Category: Food

My NYC Highlights

NYC from above
Credit: Sam Trotman / Unsplash

Recently, I travelled to New York City for vacation. It was my second time in the city and I saw and experienced a lot I missed out on in my first trip there. In this post, I’d like to share my highlights from my visit to the Big Apple. Overall, although I didn’t get to see many of my college friends in the city due to unfortunate timing, I had a good time experiencing a lot of things you can only get in NYC.

La Dinastia

Credit: Summer L / Yelp

One of the cuisines I was determined to try in New York was Cuban-Chinese food. A few years ago, I remember watching the video about a Cuban-Chinese restaurant by Real Big Story. Unfortunately, La Caridad 78 closed down early on in the pandemic. However, there are still a couple Cuban-Chinese restaurants still around in New York so I went to La Dinastia. The food and portions were really good (I ordered the tortilla de platano and egg fo young) but the highlight of my meal was chatting with the owner. Turns out, he’s mixed Chinese and Peruvian and grew up in the city when the Upper West side had more Cuban-Chinese spots than typical Chinese places. This restaurant is his attempt to preserve a unique culture in a time when Chinese-Cubans are ageing and priced out of the neighbourhood.

Tibet House US

Mural of the Potala Palace at Tibet House US

I’m an avid listener of the Tibet House US podcast – Dr Bob Thurman’s podcast for his lectures and talks about Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet House US is an organization comissioned by the Dalai Lama with the goal to preserve the Tibetan cultural and religious heritage. The gallery was really cool – there were a couple things I’d never seen before like a Buddhist rosary made of snake bones. However, the real highlight was talking to some of the Tibetans who worked there. It was really cool to bond over Tibetan media and culture. Tashi-la and Tenzin-la were really eager to share their documentary, restaurant, and language-learning resource recommendations. I feel like my interest in Tibetan culture is a part of who I am that I don’t get to express very often so I always feel a special connection with people who share that common interest.

Phayul

For my trip to Jackson Heights’s Little Tibet, I made sure to try out one of the Tibetan restaurants in the area. I went here from the restaurant recommendations from Tibet House. My go-to for any Tibetan restaurant (I haven’t actually been to that many) is the veggie thenthuk (ཚལ་འཐེན་ཐུག). Thenthuk literally translates to pulled noodles but it’s different than Chinese noodles (拉面). Instead of long noodles, the dough is pulled into broad and flat pieces. The thenthuk was really satisfying. However, the cool part about my meal was I spoke completely in Tibetan and that was completely normal. I got to speak with the owner too – he’s a Khampa which explains why the tables were stocked with both sepen (སི་པན), a kind of Tibetan chili chutney, and chili oil (སུར་སྣུམ).

Museum of Chinese in America

In Chinatown, there’s a small museum about Chinese Americans. For anybody who has done their homework in Asian American studies, there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy but their new exhibit about COVID’s impact on Asians made the visit worth it.

A poster at the Museum of Chinese in America. During WWII, it was important that Americans know that the Chinese were fighting against the Japanese.
A poster at the Museum of Chinese in America. During WWII, it was important that Americans know that the Chinese were fighting against the Japanese.

Bronx Zoo

Every new city I go to, I have to visit the zoo. For my NYC trip, I couldn’t miss out on the famous Bronx Zoo. I saw some species I’d never seen in person before. Some of my animal highlights were:

  • Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) – As an avid fan of both animals and the Himalayan region, I can’t believe it took me this long to finally see the Himalayas’ most iconic animal
  • Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruvianus) – The males of this species are so goofy looking – they kind of have a little mohawk on their beaks. I didn’t know they were so noisy though
  • Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) – This bird is so cool looking – it has long feathers on its upper neck with iridescent plumage on its back.
  • Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) – If you remember the movie Madagascar, there’s a scene in which fossa attack the lemur village. The fossa is a real animal native to Madagascar that preys on lemurs.

One thing that I found really cool was the architecture and design of the exhibits. First, I was really impressed by the amount of immersive exhibits – there were several bird exhibits where you’re in the same room with the animals. I also think the exhibits do a good job of giving the illusion that animals are in the same space but are actually hidden by hidden glass walls. Both of these two design aspects really enhance the immersive experience of going to the zoo.

The Met

I’ve been trying to go to more art museums to become more cultured and this place definitely had its fair share of culture! This place was so big I don’t think one afternoon was enough. That said, I tried to prioritize the regions and cultures most interesting to me. I really liked the art of East Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Here are some pictures from my visit to the Met:

Khachapuri

I consider myself an adventurous eater who’s always looking for new foods to try. One of the foods that I’d been really meaning to try was khachapuri and I finally got the chance! I tried two different kinds of khachapuri: the adjaruli and the penovani. While I preferred the eggy, fondue-like adjaruli khachapuri, both types were really good and I’m glad I got to try them out. Now, time to try out other Georgian dishes!

