As I did in Dhaka, Bogota, Lima, and Rome, I will write a couple of articles about the good and not so good things about living in the Washington, DC, area. First, some of the good things.
Free drinking water. You can drink the tap water.
High speed internet.
International cuisine. I will write more about this later, but in the DC area, one can get good Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Japanese… you get the idea.
International people. Many embassies are located here.
Public transportation. Between the train, bus, and light rail, you can get many places for 3-10 dollars.
Availability of things – Amazon is sometimes delivered the next day or faster, and some shops are open 24-7.
Free museums, free concerts, free meetings, and free libraries. The Smithsonian is a collection of 21 museums and almost all (I think only the one in New York charges an entrance fee) are free to enter.
National Airport (DCA). Having an airport on a metro line and within a mile of DC is gold. Dulles is also on the metro but 25 miles away.
People like dogs. Oh, wait, that’s not just here. But I still think it’s a good thing about being here.
Homeless people and beggars. This is a stain on American. Quite a shock to the tourists as well.
Prices. Things are pricey.
Price of going out to eat. I am now cooking, if one can call it that, at home.
Housing prices. Gawd. Half a million dollars for one bedroom apartment!
Shootings and crime. Over 200 homicides in DC this year (as of October).
Preservatives in the food. Read the label. It is a bit scary.
Skunk smoke. Both DC and Maryland (or they will soon) have made it legal to consume marijuana. The stuff that smells like a skunk is low grade — so I am told. I wish they would switch to non smelly kinds.
The weather. George (Washington) did not choose this place for the weather (I think he wanted short commute). The weather is humid and hot in the summers and the winters are not spectacular. But, there is air conditioning so if I can avoid going outside from May to October…
However, I am still thankful for the overall quality of life in the DMV.
For those who visited or lived in DC back in the day, they will recall going down to Maine Avenue fish market to buy shrimp and seafood from the red roofed open air buildings sitting low down by the water. You could even get them pre-steamed with Old Bay Seasoning and ready to eat. The area was a bit run down and sketchy at night. It was a strange location in DC. But one went there for the shrimp. Or if you were eating at Philips.
Times have changed but the seafood stalls are still there. Other than that, it’s a complete make over. Now The Wharf is an entire outdoor boardwalk built for pleasure by the water. It is a new destination location in DC. If you come to DC, I recommend trying it out.
Go for the seafood, Gordon Ramsey’s sticky toffee pudding, and towers of seafood. If you are not into seafood, there are other options. Even the Irish pub is good!
Washington, DC, is the capital of the US but also home to almost three quarters of a million people. The architecture is varied and increasingly high rise. Driving around DC, I realize how much I do not know about the architecture or history of DC. For a guide to the basic styles of homes in DC, check out this link.
I will not be retiring to my palace in Split like Diocletian. But, I will be leaving Rome. I will be moving from the eternal city on seven hills to a newer Rome in America. Washington, DC, is sometimes called the “new Rome” and in some ways it is. There are lots of monuments and white marble buildings. It is a capital, and some would say that it was influential the way that Rome once was. It gets unbearably hot in the summer. Like Rome, it is a touristy town. Like Rome, DC also suffers from not being quite as fashionable as its northernly neighbor (for DC, it’s New York, and for Rome, Milan).
But, for me, it will be my next home. Arrivederci, Roma!
Arrivederci translates to, “Goodbye until we meet again.”
Now that I am leaving Rome, I’m reflecting on the things I will miss. Despite the crowds (hordes arrive in June), I will miss some of the really picture perfect places in Rome. It makes it easy to show tourists around.
For those who have been with me here on my adventures for the past 12 years, you know that I move cities every few years. My time in Rome is soon over, so I am beginning to reflect on the things I will miss about Rome.
For example, the other day, I was sitting out at a cheese shop and down the street was a couple sitting outside their underwear store, drinking some wine and people watching. This scene is a classic Roman scene that may soon fade away as the mega international chain stores wipe out these small family-run businesses. I hope not.
The Washington, DC, area has had Peruvian restaurants for years. The newest, stylish duo, are the Peruvian Brothers.
Even during this time of COVID, the Peruvian Brothers still provide a taste of Peru. They have La Cosecha, a food truck, and The Stand. The Peruvian Brothers also have a gofundme link on their page so that you can donate food to front line workers.
