European Countries And What Makes And Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Before I begin, I have to mention, sono filo-italiana, so I am a little biased regarding the following…

What doesn’t make any sense:

  • The French (Parisians to be more exact) asking the tourists to speak French, and even acting non-friendly (there’s a syndrome named after Paris, not in a good way, here and here) for a country that receives and depends on so much tourist economy.  At least being friendly for a season or two can help their own country’s image.  Tourists are there for days, weeks, not months, so why should the tourists learn a new language and understand French as a preparation for the trip to France if they are only there temporarily (for vacation to relax)!  It is most certainly nice to have tourists try to speak French, but it should not be an obligation.  Most importantly, DO THESE PARISIANS HOLD THE SAME STANDARD FOR THEMSELVES WHEN THEY VISIT ANOTHER COUNTRY (as in do they speak another country’s language when the visit a foreign country)?
  • At least some people I met from Firenze, Toscana, whenever they were taking a picture or being a tourist, they would say that they were being “Japanese”.  This not only is a very old stereotype (since now that non-Japanese take pictures and selfies like crazy), tourists are allowed to take pictures!  They spent so much money they saved to go to a foreign country, OF COURSE they have to take tons of pictures, even if unnecessarily more than they should.  Maybe it sounds okay in Italy when someone says that, but it sounds like someone scratching the blackboard when the same thing is said in the U.S., particularly to Asians, Asian-Americans, and Japanese-Americans.  To add to the ridiculousness, I am a non-Japanese descent, and I just visited Firenze in May for research purposes, and I was asked if I was Japanese by my Tuscan colleagues…  The moral of the story is, since the Italians can’t tell if someone is Japanese or not, they might be seeing another ethnicity taking tons of pictures and called them Japanese.
  • Foreign PhD graduate students studying in Italy don’t try to speak Italian and rely only on their English.  These students speak English to Italian colleagues as well as their daily encounters, unconsciously forcing everyone else to conform to the foreign students’ comfort zone.  I think this really a shame.  First, if the students (highly educated and intelligent) spend 10 minutes to 1 hour a day to study the language that surrounds them, they will definitely become masters of the language by the time they graduate (3-4 years).  Secondly, as long-term guests to another country, living there for years, not days or weeks, benefiting from the country’s education system and their hospitality, these students should show some sign of courtesy to at least communicate in the country’s official language.  They are both missing the opportunity of a life time (after they graduate and if they later wanted to learn the language, it would be too late) and not being really good guests.  Show the host country a little love.
  • In a English (possibly in Brighton) private elementary or kindergarten, the school asked the students (overwhelmingly majority is Anglo-Saxon) to dress up in “Chinese costumes”, complete with Fu Manchu mustache and “slanted eyes” drawn by eye liners, for a school performance event.  I know this because I was shown pictures by two of the kids’ grandma, who proudly said the kids liked dressing up as “Chinese” (or more like Chinese stereotype) and they were innocent enough not to care about the consequences/issues associated with such a derogatory display to the Asian or Chinese eyes.  Some stereotypes are just too old and outdated to even be fathomed that they still persist in Europe, and of all places in England, a country that boasts its diversity (here and here) and number of inter-racial marriages.
  • Since we had both the Copa America (Centenario) and the UEFA this year, there’s something odd about the sentiments toward the “Pan-American” soccer and the European soccer.  Someone expressed to me that “Players from Copa America play for passion, and European players play for skill.”  I ABSOLUTELY DISAGREE WITH THAT.  First, not every country in Copa America is good, the same with the countries that played in UEFA.  Secondly, have you seen the good team forms and efforts from Brazil, Argentina, and even Chile?!  They are solid, they work together, and their team and form are impeccable.  So where did this “Europeans are better at soccer” coming from?  Many of the top soccer players from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Guzman (a wonderful goalie, by the way) from the U.S. are in European soccer league, meaning that they are just as good as the European players.  Sometimes people hold Europe to such a pedestal unnecessarily.
  • I read in this Italian news article from Corriere della Sera, titled “In Spagna più di 6 milioni d’immigrati ma non c’è xenofobia. Ecco come funziona la ricetta dell’integrazione” (roughly translated to be “More than 6 million immigrants in Spain, but there’s no xenophobia.  Here’s how the recipe of integration works”), misleading by the way, as there is no mention of xenophobia in the article.  I have to first applaud the work that these professors are doing, getting the Spanish people to trust that immigrants do not harm their economy, and that the fear of losing jobs is unfounded.  The thing I wanted to pick on is that in the article (I have yet to read really what is in the report and the interview still), it mentioned that the Spanish’s attitude toward immigrants were the same before and after the 2004 Madrid terrorist attack (“Anche dopo l’attacco terroristico del 2004 a Madrid, l’atteggiamento degli spagnoli non è cambiato nei confronti degli immigrati”), but…  What about the attitude the immigrants felt from the native Spanish?  Did they feel more fearful, more integrated, or experience more discrimination?  To me, not mentioning this point was a big flaw in the article, as this is essential to the well-being of the immigrants, who might have been forced out of their country and having no choice but to settle in Spain.  In this case, I have to bring up France’s racial profiling tactics after the terrorist attack recently.  Did they not learn anything from the U.S.’s mistakes during the aftermath of 9/11?
  • Non si parla l’italiano in volo di KLM da Firenze.  The flight attendants I had on the KLM flight only spoke to me in English, even though the flight was departing from Firenze.  There was a young man who only spoke Italian and Spanish having much difficulty with what was going on, and he had to rely on and endure my rusty Italian for translating the announcements (made only in Dutch and English).

