Author Archives for Josh Cobler

About Josh Cobler

I'm Josh, a Filipino-American student from Dallas exploring the world and all it has to offer one picture and one post at a time.

A Return to Food

For the first time in a while, I logged back into this blog. My last post was over two years ago, back in August of 2016. At that time I was still in high school, just a month away from starting at Stanford. (For all of those adventures and more, I have been keeping my personal blog, Kuya’s Notebook, fairly up to date.) I hadn’t forgotten about it—every now and then I’d get messages on the Facebook page, asking random questions about recipes and even the effects of the environment on food. A few of you have asked about whether or not I’d be returning to this blog, which I would often hazily respond with, “Yeah, totally! Just later.”

I guess it’s now later.

So what have I been up to in the meantime? In the past two years, I’ve been a student at Stanford University. I’m currently studying sociocultural anthropology, and I’ve had some flirtations with economics and creative writing as minors, but it’s not clear whether I’ll actually finish either of the minor requirements—which is fine, because minors genuinely don’t matter. I did a brief food photography stint with Coupa Café, a Palo Alto-based coffee chain that serves Latin American-inspired food and drinks, with a focus on organic and fair-trade food.

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I’ve been traveling a lot too. This past summer alone, I went all over the United States—from San Francisco to Boston to Portland to West Virginia to rural Texas to New York City. I spent three weeks studying archeology in Venice, Italy, and coastal Slovenia. And I went to Israel and Palestine. Other than a host of new insights on life, I also learned that I love shakshuka!

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Shakshuka and Israeli salad

I’m currently in Paris, France, a brief stop before I head off to the University of Oxford, where I’ll be a visiting student there for the next term (January through March). I’m incredibly excited to experience British life for a few months, have Europe at my fingertips, and see the United Kingdom at such an interesting time—I’ll be leaving just days before Brexit.

From April through June, I’ll be studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, through another study abroad program through Stanford. This time, I’ll be living with a Chilean family and taking classes completely in Spanish, ranging as widely from Latin American politics to the environment.

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Pizza in New York City before heading to Paris

Needless to say, it’ll be an exciting next few months of my life, and I thought what better way to document it than by sharing it? I’ll be sharing more about my travels and thoughts on Kuya’s Notebook, but I’m hoping to keep all food-specific posts right here on Bok Choy and Broccoli. Being in Europe right now, there are all sorts of exciting food-related thoughts and experiences I’d like to share, and I think that being an anthropology major and just a university student in general puts me in a good position to share more than just “I went to this cool restaurant in London, here are pictures.”

This blog started as a way for my mom and me to cook together, and it quickly became a way to document recipes that she made. Back when we started the blog, we were pescatarian (vegetarian + fish). Pretty soon after that, we started eating meat again but we still made mostly vegetarian recipes, up until I decided that documenting her recipes was more important than sticking to an arbitrary rule of vegetarian recipes only—which is how the “Mom’s Spaghetti” post came to be. Just as this food blog evolved to serve a higher purpose once before, I hope it does so again.

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Mom’s Spaghetti

Food is an integral part of human culture and society. It’s more than just what we put in our bodies—food is intertwined in the very fabric of our beings as people. When most people think about culture, one of the first things they think about is food, but how did those meals come to be? Food is often connected to specific societal moments and to societal structures. It can serve symbolic purposes: think of how popping a bottle of champagne is connected to celebration. It can differentiate social classes: much of Pierre Bourdieu’s work, which I read often for my own work in educational anthropology, is used for this, but a very stark example is the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and high-end caviar.

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Seafood spaghetti in Venice

Food has very real consequences for our society, especially in the context of the environment, which is the main reason I ever considered going pescatarian. Eating meatless meals remains the best way to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but more nuance is needed than just demanding everyone becomes a vegan, since that’s often not practical for lower-income people—contrary to popular belief, healthy food in the United States is, in fact, expensive—and people whose cultural cuisines are incredibly meat heavy… such as my birth country, the Philippines, for example. Plus, putting too much of an emphasis on being vegan to prevent environmental collapse can often unfairly put the onus on individuals to stop climate change, when in reality, large corporations are some of the worst polluters, making up 71% of global emissions—which is huge, and maybe a reason we should be targeting corporate decisions more so than just individuals’ food habits if we want to save the planet.

