South Indian cuisine is rife with superfoods (turmeric, cardamom, ginger, and lentils are cornerstones of the Tamil kitchen), but karela, also known as the bitter gourd or bitter melon, stands alone in its reverence. Extolled for its numerous virtues, the brutally bitter fruit is seen as a cure for everything from cholesterol to cancer, HIV to hemorrhoids, and beyond.
The bitter gourd looks like a cucumber with a horrible case of the hives. Its skin is dark green and covered in knobs, warts, horns, or generally pointy and unfriendly-looking protrusions. The inside pith is white, lightly seeded, and bitter beyond belief. Seasoning karela is somewhat of a futile cause, but mothers around the world try desperately to mask its flavor in hopes of tapping into its health value.
Often, the gourd is cut into rings or thin strips and deep fried, or pan fried with chili, garlic, ginger, onions, and salt. Karela juice has also become somewhat of a health food phenomenon, after clinical trials showed that the gourd’s naturally-occurring polypeptide-p had insulin-like effects on blood sugar levels.
If a Dominican person asks if you want to die dreaming, don't wax poetic—just say yes. Morir soñando, a morbidly-named summertime refresher (it literally means “to die dreaming"), has been called the official drink of summer in the Dominican Republic. The frothy, silky blend of orange juice, sugar, and evaporated milk over crushed ice is reminiscent of a drinkable creamsicle.
Made both by street vendors and by families at home, the thirst-quenching beverage is a common sight throughout the country. But not just anyone can put this drink together. Makers must time their mixing perfectly: One misstep and the ingredients will curdle. Even if you're skeptical of orange juice and milk's union, to die dreaming certainly beats dying of heat stroke.
On August 28, 1900, Rebecca Israel decided to treat herself to dinner at Cafe Boulevard, a fashionable restaurant in the heart of Manhattan’s Jewish theater district. Despite being polite and well-dressed, Rebecca was refused a table and asked to leave. The restaurant’s owner, Igantz Rosenfeld, had a strict policy against serving women who were unaccompanied by men. Rebecca sued him for discrimination, but the case was dismissed by the New York Supreme Court in 1903.
Throughout the 19th century, restaurants catered to a predominately male clientele. Much like taverns and gentlemen’s clubs, they were places where men went to socialize, discuss business, and otherwise escape the responsibilities of work and home. It was considered inappropriate for women to dine alone, and those who did were assumed to be prostitutes. Given this association, unescorted women were banned from most high-end restaurants and generally did not patronize taverns, chophouses, and other masculine haunts.
As American cities continued to expand, it became increasingly inconvenient for women to return home for midday meals. The growing demand for ladies’ lunch spots inspired the creation of an entirely new restaurant: the ice-cream saloon. At a time when respectable women were excluded from much of public life, these decadent eateries allowed women to dine alone without putting their bodies or reputations at risk.
The first ice cream saloons were humble cafes that served little more than i
Utah’s first capitol building (and its oldest existing government building) is only a fraction of what it was meant to be. What looks like a single red stone building is actually the south wing of what was supposed to be a much larger, more regal structure.
Brigham Young wanted the land that's now Fillmore to be to be the capital of his planned State of Deseret. When the United States Congress refused to acknowledge the proposed state and established the Utah Territory, it was decided that Fillmore would be the territorial capital instead.
Funding ran out before the capitol building could be completed, leaving only one wing mostly finished. The builders, thinking the structure would one day be covered in stucco, carved their initials into the stones. You can still see them today, as the project was abandoned before the stucco was ever added.
The one existing building was soon abandoned too, after Utah’s capital was moved to Salt Lake City. It fell into disrepair until it was salvaged and transformed into a state park and museum.
When you enter the building, head downstairs to see the hallway of portraits. There are about a couple hundred...
In the colonial city of Cienfuegos, in central Cuba, you’ll find a cemetery full of exquisite statuary. Opened in 1837, Cementerio la Reina is now crumbling in many areas due to lack of maintenance. But it's still easy to see the splendor that it once was.
