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Is This The Tree That Gave Birth To The Multi-Million Dollar Coffee Industry?

David Farley
The man standing on the mule road between the four-wheel drive I was in and, supposedly, the tree that gave birth to the global multi-billion dollar coffee industry, bore a striking resemblance to actor Jimmy "J.J." Walker of the 1970s sitcom "Good Times." So much so that I almost didn't notice the 2-foot-long machete in his hand. "Dyno-mite," I sarcastically muttered to myself, as our idling car and the Ethiopian version of Jimmy Walker continued their staring contest. I'd just endured an hour's drive over bumpy oft-unpaved roads from Jimma, a town of 130,000 in western Ethiopia, whose main renown might be that the countryside surrounding it produces some of the best coffee in the world. I knew we were close when we passed a small billboard showing an illustration of a woman plucking coffee cherry from a tree with the words underneath it: "The birthplace of coffee Arabica, 10km."

But now I was just short of reaching the caffeine-scented Garden of Eden, stuck in an apparent showdown between us and a machete-wielding man.

The Gastrointestinal Gamble: Kimchee Carbonara With Doritos

David Farley, Gadling
David Farley

The contents of the bowl in front of me looked familiar. In it, eggy noodles swirling with some variety on the theme of bacon. It was recognizable but at the same time it wasn't. That's because it also included kimchee and – wait for it – Doritos.

[Record scratch across the heavens.]

Welcome to King Noodle in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood, the stoniest stoner restaurant you'll come across this side of San Francisco. Mirrored walls and a disco ball (relics from the space's previous incarnation as a Dominican bar) and a ceiling lined with strips of red, blue and purple Christmas lights illuminate the spray painted walls of corral reefs on a Martian-like landscape (done by local artists at Secret HandShake). If the space seems like an electric Kool-Aid acid test, the menu reads like it was concocted after several hits from an evil wizard bong and a trip to the kitchen to see what's in the fridge: Spam fried rice, mapo tofu with chili cheese fries, and rice cakes with krab and mozzarella in a spicy sauce.

And then there's that dish I described above: kimchee carbonara. When I first heard about it – the restaurant just opened last month – I knew I had to try it.

A Visit To A New York Farm

David Farley
The campers next to us were singing cheerily about crucifixion. About The Crucifixion, I gathered. Something about a large cross they'd erected on their campsite with a live dwarf-like man affixed to it gave me this impression. When a few friends invited me to go camping recently, I jumped at the opportunity to do something I'd never really do. "You? Camping?" my sister said when I announced my weekend plans. Her reaction was as if I'd said I was changing my name to Cletus and moving to Appalachia.

When the campers next to our site broke out the drum kit and plugged in the electric guitars for a Christian rock concert, I knew that my sister (and most people) were right. Camping isn't for me. But I did have access to a car. And what does one do with a car in Westchester County? According to a set of food-loving friends, the answer is to visit the Blue Hill at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

The Subjective, Incomplete Guide To The Best Carbonara In Rome

David Farley
The carbonara arrived on my table with a dollop of bacon-dotted, jaundice-colored cream atop overly cooked spaghetti noodles. When I moved the plate, the mound of cream didn't even jiggle, as if it had been heat-lamp baked for hours, hoping some fool like me was going to come in and order it. I had ordered the carbonara, not just because I love this pasta dish, but because I was reviewing a restaurant for a magazine (the restaurant didn't fare too well in my review). I wasn't in Rome, from whence the dish hails. I wasn't even in Italy. I was in New York.

That's not to say that Italian cuisine outside of Italy can't be good. It certainly can. Carbonara is a simple dish. Just pasta, eggs, guanciale (or pancetta), garlic, parmigiano, and black pepper. But, as I found out, it's not necessarily easy to make buonissimo, as the Italians would say.

Case in point: I was in Rome last week. And given that I'm so carbonara crazed and hadn't been in Rome for five years, I decided I'd put myself on a mini quest: I'd try to seek out the best carbonara I could find. There were, though, parameters that were out of my control: I was filming a documentary about my book. The days were long and we would finish shooting around 10 p.m. every night. Not a lot of time to figure out a good place to eat. The film crew left it up to me to find a good restaurant in whatever neighborhood we finished shooting for the day. A challenge, for sure.

In Uganda, The Lion Sleeps Tonight

David Farley
Oman was disappointed we didn't see a lion – almost as if it was a reflection of his masculinity. "Maybe tomorrow," he said, a tone of defeat pervading his voice, as he swung our jeep back toward the lodge. I was spending a couple days at Kyambura Lodge near Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. The park is filled with ample amounts of water buffalos, hippos, wart hogs, elephants and variations on the theme of horned bovines. There's a large troop of chimps, as well as a sprinkling of cougars. But, so it seems, it's not a real safari unless it's a lion safari.