Of course, the food is not like in Lima (nor are the prices). But, if you are in the Washington, DC, area and have a hankering for a chicharron sandwich, this will have to do.
“Hey, do you have a recommendation for a Korean restaurant?” Do I ever! In the service of social media=democracy=sharing information… here’s my list of Korean restaurants I like to go to when in Northern Virginia. I also mentioned Korean food in my list of iconic American eats in the Washington, DC area. All these restaurants are located in Annandale in Fairfax county about ten miles from the Lincoln Memorial. There are buses out to this area but that experience would probably ruin your experience.
Lighthouse Tofu (Vit Goel Tofu) – 4121 Chatelain Rd #100, Annandale, VA 22003: More than tofu, this place specializes in volcanically hot earthenware bowls of stew/soup. This place actually has seafood stew which I love. Plus, they have created a mini seafood pancake which is more like an American appetizer. Most places serve a huge seafood pancake (haemul pajeon) which can be harder to deal with.
Honey Pig – 7220 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: Very loud music, steel decor and smoky, this place will make you feel like you are in Korea.
To Sok Jip – 7211 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: Across the street from Honey Pig, easy to overlook, this place with the purple awning, is worth finding. It’s got three “rice” options – white, barley, or purple which is a mix of brown rice and beans. This is one of the few hole-in-the-wall places left in this area. The bok choy kimchi is fantastic. They also have a mega-pot “wartime soup” which is a hodgepodge of hot dogs, tofu, pork, kimchi, noodles, etc. thrown into a cauldron. Must not eat alone. Plus, the ladies’ has a fancy Japanese toilet.
Gom Ba Woo – 7133 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place is next to Giant. I mention it because I’ve had some really delicious home made mandu (dumplings, potstickers) here, and I’ve had wonderful language barrier issues here too, one of which resulted in us receiving a cold bowl of noodles in a lard soup. The lady looked at us approvingly because clearly this was the dish to order in hot weather, but we were not so thrilled.
Nak Won – 7317 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place is where I’d take newbies to Korean food. It’s got a nice authentic feel and it’s quiet. The decor reminds me of the decor of the 80’s with wood tables and memorabilia on the walls.
Oegadgib – 7331 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place should be called “Mr. Lee’s” but instead I think it is “Gram’s place” or something like that. There is a full menu but the two things that stand out are the all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu (where you cook meat and vegetables in a broth – like hotpot) and the barbecue which includes three kinds of meat. The prices are under $20 per person so a great place to go with big eaters. This place is hard to find and hard to pronounce so look for the Jerry’s Sub sign, make absolutely sure that you do not park in Jerry’s lot, and then go behind the building on Little River Turnpike and you will often find Mr. Lee waving his light saber around to help you find parking in his lot.
Yechon – 4121 Hummer Rd, Annandale, VA 22003: This is a 24-hour standby. It’s big and they do everything well. It’s located a bit away from the other restaurants and many don’t like how generic it feels, but that’s one thing that’s good about it — you can always go there and find acceptable Korean food.
There are two other places to mention – one bakery and one chicken place:
Shilla Bakery – 7039 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: Forget all the weird ideas about not liking Asian desserts… you will like these! They have everything from French bread, puffy pastries, colorful cakes, bingsoo (frozen ice dessert with flavorings, fruit, etc.), Illy coffee, and yes, some of those weird Asian desserts made with beans. This place is always pumping with Korean American youth hanging out and families. The bakery is very generous with its samples so you can try four or five different breads, cookies, pastries, before buying one or none.
Bon Chon Chicken – multiple locations: Really, very few things make me NOT want to share. I have a friend who is a true foodie friend because when we shared a plate of Bon Chon’s wings, he ate the winglets (part that looks like a drumstick) so that I could enjoy the flats (the part with two bones). Sigh, now that’s true understanding. These wings are sweet, crunchy, and lightly coated.
Maybe once I get to Colombia, I’ll compile a list of the seven best Korean restaurants in Bogota.
