The secret green shelters that feed London’s cabbies

Most of London's cabmen’s shelters serve breakfast, sandwiches and hot drinks (Credit: Credit: Chris J Ratcliff/Getty Images)

“We’re a Victorian institution,” black-cab driver Henry announced proudly, tugging on his tartan cap. It was a grey mid-morning in London and I was squeezed in a small green shed behind a narrow, U-shaped table. Surrounding me were a cluster of taxi drivers who slurped on mugs of tea and shovelled in forkfuls of scrambled egg and sausage.

This diminutive shed in Russell Square is where the keepers of London’s secrets gather – the black-cab drivers whose minds are mapped with every inch of the city. It’s one of 13 cabmen’s shelters remaining in the capital, and only licensed drivers who have passed The Knowledge test – memorising every street, landmark and route in London – are allowed inside.

Thirteen historical cabmen’s shelters can be found throughout London (Credit: Credit: Chris J Ratcliff/Getty Images)

Thirteen historical cabmen’s shelters can be found throughout London (Credit: Chris J Ratcliff/Getty Images)

The idea for the shelters came in the late 19th Century when George Armstrong, a year before he became editor of The Globe newspaper, was unable to hail a taxi during a blizzard because the drivers, who then rode horse-drawn hansom cabs, were huddled in a nearby pub. He teamed up with philanthropists, including the Earl of Shaftesbury, to find a way to keep drivers on the straight and narrow – and off the drink.

The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund was born in 1875, building the first hut in St John’s Wood. It still operates today, though many of the further 60 huts built have since been knocked down.

This is where the keepers of London’s secrets gather

Each hut was built no bigger than a horse and cart, in line with Metropolitan Police rules because they stood on public highways. They provided shelter and sustenance for hackney-carriage (black-cab) drivers, with strict rules against swearing, gaming, gambling and drinking alcohol.

Then came World War I. Drivers and their vehicles were drafted, plunging the cab trade – and the shelters – into decline. “We lost people, cars and horses,” said Gary, one of the cabbies I chatted to at Russell Square.

Unused, unloved and unprotected, the oak huts suffered rot and ruin. Some were destroyed by bombs during World War II, while many were later bulldozed in street-widening schemes.

Built in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the green huts provided shelter for the city’s hackney-carriage drivers (Credit: Credit: Edward Gooch/Getty Images)

Built in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the green huts provided shelter for the city’s hackney-carriage drivers (Credit: Edward Gooch/Getty Images)

Now just 13 remain, with 10 in operation. Each is Grade II listed, which means they are considered buildings of special interest and every effort should be made to preserve them. They are owned by the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers (WCHCD), a guild for those who earn their living through the trade. The Cabmen’s Shelter Fund is responsible for upkeep and maintenance, issuing annual licences to those who run them.

“The cab trade is very lonely,” said Colin Evans, a cabbie of 44 years and trustee of the fund. “These are places where you can go and have a tea or coffee with your mates. If drivers don’t support them, they will be lost forever.”

Gary, who often comes here for a tea and a grumble because “everyone’s in the same boat”, added: “I’ve been driving a cab for more than a few years and only recently started using the shelters. I decided, use them or lose them.”

The cabmen’s shelters are no larger than a horse and cart, and only drivers are allowed in (Credit: Credit: Chris J Ratcliff/Getty Images)

The cabmen’s shelters are no larger than a horse and cart, and only drivers are allowed in (Credit: Chris J Ratcliff/Getty Images)

Most serve breakfast (sausages, eggs, bacon), sandwiches and hot drinks, with the occasional pie or lasagne cooked by the owners at home and reheated in the skinny kitchens. Non-cabbies aren’t allowed to sit inside – unless issued with a rare invitation – but can order through a window hatch.

“We bring in more money that way,” said Jude Holmes, who runs the kitchen at Russell Square. “I can serve hundreds of people while a driver sits with one cup of tea.”

