Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Turkey-related post, I swear!

Schönes Guten Tag meine Lieblinge!

Und so, jetzt bin ich in Deutschland. Na, bin ich hier seit 6 (fast 7) wochen schon aber schreibe ich nur jetzt. Es tut mir leid meine Schätze!

Are you all thoroughly impressed with my mad German skills? You should be – I've been learning since I was 14 years old (albeit in varying degrees of sincerity) including most recently a (very expensive) stint at the Goethe Institut in Melbourne.

Guten Tag, readers!

For those not quite up to scratch with their German/haven't quite worked out Google translate yet, Mr von S and I have been in Germany – and more specifically, Berlin – for close to 7 weeks now.

Since we gratefully put our backpacks into storage, we've been revelling in all the food, glorious food that Berlin has to offer. Great fresh-food markets, speciality restaurants from places like Vietnam, Nepal, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Greece, Turkey – the list goes on. We are certainly in a multicultural food-haven here in the little capital of Germany.

From food from other countries, to German food itself. For the country that spends a lot of time covered in snow, if there's just one thing they have to nail, it's comfort food. And now that I have my elastic-waisted cookie pants on (word to mah Scrubs fans!), comforted I certainly have been (I've farewelled anything figure-hugging until the snow thaws and I can exercise again).

But today's post isn't about the 1500 different varieties of sausage available in Germany, nor the gorgeous (and totally my type of) tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen. Today, it's about the Turkischemarkt.

**disclaimer – I am now thoroughly over talking about Turkish food, as much as I am sure you are over reading about it. I promise, this will be my last post on Turkish food. For a little while, at least! **

I know, I know, we're all Turkish-fooded out. But, after my last post on my love/hate relationship with Turkish food – which these days is nothing but love, I got a hankering. So, Mr von S and I donned our jackets, gloves, scarves, ear-warmers and two layers of everything, and headed to the neighbouring suburb of Neukoelln. Maybachufer plays host to a bi-weekly Turkish market on Tuesdays and Fridays – the nearest U-bahn station is Schoenleinstrasse. Sellers peddle their wares – from bargain-priced fresh fruit and vegetables (this week's special was two pineapples for EU1) to buttons, bolts of fabric and zippers. There are a number of vendors selling a variety of home-made dips, olives, cheeses, cured meats, childrens' clothing, fresh fish and poultry, not to mention the number of stalls selling ready-to-eat foods such as my favourite – goetzleme, falafels, broccoli patties, dried fruit and nuts, baklava, Turkish delight, und so weiter.


Despite it being -10 degrees, and snowing heavily, sellers and customers bravely made their way up and down the side-walks of Maybuchufer which are twice a week turned into market stalls.

With their canvas canopies strung together across the walk-way, stall holders created a covered corridor for their shoppers. The juxtaposition of tropical fruits and mounds of snow was quite bizarre, but was a nice awaking for our frozen olfactory senses. Walking past, I picked up a Clementine segment, bypassing the slices of not-yet ripe persimmons and juicy, slippery plums.


Past another clothing stall (I'm not really looking for a belly-dancing costume right now, nor knock-off LV, but I'll keep it in mind) we stopped at one of the stands selling various types of Turkish bread and bought three giant Milchbrots – a German word for Turkish pide. We happily continued down the corridor in search of an accompaniment for our most recent purchases. We stopped-by a couple of caravan-type stalls selling mezze: baby octopus, feta in brine, five different types of olives, smoked salmon and dips, dips dips! We chose Tarama (fish roe) Aubergine paste (said in a German accent) and hummus (universal). The delightful vendor sneaked in an extra 50 grams of spinach and walnut dip for us to try – while last week it was the offer of a couple of sun dried tomatoes.


Next stop on our list was the goetzleme stand – our final destination for the day. Standing in line (the place is popular) we ordered a cheese goetzleme and a spinach and cheese for me. These doughy, filled pancakes positively drip with oil, but managed to warm my hands even through my thick mittens. There is nothing quite so comforting as a nice warm goetzleme for our cold little bodies, and with pancake in hand, we made our way back to the U-bahn station, passing other people with similar postures: one gloved hand manoeuvring goetzleme, the other hand dragging a canvas bag stuffed full of Turkischemarkt goodies.