Okay, my sister would have said more than these from her experience studying in Germany for 4 years, but that’s another story.

What makes sense:

  • I have to mention again, sono filo-italiana, so here it goes.  From the beginning, my interaction with Italians have averaged to be positive, here is a big reason: they understand that a big portion of their economy depends on tourists, and they try to help the tourists as much as they can.  11 years ago when I studied abroad in Italy, not a lot of people spoke English, and this past May, you can find someone who speaks English almost anywhere.  For the most part, they are friendly to tourists.
  • Italians also understand and can relate to being discriminated (did you hear about how Italian workers were treated in France and in the U.S.?), and they are even very accommodating and accepting of tourists and immigrants (see how Riace welcomes immigrants and Rome’s Chinese police officers).  They have very well-rounded language programs for the newly arrived, even the national TV/radio website has a section for learning Italian (please go see how the actors in these videos were African-Italians and Croatian-Italians, with inter-racial marriage, that was very progressive even in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s).
  • Speaking Italian in Italy is a good thing (according to my sister, this is not really the case in Germany).  I would really like to speak Italian more if I can, 11 years ago I was quite good at it, but since it has been very hard to find someone to speak Italian with, my Italian is okay but rusty.  While I prepared my talk to be presented to my Italian colleague and students at a university in Firenze, I also prepared a little introduction in Italian; my colleagues were astonished and kept asking me how come I speak Italian.  More than that was their positive encouragement and helping to further my cause.
  • Italy has decided to eliminate waste as much as they can.  I have to show you this:
    Alitalia's biodegradable packaging and cutlery
    This is how Alitalia complies with minimizing waste.  Biodegradable packaging for all the in-flight meals and also biodegradable utensils and cutlery.  I don’t really care how the customers of Alitalia don’t make a proper line when they are boarding, I will book an Alitalia flight just for their effort.  Love that.  Also Coop, the Italian co-op chain grocery store also allows shoppers to use biodegradable bags to put fruits and vegetables (most of Italy’s vendors don’t want you to touch the fruits and vegetables, at a big grocery story, they would ask you put gloves on and/or put the fruits in the bag but with some protection from you).  LOVE that.  This was in Toscana though, where the sanitary service picks up the organic food waste daily, so elsewhere may not be like this in the grocery store.
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Spaghetti Con Peperoni Cruschi, Pomodoro, E Mollica Fritta (Spaghetti With Pepper, Tomato, And Fried Breadcrumbs)

