chaos and claustrophobia, or the daily shop

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For sheer chaos and claustrophobia, it’s hard to beat the daily market in Siem Reap. (The smells, too, are something I’ll not soon forget.) Most of the meat and fish is killed and cleaned to order, so you know it’s all as fresh as it gets – if not exactly on par with Western standards of safe and sanitary. I left wondering what, if anything, might make these women – mostly barefoot in and among the blood and guts – squeamish.

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live blog: chow(der) hound

Local fish supplier Charlie Sexton has fished the waters off the coast of the village of Doonbeg for the past 25 years. The Atlantic coast is home to hake, cod, monkfish, and tiny prawns – all of which he catches to end up in the seafood chowder of Chef Wade Murphy, seen here teaching me how to do it properly, with the addition of clams, mussels, and salmon, in Darby’s at The Lodge at Doonbeg.

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lunch locally (sourced)

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simple joys

One of the truly great things about the Atlantic coast of the Yucatan peninsula – and Playa del Carmen in particular – is the easy availability of really fresh seafood. Stroll the beach in the early morning and you’ll find men and boys out casting for the catch of the day. A little heat, a little salt and lemon: few things tastes better. Except maybe ceviche, as fragrant as the sea, enlivened with just a hint of hot pepper.

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fishy fast food

Long before there were McNuggets, there were bolinhos de bacalhau, or fish balls; bite-sized quenelles of salt cod mixed with mashed potato that are Lisbon’s answer to fast food.  Eaten hot or cold, as a mid-day snack or evening appetizer, they’re ubiquitous. And delicious. They also go great with a beer. The logic behind it is unimpeachable, too. A high-protein, low-fat snack or a trough of deep-fried McParts? No wonder the people here are all so trim. The secret to the bod must be in the cod.

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morning catch: snapper

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swimming with the fishes

Maybe it’s because I grew up with a big saltwater tank full of colorful sea creatures, but there is something about an aquarium that brings out the 8-year old in me.  I liken it to an underwater safari, full of oohs and ahhs and close-up views of so many animals you’d ordinarily never see in their native environments.  And while even an exhibit as small as the handful of penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo gets me excited, I was down right pie-eyed during a visit to Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium.

A $250+ million gift to the city from the founders of Home Depot, the aquarium is not only the world’s biggest, it also houses the largest collection of aquatic animals. The specially designed whale shark habitat is as big as a football field; holding 6.3 million gallons of water, it’s full of giant grouper, tarpon, sawfish, blacktip reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and four of the world’s largest fish – the whale shark.  The scale of it is almost overwhelming. In front of one of the giant glass windows it’s also just a little bit unnerving – especially if you’ve seen Jaws 3-D.

For all the emphasis on scale, however, perhaps the most interesting creature I witnessed was this grumpy little guy in a small observation tank all by himself. (Click the image for better detail)  He used his fins like hands and had a second pair underneath which mimicked legs. In profile he looked like a fish.  Yet face front with that unicorn horn and beard of stalactites he had the appearance of an old lichen-covered rock.  It makes you wonder what kind of environment causes a creature to adapt with such specific camouflage.  More interesting still – as if to underscore how little we still know about what lurks beneath the surface – nobody could tell me what he was called.

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creative leftovers part two: fish tacos

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