Despite the pained look on my face & the lack of make-up, I am REALLY enjoying my goetzleme.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Part two of 'Turkey: so epic there are two parts'

Haven't read Part one?

After one day of the pretzel-and-lemonade diet, I was determined not to miss out on all the glorious food that Istanbul had to offer. So on day four, I put my game face on and promptly marched to one of the numerous establishments selling every type of baklava and sweet pastry imaginable.


Heaven, I was in Turkish sweet heaven. Filo pastry, soaked in sweet syrup, flaky, crunchy, layer upon syrup-soaked layer, pistachio, walnut, almond, orange, rose-water. The flavours together are so fragrant and so pleasing to so many senses. The crunch of each bite – hear it and feel it; the smell and taste of citrus-infused syrup; the sight of bright green pistachio. We were also fortunate enough to have the shop owner offer us some floss-halva as we were polished off our baklava and washed it all down with some deliciously-sweet Turkish green tea. Perfect!

So, as with most illnesses we recovered. Thank the LORD for that! We got down to the biznass of eating pretty darn quickly. To make up for being sick on his birthday, Mr von S and I decided to follow some advice from the Lonely Liar (a.k.a. Planet) and head to a restaurant over the bridge from where we were staying in Sultanamet. Well, this was one time when the Liar wasn't!


Sofyali9 in Tunel was a great suggestion. We had a variety of mezze – small shared dishes – and more Turkish bread than even I could eat - and I freakin' love bread. We tried the hummus (finally, a win!) haydari (tzatziki without cucumber) a paprika/feta dish and giant white beans. All delicious and surprisingly affordable. We also snuck in a mini cheese borek (more flaky pastry!) because we could.

So, I mentioned Turkish breakfast before. Breakfast, just by-the-by, is one of my favourite meals – the other being dessert. As I like to say, the first and last meals of every day. I'm always pretty excited when breakfast is included in the cost of accommodation. Well after three weeks of eating the same thing over and over again, I was OVER it #firstworldproblems much? Try this for monotony: bread roll (although plus point for being freshly-baked every day) a boiled egg, cucumber, tomato, cheese and olives. Sometimes there would be honey, sometimes there was a weird, overly-processed reddish circular meat (surprisingly tasty – hey, I'll try anything once, don't judge). All in all, I don't really like to eat vegetables for breakfast unless there is bacon involved.


Since I've spoken about breakfast, how about I talk about lunch now? And since we're talking about lunch, we should probably also talk dinner, considering there is no difference in the offering (well, at least in Turkey!) After considering entrees (um, lentil soup or hummus? Both are good in my books!) it's time to think about mains.

Do I want:

a) - a chicken (tavuk) doner kebap (don't stress people, it's a kebab, just spelled differently!)
b) - a beef (adana) doner kebap
c) - a) or b) but in flat bread a.k.a. doner durum
d) kofte – which is actually b) but rolled into balls or fingers
e) shish kebap - not actually a kebab, but the same meat as b) or d) only on a plate
f) a pide (Turkey's answer to pizza apparently) usually contains the same meat as e)

Repeat these choices twice a day for 18 days (that's 36 times!), and do ya see why I would prefer the potato and potato and bread and potato choices available in Germany?


Of course, the silver lining to this thunder storm was the bread. Bread, oh delightful Turkish baked-every-day-twice-a-day bread. Bread that can be bought when stuck in traffic on the highway, when waiting in line to see the Blue Mosque; bread that is served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Enough said.

Before I wrap up this absolute epic of a post, I must make one more mention of a couple of sweeties (whenever I say that word, in my head it comes out in a creepy old lady voice 'would you like a sweetie deary?' Mum, do you have any insight on that one?) I experienced while in Turkey.

Firstly, you didn't think I could do a post on Turkey without mentioning Turkish delight, right? Of course, the stuff is available en masse in Istanbul (although not really anywhere else...hmm, tourist trap anyone?) and we chose to procure our sample from the Spice Market. We chose, well, actually, the guy who (swindled us out of our money) sold us the 'delight chose a selection of the stuff sweetened with honey, rather than sugar. It was a much more subtle taste, and the majority of our selection was opaque in colour, pinks, whites, greens, all riddled with pistachios and a majority covered in coconut. Nary a one covered in chocolate like the Turkish Delight bars at home. The first 20 were delish, after that, I never wanted to see another Turkish delight again.

