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Good food in unexpected places
Continuing to fill in bits from my peripatetic wanderings of the past few weeks.

Columbus, OH and Bloomington, IN are not places that I would have sought out as hotbeds of fine cuisine. But in fact, both Origins and Known World Dance were marked by really excellent food.

The first week, mindways and I were at Origins. Now you have to understand, the Columbus Convention Center is *really* long and narrow. It's basically a three-block-long corridor with rooms hanging off of it. And as it happens, it was probably fortunate that at one end of that was the Board Room (where all the good board gaming happens, so we mostly hung out there) and our hotel, and at the other end was the Food Court. Which might have been inconvenient, except that right behind our hotel (and thus, much closer than the Food Court) was North Market.

North Market turns out to be an absolute delight. It's a big indoor market, jam-packed with little local vendors. And it's not a simple farmer's market by any means. Oh, sure -- there's the hot dog place and two pizza places. But there's also the Indian food stand -- and the Vietnamese one. And the Middle Eastern one that sells excellent baklava. And the Polish one with the pierogies and saurkraut-and-cheese-stuffed chicken croquets. And the place that just sells fresh-squeezed smoothies and a zillion varieties of bubble tea. (Black bubble tea I expect; red bean bubble tea I don't.) And the fabulous ice cream stand with fruit flavors even I like. And *especially* the waffle place, that just sells Belgian Waffles: lovingly made with just the right amount of sugar, so that a bit caramelizes on the waffle iron, and OMG syrup would be just redundant -- you simply grab one, blazing hot and plain from the iron, and nomnomnom it on the spot.

The only downside is that North Market closes early (5pm on weekends). But we wound up building our eating schedule around it. Complete win.

And then there is Bloomington. It wouldn't have occurred to me, but apparently the Dalai Lama's brother emigrated there many years ago, establishing the root of a thriving Asian community. And the side-effect is one of the coolest restaurant rows around.

Just a block away from Indiana University, there is a fairly innocuous-looking residential street -- which on second glance turns out to be *solid* restaurants. Not one of them is a chain. Rather, there are three Tibetan restaurants; two Turkish restaurants; Thai; Korean; Japanese; you name it, it seems to be there. We ate at several of them while there, and they were a marvel. Top winner was probably the Turkish restaurant where we had lunch the first day -- service was dreadfully slow, but the food was fabulous, from the various toppings for the endless fresh bread to the Red Lentil Soup To Die For.

Moral of the story, which is useful for me to remember, is: ask the locals. Some cities have remarkable hidden culinary gems, not at all obvious at first glance. (Yes, yes -- I come from Waltham, and should know this by now. Still, my assumptions about Bloomington, IN were quite comprehensively dismantled -- it's a *remarkably* lovely town...)

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My sister went to IU, and used to waitress with some in-law of the Dalai Lama. She said that "I can't come in to work today, I have to go meet the Dalai Lama" was a valid excuse.

Mmm, sounds delicious! I had no idea.

There's good eating to be had in most Big Ten university towns :-)

ETA: Admittedly, some are better than others--B-town, Ann Arbor and Madison have great restaurants; West Lafayette, not so much (OK, the fried rabbit franchise was cool, but other than that...).

Edited at 2011-07-13 12:10 am (UTC)

Yes, the red lentil soup at the Turkish place was awesome, even in the opinion of people who don't normally like lentils.

I knew Bloomington and the IU campus were remarkably lovely, having visited there to give a math talk twenty years ago... but that was just for one day. My lovely spouse spent two and a half years there.

Aha!! That explains the culinary diversity. I was equally thrilled and charmed. We had really excellent Middle Eastern (Israeli, sorta) food, some good Tibetan, ok Thai, decent bagels, and bad Indian but I was surprised and delighted to have so many options. Wish we'd made it to the Turkish place (some friends did while we were eating the Tibetan, so I can't complain too much).

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