DC’s Jaleo Carries the Charm of Spain Through Tapas and Sobremesa

My favorite way to share a meal is with a large table of friends, sharing ever-flowing plates of hot tapas and pitchers of rich, red sangria, stories and laughter flooding the atmosphere.

This was what I experienced while in Madrid, Spain last year, when a friend took me outside of the city to a small, dimly lit tapas bar to join 20+ of her friends in celebration of a birthday. Their tradition, which I hope to steal one day, is for the group to purchase a birthday gift for the guest of honor and he/she takes the entire tab. We ate for at least 4 hours, experiencing sobremesa, the Spanish term for sitting around a table post-meal and relaxing through conversation.

While I haven’t visited Spain yet this year, I was able to virtually travel there with the fun, adventurous #DCTravelBlogger group this weekend at Jaleo in Crystal City. We indulged in multiple tapas and pitchers of sangria, sharing conversations on travel and personal stories as Head Chef Domenick Torlucci demonstrated how to make a few dishes. I arrived halfway through a demonstration of preparing Aceitunas ‘Ferran Adrià’, or liquid olives, which tasted like an olive soaked in olive oil with a hint of mustard which tasted citrusy once swallowed.

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Aceitunas ‘Ferran Adrià’ / Photo Credit: Travelaine.com

The meal continued with, my all-time guilty pleasure, jamón ibérico – paired, of course, with picos to munch on with the sangria. Following that were Camarones De Cádiz Con Huevo Frito, fried baby shrimp with a sunny-side-up egg on top that we cracked open and mixed. Delicious. My favorite dish was the Pan de cristal con salmon anumado y huevo duro, smoked salmon on top of crusty bread with a hardboiled egg, goat cheese, and capers in-between.

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jamón ibérico / Photo Credit: Travelaine.com

The chef also introduced us to asparagus cooked to perfection, drenched in a nutty sauce; a combination I’ve never thought of before. The Presa ibérico de bellote, or grilled boneless shoulder from an ibérico pig, was perfectly tender and juicy, the pairings exquisite.

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Presa ibérico de bellote / Photo Credit: Travelaine.com

The final entrée was, of course, paella, brought out in the usual group-sized pan and served hot. We ended with Torrijas Con Plátano Caramelizado Y Espuma De Ron (try saying that five times fast), which was like a melt-in-your-mouth caramel French toast with a creamy, addicting rum-flavored whipped cream and candied bananas on top. While this wasn’t the same celebration I experienced in Madrid, it definitely tasted and felt authentic. I highly recommend trying out Jaleo to get a taste of the culture in Spain.

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Torrijas Con Plátano Caramelizado Y Espuma De Ron / Photo Credit: Travelaine.com

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This post originally appeared on Elaine’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled “A Taste of Spain at Jaleo”. Elaine is a writer for Mezze Weekly as well as a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area. Her own studies, and experiences growing up and living abroad have given her a unique perspective on discovering and interacting with different cultures.

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Try These 8 Shareable European Plates for a Meal with Friends

The ultimate lunch or night out with friends isn’t complete unless there’s food to be passed around—after all, sharing is caring. When friends go out for food or drinks in Europe, you’ll find that many times multiple dishes with individual portions are ordered and dining is communal.

Going out for dinner and drinks isn’t just about the food, but about bringing friends together, and international cuisines are known to be most shareable. In fact, European restaurants are known for a great social atmosphere and offer lots of options to make a mix-and-match out of dinner or incorporating small, unique shareable dishes as part of the experience.

Explore a new cuisine in your city, and add interest to your next night out with friends by considering a restaurant offering one of these eight plates ideal for sharing.

Dish out Spanish Paella

An ideal dish for sharing in Spain, this pan holds plenty of rice topped with abundant seafood.

Bite into British Fish and Chips

The English love this fried battered dish, sometimes in beer and usually cod, with lots of fries.

Give a Go at French Escargots

These cooked snails are typically served in a delicious garlic butter sauce and parsley garnish.