Revani - pic from stu_spivack

The other sweet was a delightful semolina-based cake/slice called revani. Sadly, I was only able to sample revani once, despite my best efforts. I've mentioned texture before in this blog, and revani is a great example of how texture can really enhance a food-related experience for me. Rather than being light and fluffy like a flour-based cake, revani is dense and reminds me more of a gluten-free cake. Add to this that revani is soaked in syrup (thank you Turkey for soaking your sweets in syrup!) and it's sensory overload – the texture, taste and smell of the oft-citrus infused syrup (as mine was) it was almost like my kind of food heroin. Probably a good thing I only found it once. Bad news, there are recipes on the interwebz.

The funny thing is, despite being completely over Turkish food by the time we left, once we arrived in Berlin, I was craving kebabs and hummus like a fiend.

Having given myself this trip down food-memory lane, I see now that I really had taken Turkish food for granted. I love the fact that now, even while in Berlin, I have access to a fantastic Turkish fresh-food market, where I can buy hummus and fresh flat bread, goezleme (which I didn't actually eat in Turkey, crazy!) and baklava every week. It's the fact that it's not every day that I can eat hummus and haydari that really makes me appreciate it, and proves not one, but two of those old clichéd sayings (sorry to get all preachy in yo' faces, but!)

everything in moderation

and

variety is the spice of life.

Xx Fif signing out.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Turkey - so epic there are two parts!

Turkey, Turkey, oh where do I begin? I know I've missed that special window in which I can pun about Turkey the bird eaten at Thanksgiving a mere two weeks ago and the country that borders Asia and Europe, but I'll see if I can't squeeze a couple in for you all (after-note, nup, couldn't find a suitable opening).

So, Turkey. I almost feel overwhelmed by the culinary memories that sing out from my mind when I think of the place. We spent a good two, nearly three weeks exploring the amazing natural beauty of this unique country, however when the time came to catch our no-name airline-carrier flight to Berlin, I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

You see, I think I built up the food in Turkey in my mind way too much, and in doing so, managed to ruin the experience for myself. Those nights I went to sleep in Bulgaria (did you notice Bulgaria is yet to be mentioned yet? Yeh, there's a reason) dreaming of amazing middle-eastern food such as I had experienced at Maha in Melbourne's CBD and Kanzaman on Bridge Rd in Richmond (both definitely worth checking out!) and even the little Turkish guy in the Foundry on Little Collins Street who does pide, two dips and salad for AU7.00. Um, where was I? That's right, lost in dreams of Turkish food yet again.

Even after being in Turkey, it's not the authentic stuff I dream about, it's the Anglicised versions, the stuff that has made its way into pop-culinary culture. I feel like I need to say three 'hail-Dorie-Greenspan's in penance for such blasphemy, but it's true.

After pondering a bit more, discussing it with Mr von S and making a list of my Turkish food experiences, I feel that perhaps I had begun taking Turkish food for granted. Because really, the food was great, don't get me wrong. It was just the monotony of eating the same thing for nearly three weeks straight. After all, we don't go out for Turkish food every single meal, every single day, for 18 days straight, now do we? Variety is the spice of life, or something.

So let's survey my list of food-related memories, shall we?

I have to say, things didn't start off too well on the food front in Turkey. It all began in Bulgaria with some dodgy KFC (we think). Mr von S was hit with a terrible case of food poisoning the day before his birthday, a day which we would be celebrating on an 14 hour bus from Sofia to Istanbul – hooray! So there we arrived in stunning Istanbul with Mr von S looking even paler than usual (sorry darling) and having eaten nothing but some pretzel sticks and lemonade for 24 hours.

I was chomping at the bit to get some of the much-lusted over Turkish food in mah belly, so dragged the sick one to a restaurant on the tourist strip for our first taste of Turkey.

I wanted hummus. We had DREAMED of hummus all through-out Europe, because apparently, not much of western Europe has even heard of the stuff. Sadly, my little heart fell when our order of hummus and flat bread came and the hummus tasted like sand. Having grown up on the beaches of Australia, I am quite to authority on what sand tastes like. This definitely tasted like sand.