It’s like their second home

As we sat there, a relentless drizzle outside drew more cabbies through the door, each greeting the others like family members.

“My little gang comes in every day,” Holmes said. “I worry a bit if I don’t see them. It’s like their second home. Sometimes they even make their own tea.” She added that newer drivers are often too intimidated to come inside, preferring to order bacon sandwiches at the window.

“It can feel a bit cliquey at times,” Gary admitted.

Card playing and gambling are prohibited inside London's cabmen's shelters (Credit: Credit: Ella Buchan)

Card playing and gambling are prohibited inside London’s cabmen’s shelters (Credit: Ella Buchan)

The kettle bubbled, teaspoons clinked against china, and bacon spluttered and sizzled in a pan as talk turned to the cabbies’ biggest bugbears. Being ‘bilked’, for example, when a fare runs off without paying. Struggling to find a public lavatory when on the job is another common groan (the shelters don’t have loos).

Most drivers have other gigs, as musicians, artists, TV producers, even actors. But, they told me, once a cabbie – always a cabbie. “If you retire, you die,” Gary deadpanned.

The anecdotes poured faster than the tea. There’s the tale of ‘Fat Ray’, so huge he squeezes himself behind the wheel each morning and doesn’t budge until he gets home. “He couldn’t come in ’ere,” said Henry, sweeping his hand around the shelter. “He’d never fit through the door!”

Most cabmen’s shelters serve breakfast, sandwiches and hot drinks (Credit: Credit: Chris J Ratcliff/Getty Images)

Most cabmen’s shelters serve breakfast, sandwiches and hot drinks (Credit: Chris J Ratcliff/Getty Images)

Evans took me for a spin in his cab, stopping by Temple Place shelter on Victoria Embankment, where a team was fixing damage caused by a lorry.

The shelters’ Grade II status means restoration is intricate and expensive. Refurbishment costs around £30,000, Evans estimated, and replacement materials must match the originals. Even the shade of paint – Dulux Buckingham Paradise 1 Green – is prescribed to mirror the first huts.

They represent a moment in time

Shelters have also been hit by noise restrictions in residential areas, and none currently operate at night – most open around 07:00 and close by 13:00. A hut at Chelsea Embankment has been closed for five years due to parking restrictions, and the fund is considering donating it to the London Transport Museum.

Crucially, said Evans, these tiny huts must not disappear – nor should their history be forgotten. “It’s too easy to get rid of these things. The shelters are unique. They represent a moment in time.”

Jude Holmes also sells snacks to the public through the hatch of the Russell Square shelter (Credit: Credit: Ella Buchan)

Jude Holmes also sells snacks to the public through the hatch of the Russell Square shelter (Credit: Ella Buchan)

It’s true there’s plenty of history packed within their walls. Evans told me that the Gloucester Road shelter was nicknamed ‘The Kremlin’ because it was frequented by left-wing drivers. The since-bulldozed Piccadilly hut was the site of Champagne-fuelled parties in the 1920s and dubbed the ‘Junior Turf Club’ – after an exclusive gentlemen’s club nearby – by (non cab-driver) aristocratic revellers who smuggled in booze.

And according to local legend, a man claiming to be Jack the Ripper once visited Westbourne Grove shelter.

Physical signs of their history remain. Tenders attached to the bottom of the huts were where drivers tethered their horses before going inside. The animals drank from marble troughs, now gone. Each shelter still has a rooftop vent with ornate carvings – reminders of the wood-burning stoves once used for heating and cooking.

In the Warwick Avenue shelter, shelves are lined with cabbies’ mugs bearing the names of their football teams (Credit: Credit: Ella Buchan)

In the Warwick Avenue shelter, shelves are lined with cabbies’ mugs bearing the names of their football teams (Credit: Ella Buchan)

We continued onto Warwick Avenue shelter, frequented by musicians and actors who live nearby. British mod-rocker Paul Weller, former lead singer of The Jam and The Style Council, often comes to the hatch for a sausage-and-egg sandwich, licensee Tracy Tucker told me.