I'd always felt that the wildlife of Africa got far more attention in travel publications than the people of Africa. For this reason, I eschewed going to Africa. But I'd never been on a safari and felt like it was time I see what it's all about, to do some wild animal gawking that wasn't in a zoo. For the most part, I was enjoying myself. I saw mountain gorillas and chimps and everything else such a safari has to offer – everything except a lion.

All that changed the next day.

The Best Cup Of Coffee In Uganda

David Farley, AOL
Knowledge, as they saying goes, is power. True. It also leads people to become annoying know-it-alls, Nobel Prize winners, dictators and/or plumbers. For me, though, it just made me a coffee snob.

Let me explain. I've always appreciated good coffee but I didn't really know what made coffee good and not good. But in December 2011, a magazine sent me to Ethiopia to discover why the coffee of this East African nation was so great. I traveled there with Intelligentsia Coffee's Geoff Watts. Mr. Watts, introduced to me by the owner of a coffee house in my neighborhood, is possibly the most important coffee buyer on the planet. Geoff was on a mission too: to buy superlative coffee for the hip coffee roasting company (which just opened its first outlet in New York City, by the way).

A while later, I was in Uganda, an East African country not particularly known for its java. I was staying at Kyambura Lodge near Queen Elizabeth National Park. When I commented on the coffee, one of the employees said they grow and roast the coffee themselves. A few hours later, I was standing in front of Nicole Simmons, the director of the program. Simmons originally came to Uganda to study the troop of 20 chimps that live down in the gorge near the resort. She liked it here and when the opportunity came to run the program, she jumped at it.

What's the Best Country In Asia For Eating?

From the 17th to 19th century, Grand Tourists (usually from England) would set out on a journey of discovery. This excursion had a near-cemented itinerary, a list of places a young man (it was almost always a man) would have to visit to have a well-rounded education. Paris, Geneva, Venice, Bologna Rome, Vienna were all must-sees. The travelers weren't really traveling to eat or try new foods but we could guess they probably ate well.

If there was a grand tour of eating in the 21st century and we had to corner it to one continent only, it probably wouldn't be Europe. It would most likely be Asia, which has a tremendous diversity of flavors and ingredients and seems more and more clear that 21st-century eating habits are adopting Asian cuisine as its own.

There was no better place to explore this idea than at the annual Lucky Rice Festival. At the Grand Feast, housed in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, I asked a slew of well-known chefs what the best country in Asia is for eating.

Here's what they had to say:

Searching For Stories (And Vacation) In Cartagena, Colombia

David Farley
I had come to Colombia to write – or at least I had hoped. But on my third day, I was sitting in the bar of the Santa Clara Sofitel hotel sipping mojitos spiked with lulo juice, one of the many exotic fruits found here, and all I could write about in my notebook was that I had nothing to write about. A friend of a friend who works at this hotel found me a guy here who takes care of a toucan. But that wasn't the story I was hoping to write.

It was nearly a whim that brought me here, booking a ticket on the new JFK-to-Cartagena route on JetBlue. It was almost a personal anomaly for me but I had no itinerary and I did little research. What did I know about this part of the world? I knew that singer Shakira and actress Sofia Vergara were from near here. Perhaps on some level I pathetically half expected (or hoped?) all the women to look like Ms. Vergara, whose physical appearance reminds me of a woman I still wish I was dating. I was wrong. I also thought I could maybe kickstart a book idea I had after visiting Bolivia a few years ago – a book about the coca leaf. But like Sofia Vergara lookalikes, there's no coca leaf culture in Cartagena like there is in Bolivia or the southern parts of Colombia. Two stereotypes down, several more to go.

And The Best Restaurant City In The World Is ...

If you're an avid restaurant observer, a voracious diner, a food aficionado, someone whose travel itinerary is determined by what food is being served out of street carts or what ingredient may be in season in a certain part of the planet, then read on.

I recently attended the James Beard Foundation Awards, the Oscars or Grammys of the restaurant world, where every top toque in the United States congresses to (hopefully) receive awards, shake hands, talk food, have a good time and, of course, eat.

As per usual, the awards were held at New York City's Lincoln Center. And as chefs and food personalities were walking in on the red carpet, I accosted them and asked one simple question:

What is the best restaurant city in the world right now?

Odd Travel Jobs: The Toucan Caretaker Of Cartagena

Meet Wilson Garcia. He's like the Clark Kent/Superman of his workplace in Cartagena, Colombia. He looks, by first appearances, like an ordinary security guard, the ubiquitous sort one sees all over this handsome Colombian city. But look closer and you might get a clue as to his other job: he doubles as the official caretaker of Mateo, the on-property pet of the Santa Clara Sofitel hotel. Mateo is a toucan and hangs out in the courtyard of the 17th-century former convent that houses the hotel. I sat down with Garcia to ask him what it's like to be the official caretaker of an exotic bird.

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