Day two in Istanbul and I knew the food could only get better – we would venture out of the tourist district and get some of the real, home-made Turkish food I had dreamt of. Only, while sitting at breakfast (and I must talk about breakfast in Turkey) I felt the urge to pull out my surf-board as I rode waves of nausea.

The worst thing that can ever happen to someone who loves food as much as I, is to lose one's appetite. And then have appetite be replaced with nausea. Well folks, it happened. A very sad couple of days ensued...

Will Fifi and Mr von S recover? Will they be able to taste Turkish food without throwing up? The saga continues soon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hungry?

Hungary – or rather Budapest – is quite a surprising city. For those who've not been, the city is actually divided down the middle by the blue Danube, creating effectively two cities: Buda and Pest. While in Hungary, there was only one thing that I knew I had to try – goulash.

For me, goulash conjures up memories of Mother's Day back in Melbourne, and specifically to a restaurant in Mornington unpleasantly named “The Garlic Kiss”. At the Garlic Kiss (TGK) for a number of years, my brother, mother and I have tucked in to one of TGK's most-loved dishes: spaetzle and goulash. Combined with red wine, my little family unit have spent mothers day silently supping and thoroughly enjoying this hearty, warming dish.

So upon arrival, I knew that if Hungary's goulash was anything like the Kisses, I would be eating goulash for days.

Having been quite restricted in Western Europe in a budgetary sense, Eastern Europe breathed life back into our funds. Food, accommodation – things are CHEAP; so while walking around the Castle Hill area of Buda, when we stumbled across a gorgeous, cosy restaurant in which to defrost our bones and stomachs, which had been frozen by the European autumn (not even winter!) we said “yes'm”.

Seated on a banquette and surrounded by rich Hungarians, French tourists and other well-to-do foreigners, we started by ordering drinks (a Hungarian red at EU8.00) and then we got down to business. For entree, I ordered goulash soup (the only goulash entree on the menu) and for main a macadamia-encrusted breast of chicken with short noodles, vegetables and a red wine jus. Mr Von S has the most buttery pumpkin soup I've ever tasted, and a goulash main.

My goulash soup entree was served in a very novel way – in a pail with its own soup ladle, meaning I ended up with two and a bit bowls of the stuff. Not at all what I was expecting, the broth-based dish had swirls of oil and lashings of paprika floating above tender pieces of pork, vegetables and short pasta. Certainly not the hearty goulash of The Kiss, but an experience into 'real' Hungarian goulash soup. Mr Von S's goulash was incredibly similar to my entree, hold the soup. Once again, tender pork, vegetables and spaetzle, with a rich gravy.

So after a rather underwhelming goulash experience, I wasn't too sure that Budapest had anything else that could really pique my interest.

Not being the savoury-fiend that Mr Von Strudel is, he lapped up the opportunity to sink his teeth into more Hungarian salami than you could poke a tooth-pick at. However, while at a market hall waiting for Mr Von S to get his meat fix, we decided to wander upstairs to the food court to sample a dish a tour guide had told us of.

Susie (her English name) had said that this particular dish was what Hungarians ate after a big night out – a Hungarian cheeky cheeseburger if you will. On this particular day my feet had gone completely numb: it was pouring with rain, and we were feeling a bit glum (yes, we chose the wrong time of year to explore north-eastern Europe). But of course, we all know what makes Fifi Von Strudel happy. It was time to taste Langos.

Simply put, langos is a deep-fried flat bread, usually served with cheese, meat or sour cream. It can also be served sweet, with powdered sugar or jam. I chose cheese and ham. I am so glad I did. Each langos is made while you wait, meaning there may be a delay in getting the langos to ones' stomach, in fear of oil-burnt mouth-roofs, but believe me, the wait is well worth it. Eating langos made me think of eating hot jam donuts from the Queen Vic Market in Melbourne or from the Sunday Camberwell Market. The greasiness, the warmth, the doughiness. Salivating. While. Writing.
So friends, when in Hungary, one need not be (hungry...get it?) – wrap your chops around a langos or two (just 70 euro cents for cheese) and try some Hungarian wine, which was also surprisingly good!

