.  Two, it had to be somewhat cheap.  First I thought about going to South America, but the flights were a little pricey.  I looked at Central America next, and there were a lot of good countries to choose from but I settled with Costa Rica.  I chose Costa Rica because it was a beautiful country(minus San Jose as you will know why), stable, and flight round trip was only 400 dollars.

On Sept 14th I flew out of Pittsburgh early in the morning on my way to Houston for a brief layover.  I was actually pretty excited about this flight because I've never been to Texas and was kind of dying to see what it's like despite only seeing it from the plane and just being in the airport.  Fortunately, the person sitting next to me on my flight is originally from Texas, and we had a good solid conversation about Texas and other things.  As we got closer to the airport, I looked out the window, and I saw Texas.  It was pretty much what I expected in the Houston area; flat with a lot of trees.  Now I can cross Texas off my bucket list of states I've been to.  

We landed at the airport, and it was fairly unmemorable.  I think mainly because I wasn't able to step on Texas ground.  That would be an important moment in my life.  One minor highlight though was seeing people drinking at the bar at 8:00 AM.  They are definitely off to a good start for the day.

I boarded my flight to San Jose, and the flight wasn't too exciting other than hitting turbulence for a few minutes as the plane got closer to San Jose.  The plane provided us breakfast, and I would rank it as the worst food I've ever ate and believe it or not I do enjoy airplane food because of the novelty of it mainly.  The meal consisted of a pita sandwich with eggs and cheese, cup of fruit, and a muffin.  The cup of fruit wasn't too bad, but the sandwich was horrible.  It was pre-packaged, and it lacked any sort of flavor even when I put the hot sauce on it.  With pita bread, eggs, and cheese, it should be fool proof even it wasn't fresh.  It was just bland overall and I didn't even bother eating the muffin.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Little Bangkok at the Strip District and a small story about Paula Deen

Yesterday I went to the Strip District to pick up some ingredients for a Korean dish I want to make this week. Before I went to Lotus grocery store, I decided to head down to Little Bangkok for some lunch. I had been there before earlier this year, and I thought it was pretty good. When I walked in around 1:30 PM, S, the waiter, seated me and I noticed that restaurant was entirely empty.  This doesn't bode well, and there were many people at the Strip yesterday.  S told me that this happens occasionally, but nothing to be alarmed about.  Eventually my fears were alleviated because a whole bunch of people came in at the same time fifteen minutes later after I arrived.   I was thinking that I was a trendsetter but probably not.  I'm just a dude that reviews restaurants.  Before the throngs of people came in, S and I had a pretty good conversation.  He did tell me a story about his experiences as a waiter in a Thai restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.  When he mentioned Savannah, I had to ask this million dollar question;  Has the Deen family ever been at that restaurant?  S said that he actually was their waiter a few times.  He mentioned that Jamie Deen's family were pretty nice.  He also mentioned that Paula Deen had trouble deciding what to get at the restaurant.  S said that she did not know a whole lot about Thai food which is okay because Southern cuisine  is her specialty.  If Paula Deen says she knows a lot about Thai food on TV, she's lying.  Anyways let's talk about the Thai food at Little Bangkok.

For the first starter, I got the vegetable soup that is included with the lunch special.  It had vegetable broth with small cuts of tofu, scallions, and two big pieces carrots.  It didn't have a lot of heat to it but it didn't need to because the soup was good overall.  The soup hit the spot and was to the point.

For the appetizer I got 3 crab wontons and 3 fishcakes with pineapple chili sauce.  The wontons contain crab meat, cilantro, cream cheese, green onion and cilantro.  It was one of the better crab wontons I've had. It actually contained real crab meat, which is key.  The wontons were creamy without being too rich.  From looking at the fishcakes, they were fried but not too friend.  I enjoyed the taste and texture of the cakes. They mash the fish and combine it with Thai herbs, string beans, and shredded lime leaf.  When you dip the wontons and fishcakes to the chili sauce, you can definitely taste the sweetness of pineapple but also get that spicy kick at end after each bite.

For the main event I got the Drunken Noodles with basil sauce, vegetables, eggs, and tofu.  I enjoyed this immensely because of the wide noodles and especially the fried tofu.  I was worried that the tofu wasn't going to be fried but I'm glad they fried them.  The skin was fairly crunchy with lots of flavor from the basil sauce.  The vegetables aren't anything too special but they helped give the dish color and were cooked pretty well.  For the spicy scale, I chose an eight which was appropriate for me.  The last time I was here, I ordered a ten.  When they say a ten, they really mean a ten.

All in all I enjoyed my experience at Little Bangkok.  You can't go wrong with authentic Thai food and a Paula Deen story.

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