Tucker, whose husband is a cabbie, has been a shelter keeper for 14 years, moving to this location from Thurloe Place in 2016. The roof was recently re-shingled at a cost of £13,000, financed by the fund.

Inside, the tiny kitchen has a stovetop sizzling with sausages and bacon, a fridge stocked with sandwich fillings and shelves heaving with cabbies’ mugs bearing the crests of their football teams. When someone’s team is relegated or loses a big match, Tucker ties a black ribbon to their mug’s handle in commiseration.

Tracy Tucker, who runs the Warwick Avenue shelter, sees her regulars as family (Credit: Credit: Ella Buchan)

Tracy Tucker, who runs the Warwick Avenue shelter, sees her regulars as family (Credit: Ella Buchan)

To her regulars, Tucker is family.

“They see me as a big sister,” she said. “If I’m sick, I have to text about 20 people to say the shelter is closed. Some of them won’t know what to do with themselves.”

If we lose this, we lose part of London history

She has her own rules: no staring at mobile phones and no moaning about Uber. “We all know it’s quiet. The trade is dying, and I have thought about what I would do if I had to get another job. I don’t think I could work anywhere else.”

“The little lives that go on in these shelters,” chuckled Evans as we pulled away. “It’s not just the buildings. It’s the characters, too. If we lose this, we lose part of the cab trade’s history and a part of London history. That would be a real shame.”

By Ella Buchan 1 May 2018

The Chinese Sleeping Beauty: analyzing the best preserved mummy ever discovered, scientists know what she ate hours before her death

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Photo Credit: Flazaza CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1971, a group of construction workers began digging on the slopes of a hill named Mawangdui, near the Chinese city of Changsha. Since the workers were about to construct a spacious air raid shelter for a nearby hospital, they were digging deep into the hill. Before 1971, the Mawangdui hill was never considered a place worth the attention of archaeologists. However, this changed when the workers stumbled upon what appeared to be a tomb hidden beneath many layers of soil and stone. The construction of the air-raid shelter was canceled and, several months after the workers’ accidental discovery, a group of international archaeologists began excavating the site.

The tomb turned out to be so massive that the excavation process lasted for nearly a year, and the archaeologists needed help from as many as 1,500 volunteers, mostly local high-school students. Their painstaking work paid off because they discovered the majestic ancient tomb of Li Chang, the Marquis of Dai, who governed the province approximately 2,200 years ago, during the rule of the Han dynasty. The tomb contained as many as 1,000 precious artifacts, including golden and silver figurines of musicians, mourners, and animals, intricately crafted household items, meticulously designed jewelry, and a whole collection of clothes made from fine ancient silk.

However, the value of these items was immediately topped by the discovery of the mummy of Xin Zhui, the wife of Li Chang and the Marquise of Dai. The mummy, which is nowadays known as Lady Dai, the Diva Mummy, and the Chinese Sleeping Beauty, was found wrapped in 20 layers of silk and sealed within four elaborate coffins enclosed in one another. The outermost coffin was painted black to emphasize death and the passing of the deceased into the underworld. It was also adorned with feathers of various birds because the ancient Chinese believed that the souls of the dead have to grow feathers and wings before being able to become immortal in the afterlife. The inner coffins depict Lady Dai alongside various mysterious landscapes of the underworld.

The archaeologists were stunned by the pristine condition of the mummy. Well-preserved mummies had been discovered before the discovery of Lady Dai, but her condition was unprecedented. Her hair was intact and her skin was soft and moist, showing virtually no signs of decomposition. Furthermore, her muscles were in such good condition that her limbs were actually bendable after she was sealed in an underground tomb for more than two millennia. Researchers concluded that she was most likely immersed in some kind of an unidentifiable acidic liquid which completely prevented decomposition.