Friday, October 29, 2010

One, two, skip-a-few, ninety-nine, one-hundred.

Hello possums!

Call me presumptuous in my skipping of Switzerland and Germany, but here’s a nice surprise for you all – you’ll be hearing a whole lot more about Germany in coming months. I shall say no more. It is for this reason that I’m skipping Switzerland and Germany, whose cuisines are essentially very similar. The only thing the Swiss really hold over the Germans’ heads is Roesti (which I didn’t even get to try) Raclette and Swiss chocolate.

But enough of the kraut-eaters, we’re moving over to the Eastern Bloc, to the beatroot eaters!

Far from being a scary, the Eastern Bloc is a fantastic place for a foody – things are cheap and food is mysterious! I simply love playing guessing games at meal time, and it’s always a surprise as to what exactly is going to land up on your plate as dinner. I didn't say it was always a nice surprise.

First food stop was Krakow, Poland. Or to be more precise, somewhere in northern Poland, for we first tasted Polish cuisine on our 15 hour train journey from Wurzburg to Krakow via Berlin and Warsaw. All I can say is thank goodness for picture menus; saviours of non-polish-speakers everywhere. My meal was pretty safe – a chicken piadina. Mr von Strudel ventured out to try Polish dumplings, or pierogi. Pierogi were soon to become our friends. A mix between
dirty dumplings from Camy Shanghai Dumpling house, and ravioli, Mr von S had ‘russian’ pierogi, with a filling of potato and cheese. These pierogi almost tasted more like gnocci than anything else, and were rather ‘wet’ i.e. not drained properly. When eating in a train carriage in the middle of the Polish country-side, I would say that the hungry cannot be fussy. Despite being a bit bland, the pierogi were served with sautéed onions which adds a nice something-something to this texturally-pleasing meal.

I’m not sure if it’s come across much here on this blog, but for me, eating encompasses much more than the usual senses. For me, eating is as much about the texture of food as it is about the taste and the sight. This is why I’m not the biggest fan of prawns or fish. The texture just really throws me. Crab, lobster, Morton Bay Bugs etc are all great – the texture is more meat-like and thus more pleasing to my palate. Thus, while something may be quite plain or dull in a taste sense, if the texture is awesome, I might just love it. Plus, there’s always salt.

We managed to get only one other sitting of pierogi in while we were in Poland and the second time around, they were fabulous.

Starting our meal with a bone-defrosting cream of broccoli soup (it was raining and about five degrees outside) russian pierogi floated to us on UFO shaped dishes, merrily dancing around a puff of creme freche, crowned with alphalpfa sprouts. One by one, the pierogi were devoured. There was silence for a good couple of minutes, broken by yours truely with some comment or other about deliciousness or a groan of enjoyment, I cannot remember which in my pierogi-induced haze. I had seen potential in those dining cart pierogi, I had believed that that little dumpling could achieve great things. And, my friends, that potenital was realised in a little cafe in the old Jewish quarter in Krakow. It was a happy moment.

If I could have squeezed in another couple of sittings of pierogi consumption, I surely would have. Instead, we ate dinner three nights in a row at the conveniently located wood-fired pizza place around the corner from our hostel. While not necessarily Polish, the pizzas were damn good. Not pierogi good, but close(ish).

My final thought, memory, recommendation to anyone venturing to Poland: do yourself a favour and order a hot chocolate for dessert. Do not order a hot chocolate AND dessert, that would be a mistake. I managed two such 'beverages' which I ate - yes, ate - spoonful by delicious spoonful. Those Poles like their hot chocolate a THICK, bordering on pudding consistency, and it turns out, so do I!

So, phoenetically speaking, jenkooya Poland, for a very enjoyable couple of meals.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Holland - a very quick round up.

Holland.

Three foody things you need to know:


Albert Heijn, or more specifically, chicken curry from Albert Heijn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Heijn

and


And my best tip for the most amazing apple strudel pastry-thing (I nearly ate one every day I was in the 'Dam) it's somewhere on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal approximately 90.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Carb-lovers' paradise: Belgium

Brussels. What a gorgeous little city. Old cobble stone streets, window boxes full of vibrant, red geraniums, crisp, cold mornings and plenty of sunshine. Yes, it was definitely a change from the some-what bleak landscape of Spain. Thanks to the lovely (I’m being sarcastic) folks at Ryan Air, we scored EU9 flights from Zaragoza, Spain to Brussels, Belgium. And by Brussels, they actually meant a 55 minute bus-ride outside Brussels. Jerks.