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Cienfuegos was one of the most important sugar producing areas in Cuba. Many of the people buried in this cemetery were members of the wealthy plantation families. Their tombs reflect not only the status of the people buried there, but they also tell quite a bit about the history of the city, as most cemeteries do.
The most outstanding feature of the cemetery by far is the remarkable statuary. One particularly striking example is the monument called “Sleeping Beauty,” a tribute to a 24-year-old woman who some like to say died of a broken heart (though others say she succumbed to a cholera epidemic).
Taking a close look at the graves gives an additional glimpse of the city’s colonial past. Many of the names on the graves are French. This reflects the city’s founding by French immigrants from Louisiana and Bordeaux in 1819. Some tombs are marked with the...
When books hit the road, they don’t always make their way home again. Who among us doesn't have some rogue volumes on our shelves, pilfered from libraries or "borrowed" and then absorbed? In the 15th and 16th centuries, when book printing was in its infancy, this problem of books gone missing was especially pronounced when the volumes in question were expressly designed to roam.
In particular, texts tagged along as missionaries fanned out to proselytize across the New World. When it came to converting indigenous people to Christianity, religious texts were a powerful weapon in missionaries' arsenals, and psalms, confessions, and other liturgical texts—written in Spanish, Latin, and scores of indigenous languages—were printed in Europe and shipped across the ocean to New Spain. This land, encompassing present-day Mexico and other portions of Central and South America, was an epicenter of conversion efforts, and it soon became a hub for the printed word, too.
It’s easy to imagine how books could become casualties of a life that was itinerant by design. “Missionaries’ whole mission was to go out and constantly be on the move, and the books were, as well,” says Melissa Moreton, an instructor at the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa. Before they did, monasteries and convents often made a bold claim to ownership. With a scalding tool, they seared distinctive marks onto the pages.
These marcas de fuego were both insurance and warning, “marking them in...
After the Civil War, a small community of freed slaves formed a vibrant settlement within South Carolina’s Sea Islands. Originally, the area was divided into thin strips of property following emancipation, hence the name "Pin Point."
The community’s founders were the descendants of slaves from throughout West Africa. The slaves brought with them their native languages, customs, and culinary traditions. Isolated and without a common language, they formed their own unique Gullah-Geechee culture, which included an English Creole language.
Their freed descendants, who went on to found Pin Point, carried the Gullah-Geechee culture with them. Many within the community worked at the A.S. Varn & Son Oyster and Crab Factory. It was the main source of employment for the locals until it closed in 1985.
The Coastal Heritage Society transformed the former factory into a museum dedicated to telling the story of the local oyster canning and Gullah-Geechee culture. In the museum, you can learn how oysters were caught, packaged, and distributed from the river below. You’ll also hear testimonies from the multiple generations who have been associated with the cannery.
The guides working in the museum are descendants of the original Pin Point residents and are personable, incredible storytellers. Visiting is a fantastic in-person way to experience the history Gullah-Geechee culture, a product of West African traditions brought to America...
This brilliant blue-green gem of a lake, surrounded by golden sand as far as the eye can see, looks like a small pocket of island paradise hidden among the dunes of the Sahara Desert. Palm trees fringe the water, and the ruins of an abandoned village dot one corner of the shore.
A Bedouin tribe once lived along the Gaberoun Oasis (also spelled Gabroon, Gabraun, and Gabr Awhn). They fished for saltwater crustaceans, little worm-like creatures that live within the lake. But they couldn’t rely on the lake itself for drinking water, the most precious desert treasure. Instead, they had to dig beneath the sand around its perimeter to search for the same underground springs that feed the trees.
The government relocated the entire tribe to a newly built village in the 1980s. The ruins of their old settlement remain, left to bake beneath the scorching sun.
A ramshackle tourist camp, complete with a handful of sleeping huts and a small market, keeps a sporadic trickle of human life flowing into the otherwise abandoned oasis. Those who do visit like to swim in the lake; its salinity makes it a pleasant place to float, especially since the surface is strangely chilly. The water’s temperature gets hotter the deeper you dive.