An autopsy of Lady Dai was performed in December of 1972. It revealed that she died in her 50s, most likely of a heart attack that resulted from poor health. According to historians, Xin Zhui was an esteemed noblewoman who lived a lavish life of privilege and luxury. She was extremely fond of music and had a whole troop of musician-servants who performed for her whenever she pleased. She was most likely a skilled musician herself, a player of the quin, an ancient Chinese seven-string instrument which has been associated with wisdom, intellect, and prosperity. Also, since she was the wife of the Marquis, she was able to enjoy various kinds of food which were unavailable to the common people of the time, such as different kinds of shellfish, venison, mutton, and foreign fruit.

 The autopsy also revealed that Lady Dai’s blood was type A and that she most likely suffered from diabetes. Despite her ailments, she outlived her husband and likely even her son: both of them were found buried in the same tomb alongside her, but their remains had decomposed over time.

Also, the researchers who performed the autopsy discovered melon seeds in Lady Dai’s stomach and concluded that she ate a melon just two hours before death.

While eating it, she was most likely unaware that her death was imminent. Also, she was unaware that curious scientists would probe her stomach 2,000 years in the future. Nowadays, the mummy of Lady Dai and most of the artifacts recovered from her tomb can be seen at the Hunan Provincial Museum.

 Domagoj Valjak

The 150-year-old story of Sri Lankan tea-making

 

Two tea pluckers work on a plantation in Sri LankaImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE

Almost 5% of the population of Sri Lanka work in the billion-dollar tea industry, picking leaves on the mountain slopes and processing the tea in plantation factories.

The cultivation and selling of black tea has shaped the lives of generations of Sri Lankans since 1867.

Documentary photographer Schmoo Theune visited plantations in the country to explore the world of Ceylon tea production.

A tea plantation in Sri LankaImage copyright SCHMOO THEUNE

Tea bushes on mountain slopes are situated above the barracks-style housing which each plantation provides for its workers.

Tea buds must be picked by hand every seven to 14 days, before the leaves grow too tough.

This means the working location can change from day to day, depending on where the buds need to be collected.

The tea leaves are gathered in tarpaulin bags, which are lighter than the traditional wicker baskets that were once used.

A tea plucker in a plantation fieldImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

The leaves are weighed throughout the day and a tea-picker earns 600 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR), which is approximately £2.70, if they reach the desired quota of 18kg a day.

If they do not meet this target then they are paid 300 LKR (approximately £1.30).

Some plantations use different wage models, such as paying staff monthly and offering temporary loans to employees.

The majority of Sri Lankan tea workers are ethnically Indian Tamils, a people who were transported by the British to work on the plantations.

They differ from Jaffna Tamils who originate from Sri Lanka’s north.

A person travels down a road in a small sunlit valleyImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Dirt roads connect the workers’ housing to the tea plantations.

Tea bushes are grown on steep hillsides a metre apart.

Altitude affects the flavour of the tea, with higher altitudes producing a more delicately flavoured crop.

This is more highly valued than the robustly flavoured tea produced at lower elevations.

A tea plucker holds out her handsImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Veteran tea-pickers often have rough callouses on their hands.

The difficult physical nature of the work is causing a shortage of young tea-pickers.

Many daughters are choosing to work in garment factories, or abroad in domestic roles, rather than the fields of the plantations.

There can be four different levels of hierarchy on a small plantation, ranging from the owner down to tea-pickers.

Each layer supervises the level below it.

The sun sets over worker houses on a tea plantation near Kandy.Image copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Some of the houses the workers live in were built by the British during a housing boom in the 1920s when about 20,000 rooms were built for tea-pickers.

The buildings have changed little since.

Families raise their children in a village setting in colourful barracks-style houses.

Many buildings only have electricity or running water for a few hours each day, or do not have them at all.

Many daily tasks such as washing or bathing are carried out in streams and rivers.