Spaghetti Con Peperoni Cruschi, Pomodoro, E Mollica Fritta

As you can probably tell, I have recently been to Italy.  When I visited Basilicata, my friend living in Potenza introduced me to this pepper, peperoni cruschi (pronounced CROO-sh-kee, the noise from chewing on the pepper).  At first, I was indifferent, I said to her I think I can get dried peppers anywhere, so I will pass on getting them.  Then we went to a restaurant, and then I tried the peppers, I WAS HOOKED!  It was not spicy, and even a little sweet!  It can be eaten fried, or dipped in oil to go with the spaghetti!

So sheepishly I asked some from my friend’s family stash, and here we are!

Spaghetti Con Peperoni Cruschi, Pomodoro, E Mollica Fritta

There are several variations of the recipe, I basically heated the olive oil, put in peperoni cruschi, put in some diced tomato and salt, then some breadcrumbs, and then put in the spaghetti, mix, and eccoli!

Spaghetti Con Peperoni Cruschi, Pomodoro, E Mollica Fritta

Here are some recipes that are doing similar things (the last one has English translation):

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Dining At Ristorante Officina Colle

In a little town called Colle di Val’Elsa in the provincia di Siena, there is a restaurant Ristorante Officina Colle.

Ristorante Officina Colle

The food is from the local markets during the day, so the menu changes over time, and it is also local and seasonal.  I want to explain the soup up there.  It was a soup made of asparagus, with asparagus garnish and orange peel garnish.  The black strip was made of licorice.  The taste contrast was unbelievable!

If you are looking for a vegetarian- and vegan-friendly place, this is definitely it, but note that you have to ask for vegetarian or vegan items as this is not a place that is exclusively vegetarian.

via Gracco del Secco, 86 Colle di Val d’Elsa (Siena)
(it is in the Colle Bassa part, the lower part of the Colle close to the old paper factory, not in the Colle Alta, the higher part of the Colle)


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Dining At Veg & Veg

YUMMY!  Highly recommend this restaurant Veg & Veg (Mercato Centrale, Firenze), flavorful, diverse, and delectable!

Veg & Veg

This is a restaurant that only has vegetarian and vegan items, so you can surely be safe!  The sauce, the sandwich, the food, buonissimi!  I found it first through, then I found out that Happy Cow also has an entry for it.  Interview can be found here in Italian, of course.

Veg & Veg

How can I express my joy in terms of words?  The food was so good, it was so amazing…  I don’t know how I can describe it, you just have to try it yourselves!  It is really similar to what Americans do for sandwiches, except that they don’t put excessive onions and garlic in the food.  They had quite a crowd for lunch!

Veg & Veg

I do have to mind you that their sauce, very delicious by the way, can drip down your hands, and you might have to make sure you don’t get it on your clothes.

Mercato Centrale

Mercato Centrale 1° Piano, 50100 Firenze
(inside the indoor market, Mercato Centrale, but note that 1st floor is the 2nd floor because in Italy mezzanine is 0th floor)

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Dining At Il Panino Tondo

11 years ago, I went to Italy for a summer with a program that was a language-intensive program…  Meaning I went to class from morning till late, Italian, all, the, time.

This time when I returned, I knew that since then, Italy has become more vegan-friendly.  They even use the word “vegan” now.  I searched before leaving for a place to eat on the day I arrived to Firenze (Florence) on (the Italian Happy Cow equivalent) and found this Il Panino Tondo (the round sandwich).

Il Panino Tondo

It was raining the day I arrived.  I dropped off my luggage at the stazione di treno, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, where there is a place you can pay to leave your luggage at platform 16 (binario 16).  It was a relief to finally drop them off…  As I was sleep-derived, hungry, and it was raining.  I was generally stanchissima.  Il Panino Tondo is only walking distance away from the station, so it was easy, and I was craving for some reward.