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A latte and macarons in Padua, Italy

That is to say, food is complicated. Often much more complicated than one might expect. We choose to take the time to learn about the economy and politics because it affects us, but I hope to make the case that the historical and cultural components of food are just as important to learn about. And I’m hoping to use this platform to share some of food’s complications with you… alongside more recipes and restaurant reviews!

So consider this goodbye for now—see you soon!

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Mango Sago

Whenever I look at the calendar on my wall, I always find myself shocked that it’s already August. Summer is nearly over, and for most of my friends (and my younger brother), school is starting in a matter of days. Not weeks or months—days.

The feeling of a waning summer hasn’t really set in for me yet, mostly because Stanford University, where I’ll be an incoming freshman this school year, follows the quarter system, so my move-in date isn’t until mid-September! (The flip side, of course, is that I’ll be taking midterms in May while everyone else is beginning their summer breaks.)

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It really has felt like an eternal summer for me. But even though the days have been getting shorter (technically) and everyone has been buzzing about going back to school, the mangoes are still sweet—summer must still be going in full force. Continue reading

To the next four years: an update

I’m really, really excited for the next four years. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll be attending Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, starting this September, and I really just can’t be more excited.

Just earlier this month, I was actually in the midst of a really tough decision between Stanford University and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, but in the end, I picked Stanford for a few reasons… and some of those reasons actually do impact this blog!

Over the past year, I’ve been growing increasingly concerned about environmental and sustainability issues. Climate change is a real and growing problem that threatens world food supplies and even the very existence of island nations (including my birth country, the Philippines), which could displace between 50 million to 200 million people by 2050; the fracking boom has been causing earthquakes in my home city Dallas, yet the Texas state government refuses to let the Dallas suburbs ban the practice; developed and developing countries alike continue to pollute the air with more carbon emissions; and while one likely U.S. presidential candidate rates miles ahead of her presumed opponent on environmental protection, her proposals—even assuming they get passed by Congress—don’t seem to be enough to rapidly switch to renewable energy and protect the planet from 2 degree warming.

It was because of these concerns that I found myself completely in love with the Bay Area. At the very end of April, I flew out to California with my mom to attend Stanford’s Admit Weekend. But before that, we visited a friend who works at Facebook’s main campus at Menlo Park. Needless to say, it was completely and utterly beautiful! Continue reading

Lumpiang Gulay (Vegetable Spring Roll)

It sure has been a while. Since I’ve last posted, a lot has been going on in my family (more information on my personal blog), and it’s been an important reminder of the importance of family.

Family is an interesting concept. I could say my family is my mom, my dad, and my little brother Jude, but there’s so much more to the word “family” that transcends just a list of the people in my household. To me, family is just as much about heritage, traditions, collective experiences, and shared meals as it is about the people I live with. And one meal we’ve shared a lot is lumpia, a type of fried spring roll originally of Chinese origin but is now very common in the Philippines and Indonesia. (The word “gulay” just refers to the fact it’s made of vegetables, which is perfect for your Meatless Mondays!)

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Partially because I’m only half Filipino and partially because I live in the United States, I’ve always felt disconnected from my Filipino heritage even though it shapes a large part of who I am. That’s why I find it so important for me to continue trying new Filipino food, learning how to make certain recipes, and keeping these recipes documented somewhere. At the end of the day, even small recipes like these are a part of what makes up my family—a part of the heritage and traditions passed down through my mother’s side.

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My mom first introduced lumpiang gulay to me while I was in middle school, and when we decided to not eat meat for a period of time, it made for a great meal that fit our dietary preferences at the time. Even though I still do eat meat (although I may go vegetarian again once I leave for college next year), lumpiang gulay is still something we continue to eat in my home.

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Now that my grandma from the Philippines has been in town, I’ve also realized that she and my mom have very different ways of eating lumpiang gulay, a huge shock to me since I always assumed the way my mom ate it was the normal way. My mom likes to cut into the lumpia lengthwise and pour in the garlic sauce that way, whereas my grandma eats it the “normal” way—dipping it into the sauce and eating it like any other spring roll. I personally think the way my grandma eats it makes way more sense, but for some reason my mom continues to eat it the way she does.