Families walk outside their houses next to a tea plantation.Image copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE
The side of a tea plantation houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
A woman collects water in containers outside her houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Some areas of housing are supplied with water only once every three days which must be collected in containers.

Tea-pickers and other labourers start work at 7.30am.

In plantation communities, children often have to walk several kilometres to school.

Tea-picking earns relatively low wages, so some tea plantation families have family members who work abroad in the Middle East, or in other cities around Sri Lanka, who send money back home.

A tea plucker poses inside her houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Women who labour on the plantations also have household duties such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.

A shelf of food containersImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

The fresh tea leaves are taken to a factory near the plantation for processing, like the one seen below near the Sri Lankan city of Kandy.

A view of a tea plantation factoryImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

‘Withering’ is the first step, requiring the blowing of dry air to extract moisture from the leaf, which gives it a pliable texture.

A batch of 18kg of fresh leaves can yield 5kg of Ceylon tea after it has been processed in plantation factories.

A worker places tea leaves into a machineImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

A rolling machine then twists the withered leaves and begins the fermentation process, which starts to develop the distinctive flavour.

The machinery used in the tea processing is often up to 100 years old.

Finished tea is separated by leaf size, and packaged in bulk bags to be sent for auction in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

A machine processes tea leavesImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
A woman past a large pile of processed teaImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
Workers work in a tea shop in KandyImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE

Ceylon tea is not just an export, it is an essential part of Sri Lankan daily life, consumed by office workers, labourers, students, and everyone in-between.

A tea plucker works on a plantationImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE  
BBC News 10 April 2018

How cured meats protect us from food poisoning

But in many parts of the world, this is not such an unusual sight. Walking down a quiet street in Asia, you’ll often happen on slightly macabre culinary set-pieces – long, thick slices of pork belly, draped over a clothes hanger, slabs of fish, or even, as I did once, a whole pig leg dangling next to a light post, hoof and all. As unnerving as it sometimes is to come across, these al-fresco meat dryers are doing something that’s been done for centuries, if not millennia: air-curing.

When we stress about forgetting the chicken breasts on the counter for an afternoon, how is it possible to leave meat — in the Sun, no less — for days, eat it, and live to tell the tale?

The key is moisture. Inside a length of pork, or that whole pig leg, there’s a race going on between bacteria and evaporation, with those hoping for a nice bit of ham for lunch egging the evaporation on.

Chinese pork sausages (Credit: Getty Images)

In China, pork sausages are also often dried in the air (Credit: Getty Images)

That process usually begins with salt. Coating a piece of meat with salt draws the water within the tissue out to the surface, where it evaporates, in much the same way that salting a slice of aubergine or courgette will get rid of its excess water. At the same time, the salt makes the surface of the meat and some portion of the interior inhospitable to microscopic bacterial beasts. That level of saltiness will strip them of their water as well, leaving only harmless microbe jerky.

With a large piece of meat, however, the evaporation race cannot draw out water fast enough to keep the interior safe. Injecting the salt, mixed with a tiny bit of water, deep into the muscle every inch or so, helps take care of that. This treatment often includes small amounts of sodium nitrite, a preservative that halts microbial growth at the same time that it clings to proteins in the muscle, in a chemical reaction that turns the meat a gentle pink. Water might encourage bacterial life, but in this case it also allows the cure, as the salt and nitrite mixture is known, to trickle further. That’s why, in many recipes for dry curing, the first stage is to leave the meat in a cool, moist environment, says Antonio Mata, a meat scientist and an adviser to the food website AmazingRibs.com.

If you draw out moisture too quickly, the surface of the ham dries out – Greg Blonder, Boston University

Once the cure has seeped into the meat, it’s time to turn the temperature up and play the evaporation game again – but gently. “If you draw out moisture too quickly, the surface of the ham dries out,” says Greg Blonder, a professor at Boston University and another scientist for the same site. Traditionally, the exact details of the process vary according the local climate – “Ham recipes depend on terroir,” Blonder notes – but someplace warm with carefully controlled humidity is key.

