The snack you find for yourself
In which you choose your own adventure
It’s been a chaotic week and I’m swamped with day-job work and family stuff and holiday preparations, and it doesn’t help that Minnesota is about to get hit with some extreme weather in the next few hours, which may include tornadoes. (I have been in a house that was hit by a tornado, fun fact to tell at parties. Would not recommend.)
Anyway, I have various posts in half-finished form, but none of them are really calling to me, so instead I’m letting you have all the fun today. It’s not homework, it’s an invitation to explore the world on your own digital device.
A few months ago, as some of you may recall, I tried a spin-the-globe experiment. I picked a place at random (it turned out to be Sierra Leone), then used Google Maps to zoom in on the capitol city (Freetown) and then typed “snacks” in the maps search box. A bunch of pins appeared on the map and I picked on at random—quickly, no reading names or trying to assess neighborhoods, just find something and select it.
I ended up at a place called Big Bite Snacks, and then proceeded to look at all the photos and other information I could find to see what snacks they sold and what stories those snacks might have to tell. In this case, that tale turned out to be the history of Sierra Leone’s Lebanese community, which touched on immigration, politics, and much, much more (again, you can read the post here).
That’s the only time I’ve done a spin-the-globe post for this newsletter, but that “let’s just see where this leads and what story we can find” approach guides so many of my posts—indeed, it’s one of the key driving forces of Snack Stack. Here’s something that doesn’t look all that intriguing on its surface, but let’s see if there’s more to it. There always is.
So now I’d like you to give it a try. Follow the instructions below, but also feel free to improvise as you see fit. Take as much time as you need/want. Follow the rabbit holes as the branch out into unfamiliar territory. Then, if you’d like, share what you find in the comments below and/or on Twitter (please tag me, @douglasmack, so I see it!).
Instructions for a DIY Snack Adventure
Pick a random (populated!) spot in the world. It works best if it’s not a teeny-tiny speck of a village, although if you really want to challenge yourself, go for it. This site will pick a place for you from a list of 3,500 towns around the world, but you an also use your own method of choosing a location.
Go to Google Maps (or Bing, I suppose) and find your chosen city. Zoom in as much or as little as you’d like (don’t overthink it and don’t cheat by heading to a neighborhood you know). Type “snacks” into the Maps search bar. Or, what the hell, “pastries,” “breakfast,” “taco trucks,” or any other specific genre of food. Whatever speaks to you.
When the pins appear, pick one as fast as you can. Again, don’t overthink or cheat.
This is your snack destination. Congrats!
If possible, see what food this particular place sells. Search their website or Instagram, if they have those sorts of things, or look at the images in the Google business listing, which should exist since you clicked on the pin.
Figure out the story of this food in this place. Use context clues like the architecture or people or signage on Street View, if that’s an option. Search for the food and the place in Google Books (note that you can limit your results to different time periods, which can help if you’re trying to understand, say, immigration patterns in 1980s France). If it’s in the USA, try searching the Library of Congress newspaper archives.
Have fun with it. If you get frustrated, just start over. This should be enjoyable; it should get you thinking about a place you’ve never visited or don’t know much about; it should feel like you’re learning in the best, most enjoyable way. Let curiosity be your guide. If you start wandering in Street View and something else catches your eye and that becomes your entry point to this particular place and culture, that’s fine, do your thing, digital flâneur.
Send us a postcard, by which I mean let us know what interesting story you learned. It does not have to be long! Just give us a quick postcard view of where you went, what you ate, and what you learned.
I’m excited to see where this journey takes you and what you find. Off you go!
* * * UPDATE * * *
Thanks to everyone who played along! In addition to the one in the comments at the bottom of the post, here are a few from Twitter (click the tweet to read each thread in full):
Andy went to Benghazi (yes, that Benghazi)
Kate headed to Bucaramanga, Colombia
Zombie here wound up in Ojisek, Croatia
I’ll add more if and when I see them!
i picked darwin australia and found the restaurant aussie snacks selling something i had never heard of and now know all about a quintessential australian snack the chiko roll
My favorite college professor was from Bulgaria, and having never been there, decided this was an excellent place to locate myself for the choose-your-own-adventure version of Snack Stack. Centered a Google map on Sofia and searched for "breakfast snacks" (because ... that was simply the combination I was hungry for). Picking a pin at random, I wound up near the geographic center of the city at an establishment called Ananda (Ананда).
Google Maps describes the place simply as a bakery and while their URL (https://www.anandabakery.com/) would appear to confirm this, a quick Google search for Ананда led me to believe there may be more to it - since the first result was a Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80nanda) about a disciple of Buddha, named Ānanda.
Quick review of their website (Google translated into English) reveals that they offer a vegatarian menu of salads, soups, nutritious stews, vegetable triguns [samosas, I believe], other snacks served with sourdough bread, and various desserts (including vegan and raw options).
Their gallery (https://www.anandabakery.com/gallery) shows amazing looking food and cozy seeming digs. They have a pick-up menu for Christmas Eve available for onine ordering (https://www.anandabakery.com/budni-vecher). They have a 1,000-strong Facebook group which they post their daily menu to (https://www.facebook.com/groups/327443927678225). The bakery's Instagram is drool-inducing (https://www.instagram.com/anandabakery108/). There is even an hour-long documentary about the owners (https://www.anandabakery.com/ananda-movie) (https://vimeo.com/310760632)!
While the rather small population of Buddhists in majority Orthodox Bulgaria is priarily of Vietnamese descent, I didn't note any particularly obvious Viatnamese inspiration to the menu. I did note that the prices seem incredibly reasonable - for example, the menu on most days appears to include a quiche priced at 4.20 BGN (Bulgarian lev) which currently equates to less than $2.50 USD.
I'll end there, not because there isn't more to be found or said, but just because I've hit my self-set time limit. If I'm ever able to get to Sofia to experience the homeland of Dr Toma Tonev, I sincerely hope this establishment is still in business. (http://www.math.umt.edu/tonev/)