Eating bugs is hardly new. While the Whole Foods–frequenting public may be slow to adopt the cricket-powered revolution that is very much at our doorsteps, much of the world’s population has long depended on insects to meet their nutritional needs. The baskets of mopane worms lining the streets of Zimbabwe's capital city of Harare speak to their quotidian role in the kitchens of southern Africa.
The mopane "worm" is actually the caterpillar form of the Emperor moth (Gonimbrasia belina), which lives nearly its entire life on the mopane tree. It lays its eggs on the tree's leaves, which the larvae gorge on from the moment they hatch. After literally eating until they burst (they molt their skin four to five times), the worms are ripe for the picking.
Once picked, the worm is pinched open at one end and squeezed to expel a vibrant green mass of half-digested leaves and innards. If any remnants of leaves are left in the worms, they impart a slightly tea-like flavor. The empty body of the worm is then pickled, dried, smoked, and/or fried to the individual’s specific tastes. Some say that the smoked and fried worms are similar in flavor to the jerky-like biltong, or a well-done steak, while others cite an earthy, vegetal experience.
The Rotunda at the University of Virginia is something to behold. It was designed by Thomas Jefferson, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, and built, by enslaved workers, in 1826, the year Jefferson died. Founding the university was one of the Virginia politician’s proudest accomplishments, even more so than serving as the third president of the United States.
Many a visitor to Charlottesville has stood on the university steps and marveled at the Jeffersonian landmark above, a statue of the founding father rising tall at the center. Look down, however, and some curious details will catch your eye. At the base of the statue, a white number “7” is inexplicably painted on the ground. Below it, a giant white “Z” is prominently splashed across the Rotunda steps, and next to it, the letters "IMP," equally without explanation.
What are these mysterious characters that frequently sneak their way into Rotunda photo ops? They are all symbols of secret societies at the university, which is home to...
On the morning of September 11, 2001, as the Twin Towers were collapsing in New York City, 38 jet planes were re-routed to a tiny airport in Gander, Newfoundland. More than 7,000 passengers found themselves stuck in a town of 13,000 for up to five days, with only 500 hotel rooms available in the vicinity.
The story of how the community came together to welcome and care for all these unexpected visitors, at such a tragic time, is today the subject of a hit Broadway musical, Come From Away. Volunteers made lunches, elementary schools were turned into dormitories, and the hockey rink became a walk-in refrigerator. The “plane people,” as they were called, hailed from 95 countries, and they were welcomed with open arms by the people of Gander and nearby communities.
Gander is a small town in central Newfoundland, about 60 miles from the eastern coast, which juts into the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s a sparsely populated part of the province, which is sparsely populated itself. But it’s in a strategic spot for aircraft flying over the North Atlantic Ocean, which is how the airport came to feature on the world stage.
Before Gander International Airport opened in 1938, Newfoundland’s fields were the jumping off points for early transatlantic pilots like Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. It was the most eastern point in North America, and a logical place to begin a transatlantic flight.
During World War II, Gander was the only operative airport...
Someone had a vendetta. This was one of the many thoughts that circled in the mind of archaeologists when they found the bones of two men with their legs chopped off and heads bashed in Cambridgeshire, England.
They were working at the site in advance of a major road construction project when they found the human remains in a gravel pit-turned-garbage dump. The two men were positioned next to each other in the shape of the letter T and their cut bones were placed beside them in their graves. Over 164 feet away, archaeologists unearthed the bones of another dismembered person, with no pelvis, in a Roman well.
“Somebody really, really didn’t like these guys,” said Jon House, a senior archaeologist at MOLA Headland Infrastructure to The Guardian.
Kasia Gdaniec, a Cambridge county council senior archaeologist, told the Guardian she suspects that their brutal deaths were meant to send a message. "Was it to keep them in their graves and stop them from running away? Or had they tried to run away and was this a punishment—and a warning to everyone else not even to think of it?"
As for whether these people could be linked to the Roman defensive ditch also found at the site, Gdaniec believes so. "The Romans arrive, the people who were here are completely subjugated, everything changes and is never the same again. We are not seeing trade and peaceful co-existence here, we are seeing...