In China, as in many other places, home-cured meats ranging from preserved pork belly to wind-dried pork sausages are usually made in winter, when the climactic conditions allow meat to dry safely, and are considered a festive food. (Humans aren’t the only ones with a taste for cured meat, however; home curers should beware the cheese skipper, larder beetle, and red-legged ham beetle, warns a Virginia Tech pamphlet on curing ham. These whimsically named insects will lodge themselves and their growing families in a drying piece of meat.)

Dried ham (Credit: Getty Images)

Salting the outside of the meat draws out moisture, making it harder for bacteria to survive (Credit: Getty Images)

Even if you can dodge the cheese skippers, it can take months for a dry-cured ham to reach a tasty equilibrium. But many cultures around the world have proven themselves ready to wait. China’s famed Jinhua ham usually ages for at least six months; Italy’s culatellogoes for 14-48 months. The most expensive ham in the world, from Spain, ages for six years, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The longer a ham goes, the funkier it usually tastes, as the fat eventually begins to go rancid. But for some, it’s all part of the taste adventure.

These days, the evaporation process takes place in carefully controlled chambers and can be stretched out for a surprisingly long time

Desiccation is also important to making dry-aged beef, that mainstay of high-end restaurants, where letting a cut of beef gradually lose moisture and grow a protective rind of mould, which is sliced off before cooking, produces a stronger flavour. These days, the evaporation process takes place in carefully controlled chambers and can be stretched out for a surprisingly long time, given that in dry-aging there are no preservatives to keep the meat from going off. In fact, Mata once worked with a chef in Chicago to produce beef that had been aged for 71 days.

In the past, however, home cooks had a decidedly low-tech approach. “Let it hang in your cellar as long as you can bear for the stinking,” reads one recipe from 18th Century England, “and till it begins to be a little sappy.”

Try running that one by the neighbours.

By Veronique Greenwood 9 April 2018

Portuguese missionaries brought bread to Japan in 1543, and today it’s more popular than rice

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Certain foods seem inextricably linked to their countries of origin: think pasta in Italy, curry in India, teff in Ethiopia, baguettes in France, rice in China. Say Japan, and you probably conjure sushi, sashimi, yakitori. But bread? Not so much.

Brace yourself. Bread consumption in Japan has risen faster than a yeast-laden loaf. In 2011, the Japanese spent more on bread than they did on the more tradition-seeming staple rice.

It wasn’t always so. Bread first landed on Japanese soil along with the first Europeans, Portuguese traders, in 1543. Subsequent ships came bearing missionaries, weaponry, and unusual food, namely bread and wheat. The Portuguese, who looked, smelled, and sounded so different, were called “Southern barbarians.” But the Japanese, in the midst of a civil war, tolerated the outsiders for a time because they were keen to purchase Portuguese firearms.

That tolerance ended, and the last of the Portuguese missionaries were banished from the island in 1639, but before they left, they traveled inland trying to convert more Japanese to Catholicism. (The missionaries were remarkably successful, which is what got them banned. Historians estimate there were 500,000 converted Catholics in Japan.) They carried with them their unusual foodstuff, that is, bread. Interestingly, the Portuguese Catholics also introduced to Japan the concept of batter-frying food coated in wheat. Today tempura seems as synonymous with Japanese cuisine as sushi.

With the Sakoku edict of 1635, Japan famously closed its borders to outsiders, becoming an insular and isolated country. For more than two centuries, trade was severely restricted and nearly all foreigners were prohibited from entering the country.

Most Japanese lived on rice, millet, and barley, supplemented with vegetables and the occasional bit of fish.

Bread fell off the Japanese table until the Opium War in 1840, when it was mass-produced as a convenient field ration to feed hungry soldiers, under the recommendation of a military science researcher, according to LiveJapan.com.