Delight in Italian Calamari

A whole plate of sliced squid turned crispy rings of tender goodness with a wedge of lemon.

Relish in Belgian Moules Frites

Steaming hot mussels with a side of crunchy fries and mayo keeps hearts warm in Belgium.

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#moulesfrites #stmartinderé #summersancerre

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Snack on Dutch Fries

These are a late night street food often served with mayo fritesaus, a fun staple in The Netherlands. 

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Belgian fries #bruges #belgium #frites #fries #mayonnaise

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Grab a Greek Spanakopitakia

You’ll love these popular bite-size spinach and feta cheese pies wrapped in crunchy filo dough.

Pop in a couple Belarus Latkes

Try just one of these crispy potato pancakes and you’ll know why it’s the country’s national dish.

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ladies night. facepalm.” (CC BY 2.0) by  aaronisnotcool

Prelog’s European Kitchen & Bar Creates Authentic Moments in Austin

Chef Florian Prelog and his wife Romana believe the best version of ourselves come out in places where we can relax—at their restaurant, it’s in the freedom of things like charting the pace of your meals, lingering over coffee and truly savoring the experience that European cultures value. When the couple came from Austria to open their upscale restaurant in downtown Austin last Spring, they paired the best in European food and drink with its relaxed way of life—for dining that reaches beyond our bellies and into our spirit. From the murals of European landmarks inside, to open-air patio dining reminiscent of Europe’s busiest squares, guests can truly sink into the artful cuisine and experience at Prelog’s, beautifully perched alongside a serine view of Austin’s Shoal creek.

It’s a place that reminds us of why we travel to explore Europe’s best experiences—offering a place to eat, rejuvenate and unwind, and all the while in our own backyard. In fact, everything about this European getaway in downtown Austin is about savoring the moment without needing a reason to. “There is a European style to hospitality that we strive to translate across the food, décor, kitchen, location and especially our team, that’s a reflection of our culture,” said Romana. “It was important to create a presence that truly carried an authentic European vibe, along with the passion and promise we want guests to come away with in our restaurant,” she explained.

 Credit: Prelog’s (Facebook)

From the eclectic menu and careful preparation to even the pace, Prelog’s maintains a European authenticity while appealing to Austin’s overall vibe. “Taste is like a heartbeat, and we wanted to create an unexpected experience beyond satisfying the desire for good food,” explained Chef Florian as he describe how they wanted the perception, or taste, of European cuisine to resonate in the whole experience guests come away with. Several of the servers have come from as far as Italy, Spain and Germany, contributing to the experience of feeling transported to regional Europe.

Largely inspired by his training in classic French technique, Chef Florian’s cuisine features a revolving menu, today displaying traditional and eclectic takes on Austrian, German, Italian, Spanish, and French food culture.  “In our ingredients and preparation, we try to add an element of surprise layered on top of each classic taste of the European cultures we represent,” he told us. “For example, in Spain, you’d expect good pork, in Italy great cheese and olive oil, and in Switzerland amazing chocolate, and so forth from other countries, so we try to give a taste so that our guests feel like they could be sitting there or in Belgium, or Croatia,” he continued.


Credit: Prelog’s (Facebook)

His team treats the preparation of customary dishes like true artists, wielding dishes as their canvases and food as their colorful palettes. Whether its their Austrian rollad served with red cabbage or a dish of pork prepared the Spanish way, French-style croquettes and vegetables in herb-butter or classic ingredients like Italian prosciutto, you’ll be presented an artful masterpiece while being encouraged to sit back and savor it.

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In a city known for its live music and constant motion, guests can truly take the time to slow their pace at Prelog’s. From peaceful conversations, to courteous servers who don’t simply assume everyone’s in a hurry, you’re encouraged to enjoy your picks and then give your own cue for the check, which is customary in Europe. Whether you opt for a candle-lit table near the open kitchen, a family outing in its beautiful kid- and pet-friendly patio lounge, or for a coffee break with a friend, lunch or dinner, you’ll be treated to handcrafted meal or beverage at your leisure.