The Ethiopian dish known as tere siga offers exactly what it promises. Translating to "raw meat," the meal consists of thick strips of just that: raw meat, usually cut off a hanging carcass (most often, a cow), served with a fiery spice blend (mitmita) and a small bowl of a runny, spicy mustard sauce (senafich). And, of course, there is injera, the vessel most commonly used to transport Ethiopian foods from plate to mouth.
Tere siga stands out among other local delicacies, as it is one of the few Ethiopian foods eaten with the help of utensils. A large part of the meal is the ritual of cutting the meat. The act is known as q’wirt, from the Amharic word q’warata, meaning "to cut."
The raw meat dish is undeniably a culturally important one in Ethiopia, which is striking considering that Ethiopians spend most of their lives actively eschewing meat: Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity has 180 fasting days each year (250, if you're a priest or nun), which stipulate no food before mid-afternoon and no meat at all.
Some 2,300 years ago, a gibbon unlike any on Earth today was buried in a chamber in Shaanxi Province, in central China, alongside lynx, leopards, and a black bear. The tomb is believed to have belonged to Lady Xia, who was the grandmother of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor. For years, the gibbon escaped much scientific scrutiny, until a visiting conservationist and gibbon expert, Samuel Turvey, came across its skull in a local museum. It's since been found to be an entirely new genus and species, the BBC reports, likely brought to extinction hundreds of years ago.
Using digital scans, Turvey and his team compared the gibbon's skull to the bones of hundreds of other animals in collections around the world. The scans confirmed that the animal was unlike any other. Compared to other gibbons, the now-extinct specimen had a "comparatively flat, small face," the New York Times reported, with protruding canines. In Chinese culture at the time, people believed that gibbons had noble characteristics. They were even sometimes kept as high-end pets. The researchers have since named the genus and species Junzi imperialis—junzi means "scholarly gentlemen" in Chinese—and published their findings in the journal Science.
Speaking to the New York Times, the researcher Susan Cheyne, who was not involved in the study, described how the gibbon might have been captured as a juvenile,...
Today, the former Temple of San Agustín in Zacatecas, Mexico, is a gallery and museum. But hidden in the back is an unusual library of stones engraved with Baroque motifs. These quarried stones tell the story of the destruction, and later discovery, of the old temple’s exquisite facade.
Zacatecas was one of the richest places in New Spain because of its silver mines. The Temple of San Agustín reflected this wealth, and was said to be one of the most beautiful temples in all of the state.
But in the aftermath of Mexico’s War of Reform in the 1850s, which saw the power of the Catholic Church reduced, temples throughout the city were converted for other uses. San Agustín was one of these, and to erase its Catholic past, city officials demolished its gaudy, Baroque features, including its exquisite facade.
For 90 years, no one knew what happened to the felled fragments of the facade. The temple was put to many uses—as a canteen, a warehouse, a shoe shop, and even a bowling alley—and its Catholic history seemed destined to fade into the past.
It wasn’t until 1948, when engineers began demolishing the inner walls as part of a project to renovate the building into a cultural center, that the lost pieces of the facade were found. The workers discovered that the inner walls had been built with the old...
During his eponymous wars, Napoleon invaded the Papal States, capturing Pope Pius VI and exiling him to France. Pope Pius VII, the second pontiff to suffer such an indignity, was forced to surrender his summer residence, the Quirinal Palace, to Napoleon in 1809. The emperor made a few palace renovations.
Bonaparte commissioned artist Giuseppe Martini to design official cookware for his imperial palace, to be used once the French leader became King of Rome. Martini created 777 distinct pieces.
After Napoleon was vanquished at Waterloo, he was forced to give up the Quirinal homestead. When the pope returned, he confiscated the new cookware and stamped it with the papal seal ("S.P.A.," indicating they were the property of the Sacred Apostolic Palace). Some pieces, however, still have an “N” and the imperial crown embossed on them.