Washington, DC’s Ethiopian restaurants are well-known. Yet, I tried Ethiopian food for the first time in Ethiopia. The food was new to me. It was perhaps not so different from the bhorta of Bangladesh, but it was a world away from the sancocho of Colombia, and the burgers of America. When I was in Ethiopia, my friend took me to a restaurant serving traditional Ethiopian food. First, we sat at low tables about the size of chair. The food was served on a large platter (about a yard/meter wide) on which the waitress placed our different dishes along with the national bread, injera, a spongy flat bread. The waitress brought a silver pot and poured water over my hands so that I could wash them, although I only ever dream of using my right hand! We had a boiled egg, stewed greens, a curry, etc. I found the food to be on the sour side and immediately thought of certain friends who love sour foods — like lemons.
As we were at a tourist friendly, the other guests appeared to be a mix of expat Ethiopians, families, and the national football (soccer) coach. For dessert, we had coffee. After all, coffee comes from “Kaffa” in Ethiopia. It was strong in the “Turkish” style. I enjoyed it.
During the meal, traditional dances of Ethiopia were sung and performed for us. I’m sure that the stories being told in the dances were those of battle, courtship, and harvest, and they involved a style of dance which required high impact step aerobics and what is fondly called the “chicken” dance. As the evening progressed, the men changed into costumes that seemed to allow them more air during their feverish dances while the women continued to put on more and more clothing like sweaters and headscarves. I don’t know if any of the restaurants in DC have dance performances like the one I saw in Addis but I found the dance and the music uplifting and I’d watch it again.
Recently, some of my Bangladeshi friends visited the U.S… which made me think about iconic American foods to make them try while visiting D.C. The following are some of my recommendations.
1. Krispy Kreme: Who does not love a freshly fried yeast doughnut, hot and fresh from a sugar glaze waterfall?
2. Five Guys and Shake Shack: The last decade has seen the rise of the new hamburger restaurant which makes me happy. Freshly made with fresh French fries – it sounds simple but we, the consumers, put up with so much less for too long. Five Guys is a nationwide chain that started a few miles from D.C. and if you have peanut allergies, you must stay away…
3. All-American classic restaurants and bars: These are classic modern restaurants and bars in the “old boys’ club” style of dark wood, etc. — The Hamilton, The Lincoln, and also Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard, and Ray’s the Steaks.
4. Ben’s Chili Bowl: Visitors like this historic place which has recently become a chain and it will soon be opening a branch at National Airport.
5. Honey Pig (noisy Korean BBQ restaurant), To Sok Jib (hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant), and Bon Chon Chicken: Annandale, Virginia is a well known Korea-town but Bon Chon has just opened a branch in Clarendon. There is also Lighthouse Tofu which serves more than tofu and Oegadgib which serves all-you-can-eat Korean including shabu-shabu (shabu-shabu are the words you should say to time how long you swish your meat in the broth to cook it.).
6. Pho soup: Eden Center is a little Vietnam in Falls Church, Virginia, where the restaurants serve pho and other Vietnamese food.
7. Ravi Kabob: It’s a northern South Asian/Pakistani place that is “hole-in-the-wall” and serves delicious food. The most famous local chain is Moby Dick’s.
8. Edy’s Chicken or El Pollo Rico: It’s Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. Anthony Bourdain went to El Pollo Rico but I like that Edy’s serves yucca fries. There are also several other Peruvian style restaurants in the area where you can explore some of this world famous cuisine, although I’m still waiting for the celebrity chef level restaurants to open.
9. Ramen shops: This is a fairly new trend in American food, thanks in part to David Chang of Momofuku, and I like the trend. Yummy, homemade soup. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.
10. El Salvadorean food: Try a fresh pupusa as the El Salvadorean population begins to emerge on the culinary scene (there are not that many Mexican places in this area but Jugalita is authentic).
Of course there are also many Ethiopian restaurants to try and loads of food carts serving all manner of new American foods (Korean kalbi taco, anyone?). Every new group of immigrants contributes a new flavor to American cuisine.
When tourists visit the U.S., many want to try Chipotle and other famous restaurants. I recommend using Yelp to find the locations. Speaking of American foods, there is, of course, pie, lobster, grits, collard greens, chicken and waffles, barbecue, etc. to be had here in D.C., but, maybe I’ll write about that another time. And not to forget, I’ve done some research and it looks like there is only one Colombian restaurant in the area… y claro, por supuesto, voy a visitarlo.