Il Panino Tondo

I was speaking Italian all the time and since I haven’t spoken it for 11 years, I was a little (actually a lot) off my game.  However, no worries!  At this place, when I didn’t catch a question for drinks due to my lack of sleep, they were not scornful nor impatient, instead someone just spoke English to make sure I understand.  They took a chance, and they were right I spoke English.  I guess Firenze has seen so many tourists that they are sort of used to it.  It was definitely better than 11 years ago.

Il Panino Tondo

This place is not just for vegans, so please ask for what is vegan (they pronounce it like veh-gahn) on the menu.

Il Panino Tondo

If you live in the city, they also deliver!  You can order online.

Il Panino Tondo

I…  was not able to resist taking a bit before taking a picture.  Give me a break, I was very tired and hungry.

Il Panino Tondo

Also, most of the things in Italy DO NOT use garlic or onion, to my delight.  I didn’t have to ask for no onions or no garlic in my pizza, in my soup, in my spaghetti, in my salad…  It was wonderful.  And the garlic and onion stereotype for Italian food is completely wrong.

Check it out…!
via Montebello 56/r
50123 Firenze

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When Confronted With The Protein Question As A Vegan

When It comes to protein in a vegan diet, we really have to look at the quality as well as the quantity.

Out of the 22 amino acid building blocks, 9 are essential amino acids.  These are tryptophan, histidine, methionine + cysteine (either can fill for the other’s role as amino acids), isoleucine, threonine, valine, lysine, phenylalanine + tyrosine (either), and leucine.  As I already posted before about tofu, I am providing more information that it’s possible for one to live on a vegan diet.

So let’s compare eggs to nuts and seeds (with information from and Becoming Vegan)

Here the chart shows that flax seeds (per cup) are better at providing the essential amino acids.  All 9 of them.

Besides the obvious flax seeds, walnuts are quite equivalent to eggs in terms of providing amino acids in percentage by weight.

Now, when I put tofu in there…  There is no competition.  Tofu wins by…  A lot.

Now, if you want to get the same amount of nutrients, eggs will provide you with the additional cholesterol, which nobody wants, and not giving you the good omega-3.

So hopefully when someone asks about where proteins are from again, we are all informed about how much protein we get from different sources!

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Dumplings? Noodles? The English Vernacular

I grew up knowing that buns ( 饅頭 , /man to/, ㄇㄢˊ ㄊㄡˊ ) are different from buns with fillings inside ( 包子 , /bao zi/, ㄅㄠ ㄗ˙ ), and buns with fillings inside are also different from “dumplings” ( 餃子 , /jiao zi/, ㄐㄧㄠˇ ㄗ˙ ) that are not steamed but boiled.  However, when I learned that sometimes lines are not clearly drawn between buns and buns with fillings (both are called buns) and between buns with fillings and dumplings (both are called dumplings), I really thought that the English language could have done more to differentiate them from each other.

It was a struggle to accept that Americans categorize buns as anything that appear bread-like, and dumplings are anything with fillings inside.  I was angry at the English language itself, which yielded no fruit (food puns intended).


But no foods of the world are immune to this kind of categorization.  Ravioli, tortellini, and even gnocchi are categorized as “dumplings”.  In fact, NPR had a quest to build a list of dumplings based on this broad agglomeration of different types of food.  Recently, I met two Italians who just couldn’t accept that people call spaghetti “noodles”, but the fact is, in the English language, all unleavened dough that are stretched and boiled are called noodles.

Misua noodle making Taiwan.jpg

Over the years, I have started to soften up and accept that there is a limitation to the English language, and I have stopped making a fuss about the whole buns-buns with fillings-dumplings situation.  I also accept that English, a language that is spoken so broadly in the world, does not have enough broad vocabulary to fit everything, I just have to embrace it.  Once in awhile though, I still take comfort in that “samosas” and “tamales” are disputed as dumplings and learned to go with the flow.

An “oversimiplified” chart of food categorization in the English language:
Buns (include 饅頭 and 包子 )
Dumplings (include 包子 , 餃子 , ravioli, tortellini, momo, pierogi, etc.)
Noodles (include 麵 , spaghetti, pasta of all shapes and sizes)

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