Today, you can find these copper-colored molds displayed at the Vatican Museum. It's possible that Napoleonic cookware not on display is still used in papal kitchens. Pope Francis reportedly prefers simple meals, but indulges occasionally in his favorites, empanadas and pizza.
The Mohawk Trail, an old footpath used by Native Americans that winds through what’s now Massachusetts, is a beautiful, historic area to explore. Coming across this monument is a pleasant surprise for those wandering along the trail.
Hail to the Sunrise features a striking statue of a Native American man dressed in traditional clothing. Facing east, he gazes upward, his arms outstretched as if to embrace the rising sun and greet the Great Spirit. A reflecting pool sits nearby, constructed from 100 stones inscribed by various tribes and councils.
The monument was erected to commemorate the five Mohawk Nations that lived within western Massachusetts and nearby New York. The Mohawks who traveled along the old trade route were friendly to the white settlers.
Hail to the Sunrise was unveiled in October of 1932 and was created by sculptor Joseph Pollia. More than 2,000 people gathered to witness this monument to the region’s Native American heritage.
In 1898, George A. Grierson, an Irish civil servant and philologist, undertook the first ever Linguistic Survey of India. It took Grierson 30 years to gather data on 179 languages and 544 dialects. The survey was published in 19 volumes, spanning 8,000 pages, between 1903 and 1928.
For a very long time, Grierson’s achievement remained unsurpassed. After India became independent, the government initiated but never completed a second language survey. In 1961, the Census of India published The Language Tables, which identified 1,652 “mother tongues.” But the data for the Language Tables was obtained while collecting other census information and is not considered an authoritative language survey. In the absence of an extensive modern-day audit, the government cites 122 languages as the official number based on available data. The state does not individually recognize those languages spoken by less than 10,000 people.
Ganesh Devy was frustrated by this lack of contemporary data, especially the discrepancies he saw in the existing numbers. Since the government wasn’t likely to start on a new survey in the near future, Devy, a former professor of English from the western state of Gujarat, launched the People’s Linguistic Survey of India in 2010. The name refers to the fact that it was the people of the country, and not the government, that embarked on this project.
With single-minded ambition, he put together a...
Since the Japanese company Kinseiken Seika created Mizu Shingen Mochi (which became known as "raindrop cake" in English) in 2014, they’ve attracted pilgrims in search of the purest, most aesthetically pleasing thing they could eat. However, photographers need to act fast—the subject melts and evaporates in 20 minutes.
The raindrop cake is, by no culinary definition, a cake. In place of deliciousness, it offers the alluring promise of tactile, edible (and still potable) water. So enticing is the mostly-flavorless, gelatinous droplet that it has made its way to Brooklyn, New York.
To make the beautiful-but-bland raindrop cake palatable, chefs pair it with roasted, nutty soybean powder and a brown sugar syrup called kuromitso. When it comes to marketing something as dessert, beauty only goes so far.
In Icelandic, they were known as Þorskastríðin, "the cod strife," or Landhelgisstríðin, "the wars for the territorial waters.” In English, they were simply “the Cod Wars.” Between the late 1940s and 1976, the two island nations of Iceland and the United Kingdom all but declared war—despite the fact that there were almost no casualties, and the former had no army.
In the frigid waters between these two nations, four confrontations took place between Great Britain, a world superpower, and Iceland, a microstate of just a few hundred thousand people. Each time, Iceland won. And it all happened because of cod—and the right to fish it. These were the Cod Wars.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a nation surrounded by hundreds of square miles of ocean on all sides relies heavily on fish. It has long been Iceland’s main food supply and primary export product. But of all fish, cod is the most important: a raison d’etre, a source of national pride to rival their soccer team, and a favorite thing to eat. Sometimes, it’s dried into a kind of fish jerky and smeared with butter. Sometimes, it’s salted (one of Iceland’s biggest exports). Sometimes, it’s simply the fish’s gellur (the fleshy triangular muscle behind and under the tongue) boiled or served in a gratin. It is Iceland’s very own watery white gold, and the country carefully guards its bounty.
But in the lead-up...