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Continue reading

Mom’s Spaghetti

Ever since I was young, I’ve always thought that my mom makes the best spaghetti ever. And I do mean that very seriously—nothing compares to the orange heaven that is my mom’s spaghetti. A few years ago, a family friend from Italy invited us over for dinner. While she made some of the most delicious pastas I’ve ever had, my mom’s spaghetti still reigns supreme.

In the Philippines, spaghetti is seen more as a snack than a full-fledged meal, and it’s usually very sweet when compared to the spaghetti we eat here in the United States. That’s why if you go to Jollibee or a McDonald’s in the Philippines, you’ll notice the spaghetti will taste totally different! (And, yes! They have spaghetti!) My mom says that every Filipino person has a different way of making their spaghetti. Hers has more garlic, is less sweet, and uses bacon instead of hot dogs. But for what it lacks in sugar, it makes up for in flavor.

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In the summer before ninth grade, I took a cooking class as part of Senior DECATS, a selective summer program only available to academically talented students who attended a Catholic middle school. It was my first real exposure to cooking—and also where I learned I enjoy tasting food more than making it! For our biggest group cooking challenge, we had to prepare the best spaghetti we could.

Well, actually, we were told we needed to find one of the teaching assistants who had been hidden in the park across the street, with the first group getting to pick their ingredients first—much like a MasterChef competition. But that’s a story my thirteen-, almost fourteen-year-old self told on my personal blog, Kuya’s Notebook, after it happened, complete with blurry iPhone pictures and full recollections of middle school students trying to get out of cleaning for the day. Continue reading

Welcome to Bok Choy and Broccoli! (Yes, we’re back!)

Wow, it sure has been a while, hasn’t it?

It’s been a little over a year since I last posted on here, and a lot has changed. I decided to move back to WordPress.com and stop paying for hosting. A bunch of craziness has happened in my personal life, which I’d rather not get into here. I’ve stopped being a vegetarian/pescatarian/self-righteous-“plant-eater”-who-actually-still-eats-meat… whatever I was! But most importantly, I’ve figured out what I want from Bok Choy and Broccoli.

Food is a universally important aspect of my culture, your culture, our world’s culture. We may like and eat very different things—and we may start combining foods to make something new!—but at its very core, food is something that brings us together. It shapes us.

Bok Choy and Broccoli is my story told through food. It’s about the story of my family, the story of our shared experiences, and the story of who I am, who I have become, and who I am becoming—just with more food pictures.

This blog started as a way to document the foods that my mom made in our house: mostly some type of Asian food that she put her own twist on. But that doesn’t mean we don’t eat a lot of other foods. Through this blog, I want to share you with my food. Our food. Now that I’m one year away from leaving for college (sorry Mom and Dad, but I’m not staying in Dallas!), I want this blog to go forward with me no matter where life takes me.

Because of this, I’ve decided to not force Bok Choy and Broccoli to stay vegetarian. I eat some meats, and I’d like to share the stories and recipes of foods that aren’t completely plant-based. Some recipes in the future will still be vegetarian (or easily adaptable to be vegetarian/vegan!), but I don’t want to limit what I can share.

I want this blog to be like you’re having a meal with me, like you’re getting to know me over a meal. So the focus won’t be entirely on recipes like it has been. Sometimes it’ll just be stories, other times it’ll be just pictures. Or maybe it’ll be a mix of both. Like how you can’t plan life, I don’t want to plan too much with this blog.

I’ll see you soon. I promise!

– Joshua

A Special Birthday at Rasika

If you don’t like Indian food, we can’t be friends.

With a different mix of sauces and spices in every dish, there’s something about Indian food that I find truly special. There’s so much energy in Indian food—an energy that also moved east to Southeast Asia in the foods of countries like Thailand and Malaysia—that the food is just so much fun to eat. Indian food is practically an edible party.

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A lot of people I know simply can’t handle the pungent flavors of South Asia, but I don’t associate myself with them. (Or at the very least, we don’t eat much together.)

On June 18, I celebrated my sixteenth birthday at Rasika in Washington, D.C. Well-known for their Indian cuisine, Rasika attracts many eager food enthusiasts to come and try their food, including President Barack Obama, who ate at Rasika on his birthday as well.

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