“In Austria, family and hospitality is very important, and so we want our guests to know us and to feel like a part of our family through the love and good vibes that we hope comes across,” Chef Florian shared of their desire for guests who dine with them, as they take each experience to heart. It’s that type of genuine concern that carries through from the products they use to the dedication in giving them a great culinary experience. In fact, family is so important that the whole Prelog’s family came from Austria to celebrate the opening of the restaurant last March.

“It’s important that people know there is no rush here, and that want them to enjoy their time and relax,” Romana explained. She also shared that it brings them joy when diners come not just for the food and drink, but to linger with their friends and family, for 2 or 3 hours, to disconnect from the daily rigor of work and responsibilities. “It’s so easy to feel under pressure to rush all the time, from work lunches to meetings five days of the week, so if Saturday’s, Sunday’s and the evenings are for recovering while you can, treat yourself well,” she encourages.

Credit: Prelog’s (Facebook)

Like you’d enjoy in Europe, Prelog’s patio is the perfect place for downtown Austin’s urban community to enjoy a coffee, have a meeting, or hang out—slow down, let loose, and have an iced coffee or cappuccino, and socialize.  “It’s a mentality in Europe that you can jump in anywhere for an espresso, quick coffee or a glass of wine to socialize a bit, and then go,” shared Romana. “It’s different than the experience at Starbucks which has people lined up, the coffee culture here is about sitting to enjoy it, even for a few minutes, because that down time to yourself is important.”

That knowledge and appreciation of good food started from a very young age for Chef Florian. The family name used for the restaurant goes back many years to a legacy of grocers. His grandparents started what became the first grocery store line and an iconic brand in Graz, Austria, where he and Romana are both from. A passion for cooking and great dishes and restaurants was instilled in him from his mother, and his older brother, Chris, largely influenced his decision to pursue the hospitality industry.  At age 15, the young cook knew he wanted to become a chef. After graduation from hospitality school, he went on to work in the cruise industry for a few years and soak up all he could learn about the industry. That’s where different cultures from around the world started to shape his impressions of food.


Credit: Prelog’s (Facebook)

That’s why the menu at Prelog’s changes frequently, to spur further creativity and enhance the element of surprise. “If the menu stays the same, it’s as if it becomes dead rather than serving as a source of inspiration for guests,” Chef Florian shared. “We use the classics as a baseline to inspire other new dishes, so that when I go to the market and see that tomatoes or the fish is fresh and add it to the menu, the change becomes a part of the pulse that everything here is constantly made fresh and in-house,” he explained.

Before opening his own restaurant in Austin, he worked with well-known chefs from Austria and across western Europe to Scotland, before finishing national military service in Austria, meeting his wife Romana while they both helped to open a fine dining restaurant in Austria, and then returning to the cruise industry together. It was then that their dream for opening their own restaurant began to form. Today, Prelog’s European Kitchen & Bar stands as an impression of those experiences, rooted in the legacy of a good meal, prepared with great care, and ready to delight everyone in Austin with a desire to sit back, relax and soak it all in.

6 Ways to Use What’s in Your Backyard to Beat Travel Barriers

It’s vacation season in the United States, but even so Americans are often led in our culture to believe that traveling is greatest when it’s a college rite of passage, or better yet, scheduled when we’re not busy at work—or best yet, a luxury to be enjoyed in old age.

Why? Because we’re taught that at any other point in our life, exploring so greatly is simply inefficient. We’ve been led to believe we don’t have enough money, time or courage to be curious about other people, or that travel is a hassle best for when it least disrupts us.

These are self-imposed cultural barriers. Now, here’s hoping the half of Americans with passports don’t mind elbowing their way through another 150 million peers who haven’t traveled abroad, but let me share 6 reasons why it’s important. Whichever half you fall into, when was the last time you took the euphoric plunge into something new?

If you haven’t ever or even recently stepped off a plane—or into your backyard—and into a different culture or country, then these 6 tips are for you.

Me, scared sh*tless until she saw the view with Europe’s tallest mountain behind her.