Even among the military, bread was not universally admired. When the Japanese Navy tried to introduce Western-style bread and a dry wheat cracker called kanpan in 1890, the servicemen went on strike, according to Slate magazine.

With its borders opened to the rest of the world by the late 1800s, bread and other wheat products came back to Japanese menus, though in limited quantities. Working-class laborers ate wheat udon noodles; aspiring middle-class salarymen went to Western-style cafes, where they sampled unusual treats like pastries, cakes, and anpan, a sweet cake filled with black bean fudge.

During World War II, rice was reserved for soldiers. Civilians subsisted on rations of crude bread, dumplings, kanpan, and udon noodles. The situation got worse after the war, and Japan was on the brink of starvation when the U.S. sent in emergency rations of wheat and lard. As they already were in the U.S., sandwiches became a staple in subsidized school lunches in urban areas, a practice that lasted until the 1970s and that normalized sandwiches as a part of daily lives.

“In demographic terms, the reason the Japanese diet has shifted so markedly toward bread consumption in recent years is that those who have grown up with bread as part of their everyday diet now constitute a majority of the population,” as Iwamura Nobuko recounted on Nippon.com.

The Japanese government encouraged a Western diet of bread, meat, and dairy products in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Nobuko, as a way to build strong bodies, and set up policies to encourage wheat farming. Bread soon became emblematic of a trendy Western lifestyle.

Today in Japan, as in other parts of the industrial world, contemporary busy families are dependent on quick, portable, individual meals with easy cleanup. Rice traditionally requires the preparation of at least three side dishes; a bread sandwich is easier to prepare and to customize for various family members’ tastes.

Between slices of bread, however, you’ll find something more indigenous than ham and cheese. Popular Japanese sandwiches include Yakisoba Pan, with fried soba noodles and pickled ginger; a Toyko favorite called Katsu Sando, deep-fried pork, with pickled cabbage and barbecue sauce; and Kurama, a fruit and cream filled dessert sandwich. Yum! What’s for lunch?

 E.L. Hamilton

Australia’s sea of crimson claws

Australia’s Christmas Island crab migration (Credit: Max Orchard)

(Max Orchard)

The migration starts with the first heavy rains in October, November or December. At that point, there’s enough moisture in the air for the large crustaceans, which can reach up to 11cm across, to make the arduous, five-day journey from their homes in wet inland forests to the Indian Ocean, covering up to 9km along the way.

Crab migration (Credit: Parks Australia)

(Parks Australia)

With so many of the creatures on the move, Parks Australia works before and during the migration to protect the crustaceans by closing roads, building fences and constructing underground tunnels. Drivers are encouraged to stop for the crabs.

Australia’s Christmas Island crab migration (Credit: Tracy Wilson)

(Tracy Wilson)

Upon reaching the sand, the male crabs dig burrows and fight each other for ownership of the shelters. When the female crabs arrive (usually five to seven days after the first males), they begin to mate, and the females stay in their beachside burrows until the last quarter of the lunar cycle. The females always wait for the first day of the last quarter – regardless of when they started the migration – to spawn and release their eggs into the sea. Researchers speculate that since this phase of the moon has the least sea level change between high and low tides, the eggs have higher chances of survival.

Australia’s Christmas Island crab migration (Credit: Justin Gilligan)

(Justin Gilligan)

This year, the possible spawning dates (and dates of the quarter moon) are 28 November or 28 December, so the initial migration will happen seven to 18 days before, depending on the weather. The crabs tend to be on the move in the morning and early evening when the air is cooler, but any dry spells will halt the migration until wetter weather prevails.

Follow the Parks Australia blog or the Christmas Island Tourism Facebook page to get an alert at the first signs of the cruising crustaceans.

Australia’s Christmas Island crab migration (Credit: Parks Australia)

(Parks Australia)