The Vegetarian Protein Problem

Picture of a plate of food
Credit: Dmitry Dreyer / Unsplash

I’ve been eating vegetarian for a bit more than a year now and, in short, I have to say it’s been great. Really, I’ve experienced everything you’ve heard from preachy vegetarians from more energy to better poops. After my omnivore friends are finished hearing me expound the benefits of going vegetarian, they inevitably ask every vegetarian’s pet peeve: where do you get your protein? In this post, I’m going to explain why this a valid question and why getting enough protein isn’t as easy as some vegetarians claim.

Protein and its Sources

As the only macronutrient not stored in the body, protein is an important part of one’s diet. If you ask a vegetarian the protein question or look online, the common response is something like “There are many good sources of protein that are vegetarian like beans and lentils”. However, I would say this is only partially true. According to USDA’s FoodData Central, cooked black beans have about eight grams of protein per 100 gram serving. In comparison, 100 grams of chicken breast contain 32 grams of protein. Just by these numbers, you can tell there is a massive difference in protein content between these two foods. However, it also overlooks the fact that protein is not all the same.

Protein Quality and Digestibility

Before I explain protein quality, I should preface by saying that I’m not a dietician or nutritionist (FYI, the difference is that being a dietician requires certifications and degrees, whereas is some places anybody can say they’re a nutritionist) and the layman’s perception of nutrition sciences is very volatile. That said, there is a general consensus that not all protein is created the same. The popular dichotomy between protein sources is separating them into plant and animal protein. Generally speaking, animal proteins are considered complete – meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans cannot synthesize from scratch. On the other hand, with some exceptions like quinoa, plant proteins lack one or more of these essential amino acids.

We eat to fuel our bodies. Protein digestibility applies this concept to see how much protein we eat actually gets used by our bodies. While there are several measures for this, I will focus on the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). Used by the US FDA, the score measures protein utilization based on the limiting amino acid with higher scores indicating better digestibility.

Protein TypePDCAAS
Eggs1
Milk1
Soy Protein1
Beef0.92
Chicken0.91
Black Beans0.75
Lentils0.71
Whole Wheat0.40
Adapted from “Protein Digestibility: The Essential Guide” https://www.katefarms.com/articles/featured-articles/guide-to-protein-digestibility/

As you can tell from the table, plant-based proteins generally lag behind their animal-based counterparts. This is due to plants being incomplete protein sources. Further, they aren’t as digestible as animal proteins.

The Caveat

However, unless you’re eating a lot of a single food every day, the lower ranking of plant proteins is not a huge issue by itself. Most people consume a variety of foods in their diet and this diversity covers any deficiencies any one protein source may have. The most common example of this is the pairing of beans and rice. Beans lack the amino acid methionine and rice is low in lysine. When eaten together, their nutritional profiles complement each other and form a complete protein source as rice is high in methionine and beans are high in lysine. Complementary pairings like rice and beans can lead to PDCAAS closer to one.

The Real Problems

Despite the fact that deficiencies in plant protein are not problematic in itself, the naive omnivore (likely unknowingly) brings up two valid concerns when they ask the vegetarian about the protein problem. First, plant proteins are not as digestible as meat. This means that vegetarians need to consume more protein than omnivores because less protein will be incorporated into the body. The average person requires about 50-60 grams of protein per day so eating a few extra grams of protein is not a big difference. However, athletes may need double that amount which may require them to eat an extra meal in order to reach their nutritional requirements. Most people who go vegetarian don’t expect to need to eat more protein and this could lead to problems in the long run if daily protein needs are not consistently being met.

The other issue stems from a misunderstanding of substituting meat with vegetarian foods. 100 grams of beans and 100 grams of chicken differ by nearly 20 grams of protein. Along with the fact that beans have significant amounts of carbohydrates, this means that plant products do not serve as an appropriate substitute for animal-based products from a nutritional perspective. There are exceptions to this – soy products like tofu and tempeh have comparable macronutrient content to meat and plant-based meat alternatives, such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Meat, have been formulated to be nutritionally similar. But there are too many vegetarians who think that almond milk is an adequate substitute for cow’s milk just because they’re both white and creamy or that a beef hamburger patty can be swapped out for its black bean alternative without any trade-off in nutrients. Cooking and eating a nutritionally complete vegetarian meal is more than just omitting animal products. Instead, a meal must be viewed holistically and challenge the conventional idea that a dinner plate consists of a protein, a carb, and maybe some vegetables on the side. In a meal of beans and rice, there isn’t a distinct carb or protein but rather, the rice and beans are both.

Conclusion

While it can be annoying to get constantly asked where we get our protein, I think this question does point out some valid nutritional concerns that many vegetarians overlook. The fact you can’t get enough protein on a vegetarian diet is a myth, but I don’t think this makes switching to a vegetarian diet easy. In particular, switching to a healthy vegetarian diet requires a greater awareness of what you’re eating, not only with regards to avoiding meat, but also in understanding the interdependence of foods in a meal and meals in a diet. At the risk of being the preachy vegetarian, this awareness for food has been one of the greatest benefits I’ve noticed since my switch and it’s something that everybody could benefit to have, vegetarian or not.

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