1. Change routines to put more time on your side.

Our American work culture makes it hard to take long vacations, and it’s easy to feel guilty or even too busy to be far away or out of touch for long periods. So, try changing the way you treat the time you have outside of work. Find unique ways to break away from the typical afternoon or weekend by getting to know the world through authentic cultural experiences locally.

Dream of the Caribbean? Start salsa lessons. Find out what you want to learn more about, and you’ll covet your free time. It’s up to you to live beyond the nine-to-five. Time can’t be saved, but it can be invested.

2. Examine activities that improve the value of a dollar.

If you’re constantly letting costs and logistics prevent you from experiencing new things, then you don’t know one simple truth. Logistics are a part of everything we buy, and by getting hung up on every little decision, you’d never buy anything. Look at the money you do have, and then a closer look at your philosophy for living life. Ask yourself if you’re fulfilled in your current lifestyle investments. Reevaluate what investments are truly worth your resources.

For $20 you can go to Cuba—try a Cuban restaurant nearby, ask the owners about their culture, and try some new flavors. These types of new activities can inspire you to travel with the money you do have.

Check out upcoming exclusive events for exploring cultures in Austin. More »

3. That’s it, take a couple more steps out of your comfort zone.

If unknown flavors and cultures pique your curiosity, but you aren’t courageous enough to be adventurous, take a deep breath in and ask yourself why. Then tell yourself that every person and place you know today was once a step outside of your comfort zone. What you enjoy eating and doing today was something you once tried for the first time. Friends and acquaintances, at one point were strangers to you.

To get to know the world, take a couple steps and start locally. If you saw a show on Mexico, then find the nearest Mexican restaurant. Explore your city for people and things from around the world that you’ve heard about; you just don’t know you’ll love yet. Do that enough, and you’ll realize just how small this world really is, and that your backyard holds a lot of it.

4. Use your passions to overcome your circumstances.

Our circumstances set easy stumbling blocks in the way of travel if we don’t examine them closely. What notions of the future may not be leaving any room for you to explore today? What you chose to do today may be leaving more exciting doors unopened. If you love coffee then stop settling for the chain, and find an authentic Italian café or coffee class nearby tomorrow. If you’re seeking triumph up the corporate ladder, take another minute break and keep reading.

As Americans, we need to stop graduating, working and retiring to travel. Don’t become complacent because of daily—or worse, cultural expectations. Don’t settle for chain coffee. Open a new door, and you’ll add cool memories and quality to your life starting today.

5. Look for people eager to share something with you.

Don’t just try a new international restaurant, salsa class or espresso bar. Step outside and now ask yourself what else you can’t do. As Americans, we are fortunate to live in a beautiful, vast and very diverse country. It could take a lifetime just to see all of the regional and geographic diversity of the United States alone. Make that a goal, but you don’t have to go far to experience our cultural kaleidoscope.

Nearly a quarter, over 80 million of us recently immigrated here. Open the eyes of your soul and you’ll start to see the wealth of experiences, destinations and people eager to share their talents, heritage and firsthand international experiences from abroad right in your own neighborhood.

When you travel to celebrate something, that feeds your senses. When you go somewhere for no reason, that feeds the heart. Cross the boundaries of your own city for something new and fun, and you’ll find that people smile in the same language.

6. You don’t know what you don’t know, so find it.

If you’ve got a global outlook on travel, you’re almost ready to go. Look around you first. People around you might minimize the importance of world travel because, well, they don’t know what they don’t know. To them, other people might seem scary, strange and unapproachable—because of what they have only perceived. By traveling you can help to dispel myths and break down these barriers.

Once you truly see the cultures and traditions, languages and faces around you, they are no longer left to your imagination. Maybe that’s why it’s been said that travel is the ultimate form of diplomacy. Get out there locally and find something new in your own backyard.

True triumph over travel barriers comes when we learn to value the experience—not after we return but before we step on the plane. By relishing in travel’s enriching authenticity beforehand, traveling is simpler. Americans can change our outlook on international travel simply by changing how we interact with the people, places and things that are all around us.

Go explore something new today.

Austin Dishes Four Courses of Peruvian Independence This Week

On the evening of Thursday, July 28th, Austin’s travel enthusiasts will join MezzeCulture and Executive Chef Julio-Cesar Florez Zaplana of downtown Austin’s Tapas bar and restaurant Malaga, for an exclusive 4-Course Spanish-Peruvian Chef’s Dinner at 7:00 pm to explore Peruvian cuisine, and in celebration of Peruvian Independence Day.

This all-inclusive dinner is Austin’s ticket to discover in its backyard why Peru is the gastronomic capital of the Americas and has been the number one culinary destination in the world for the past 5 years.

Guests will experience how the last 500 years since Peru’s independence from the Spanish Empire have influenced it’s food culture, but also how the ingredients and distinct flavors in Peru’s capital Lima have shaped its culinary style, as a seaside city and the only country capital on the coast in all of South America.

 

“The menu is inspired by my own experiences as a kid growing up in Lima, Peru. Lima was the viceroyalty of the Spanish empire in the 1500’s and it was referred to as ‘the city of kings,’ and each dish on the menu has direct Spanish influences whether its from ingredient or preparation,” Chef Julio shared with us.

Travel and culture enthusiasts in Austin will experience quintessential aspects of Peruvian culture through the dishes Chef Julio will present, offering a small taste of Peru’s expansive gastronomy.

 

“Not only is Peru influenced by Spain, but also it’s indigenous population [pre-incan as well as Incan cultures], African, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian cultures. All of these influences were taken and mixed to form a creole culture ‘criolla’,” Chef Julio explained.

The exclusive four-course menu features fresh ceviche and fried calamari, gulf shrimp and a pulled chicken dish, as well as a decadent custard dessert, and 3 drinks will be demonstrated to accompany the meal. If you love to explore, you ought to know that Austin does not have a lot of places to experience Peruvian cuisine, so you don’t want to miss this!

Your $60 ticket includes:

  • 4-course meal guided by Chef Julio
  • 3 signature Peruvian drinks: 2 cocktails and a beer upon arrival
  • Tax and gratuity

RSVP and book your ticket now by Wednesday, July 27th.

This is Why America is not a ‘Melting Pot’

It’s been proven that beauty is refined in diversity. Because when we take a canvas and mix, or melt, all the colors together into a single composition, it blocks individual characteristics and essentially creates a void of color.

So, to me, America is not a melting pot. It’s a kaleidoscope of color.

By allowing each individual color’s unique properties to shine on its own part of the canvas, it brings out a composition that is pure, and ‘cultured’ because it’s free of our own coarse perceptions of what is beautiful. That’s also how I see diversity and the cultural contributions of immigrants in the U.S., and why I became inspired to join and partner with the Welcome.us campaign celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month in June.

In America, especially in recent years, we’ve gratefully had opportunities to chase our dreams, to travel, and to see and get to know the world through the places we go and people we meet along the way. Along the way, we discover affinities and commonalities, not by mixing them up, but rather by viewing them in light of their natural beauty, and then adopting them with an open heart.

But only if you let your guard down.

It takes courage, knowledge, empathy and love to do that. I think for most people who have ever gone to a local cultural event or traveled abroad, and gone out of their comfort zone, they get it.

I founded the cultural event company MezzeCulture in 2015 and the online magazine Mezze Weekly this year to help more people do that. To encourage the nearly half of Americans who’ve never traveled abroad to do it, and those who have to do more of it. Both communities are about exploring cultures through stories and activities in your backyard. Local businesses become beacons of world discovery, for getting to know the world in our own backyards.

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Nearly 1 in 5 small businesses, and almost 40% of restaurants are owned by recent immigrants, those who are foreign born, first or second generation immigrants. Why? Because they’ve gone out of their comfort zone too and reaped the rewards. They have a cultural story, and are eager to share it with anyone who is willing to listen and in the cases of services businesses like restaurants and musicians, to experience it socially.

It is when we can see, empathize with and appreciate the characteristics of the individual, that the ever changing beautiful canvas of a kaleidoscope comes  into view. America’s rich multicultural heritage makes it the most diverse country in the world. It is home to 189 million citizens spanning 15 ancestries, and over 80 million foreign-born, first- and second-generation Americans.

Yet only half of our country has ever traveled abroad.

I’m grateful to have traveled internationally, letting my guard down, learning to bridge different cultures—both as an American and as the daughter of immigrant parents. My experiences have brought an inherent understanding of the unique challenges of being an American of recent immigrants, but also of the multidimensional refinement of our perception of beauty when one culture is allowed to be positioned next to another.

For the half of Americans who have passports and have experienced the diversity in the world, millions are shedding light on the beauty of our local immigrant communities. It is only when international experiences—whether abroad or locally—reach the heart that empathy can develop to illuminate the beauty of diversity in our own backyards.

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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was born in America in 1983, as a first generation American to immigrant parents of Middle Eastern heritage, and today feel fortunate to live in a country that has the greatest potential to be tolerant of differences, where we can get to know people of different backgrounds because of America’s heritage.

I’m also proud to be a Welcome.us partner because I believe that by elevating the worldwide influences that make America unique, we can break down barriers, span distances and bridge cultural divides by uplifting the history, authenticity and charm of our country’s rich multicultural heritage.

It’s a privilege to share my story to support the like-minded mission of Welcome.us co-founder Tolu Olubunmi, and her team, who are showcasing the inspirational stories of American immigrants, who will one day ha e the same opportunities as citizens who came before them. residents who  MezzeCulture is my way of helping to elevate immigrant businesses in local communities by turning international travel experiences inside out and illuminate them locally.

In an age of globalization, it’s often easy to forget the origin and value of the unique people and places around us, but through MezzeCulture and Mezze Weekly’s communities, local businesses and partners we can unite across diversity by celebrating cultural heritage through every destination, experience and story contributed to both platforms to intersect the cultural affinities we have in common.

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At both MezzeCulture and Mezze Weekly, this collective effort can expand not only cultural tourism in every city the platform reaches, but also creative and enrichment tourism activities anywhere. The MezzeCulture platform is starting with Austin, Houston, Miami, Washington DC, New York City, and San Francisco.

For more than half of Americans who have never traveled abroad and even for veteran travelers who relish in authentic cultural experiences, barriers often get in the way of international travel. My hope is that both MezzeCulture and Mezze Weekly encourage people to get to know the world through the cultures, traditions and origins of the immigrants around them in addition to the inspiration they’re used to through guide books, online media and television.

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By trying international culture expressed through food, drink, music, shopping, and more locally, people can be inspired to integrate, embrace and overcome barriers like cultural knowledge, and time, hassle or cost of travel, while sampling international activities in their own city to illuminate a kaleidoscope of color, so to say.

Sources: Ancestry statistics according to the 2000 U.S. Census; Immigration statistics according to a 2015 MigrationPolicy.org article.

Explore Healing through the Southeast-Asian Art of Massage

For centuries, the art of massage has been practiced all over the world, but when it comes to healing through relaxation, circulation and stress-reducing techniques, Thai massage and reflexology have both found popularity in the US for both its healing properties and local availability of genuine practitioners.

Those who have experienced the traditional combination of a Thai-style massage—the yoga-style stretching, and it’s work on pressure points and energy meridians—know that it’s one that helps to invigorate, relax and balance the body for better mood and sleep quality. It’s become very popular in the US because of its ability to relieve stress, aches, pain, and tension, as well as promote healing.

Reflexology has been found to be practiced in the cultural history of China as well as the African country of Egypt. It’s an alternative ‘medicine’ that is practiced by applying pressure to the hands and the feet with specific techniques using the thumb, fingers and hands (without the need for lotion or oils).

It’s considered a healing art by many, and is based on the belief that zones on the body correspond with reflexes and zones in the ears, hands, and the feet. As mentioned, the art has been sought by many for its use in relieving tension and stress, as well as for helping with circulation and natural body functions in the trigger areas.