Anyway, with a shift in geography comes a lot of changes – temperatures shifted from early thirties to high teens; language shifted from Spanish to German, French and Flemish (take your pick...I choose German!) and the food shifted from protein-based and sweet-deficient to carb overload.

First assault on my feeble attempt-at-maintaining-figure: Frites mit mayo.

These thick-cut French fries with mayonnaise - or frites sauce which is a mixture of mayo and mustard - are everywhere in Belgium...and Holland...and Switzerland. Walking down to the park – hey, there’s a Fritkot, let’s get some frites. Doing a city tour and feeling peckish? Let’s get some frites! It’s just before dinner but I really feel like Frites! Hey, let’s get some. Pretty much any excuse you could think of, we would get us some frites. Served in a cornet (a cone shaped from newspaper) a variety of sauces are available to accompany your fries: curry sauce, mayo, ketchup, ‘special’. And the best part – you eat frites with a tiny little fork, provided by your Fritkot (I still have about 3 in my bag...all light pink).

Having written the above paragraph, I can now see why I may have stacked it on a tad. But come on, frites are SO good. And available in three countries I spent a bit of time in. And affordable. And delicious. And sadly, no, DEVESTATINGLY, they are fattening.

Of course, frites were not my only food-issue in Belgium.

Assault number two on the attempt-at-maintaining figure: waffles.

OK, so you simply cannot go to Belgium and not eat a Belgian waffle. As a sweet tooth and devout food worshipper, it would have been sacrilege to avoid eating a waffle and I would simply have never forgiven myself.

So I did what I had to do and forced Mr von Strudel to join me on my pilgrimage to the tourist centre where we found waffle shop after waffle shop right next to each other.

Now, a word from the experienced to the non-experienced: there are two types of waffles available in Belgium. There is the round waffle ‘with the sugar on the inside’ as our hostel staff member told us i.e. mixed into the batter, and then there’s the square waffle ‘with the sugar on the outside’. If you would like to sample a true Belgian waffle – go the square one, which is apparently the traditional Belgian waffle. As we were in the tourist centre, we got sucked into having a round waffle each – dripping in chocolate and ice cream mind you (and speculaas ice cream at that for those who have the privilege of knowing how awesome speculaas is). Not content with a tourist waffle, we went in search of a true Belgian waffle – and found one across the road. It was easy to taste the difference in the waffles: the Belgian waffle was lighter and eggier – definitely no sugar in the mixture. My preference though? As a candidate for sugar-induced coma in later life, definitely the sugary round, chocolate and ice-cream laden one. Authentic-schmautentic.

Love and marriage, horse and carriage, waffles and...?

CHOCOLATE. Meet assault number three.

His name is Belgian chocolate. He’s rich, smooth, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and is delicious. Seriously, I would marry Belgian chocolate if I could. We were actually rather restrained in the chocolate eating category and only went to one ‘Leonidas fine Belgian chocolate’ shop once. Although I did go a little crazy when I saw Milky Bars with speculaas in it. White chocolate and speculaas. Wow.

OK, so far we have frites, waffles and chocolate. We round out our offenders with that amber ale that has sparked a series of world-wide cafes to be named after it: Belgian Beer.

Yes, my readers, it was carb overload, and washed-down with that carbonated carb-filled beverage, beer. Well, what can you do when the local beer is Hoegaarden? We managed to sample quite a few beers (thanks to the bar within our hostel). We also managed to go to a micro-brewery which brews a very special beer that is only made in Belgium: Lambic. As I’m not very good with all the fancy beer language, I’m just going to paste Wikipedia’s explanation of what a Lambic beer is. I’ll round it out with what it tasted like.

Here we go: “Lambic is a very distinctive type of beer brewed only in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels) and in Brussels itself at the Cantillon Brewery and museum (that’s where we went!). Lambic is now mainly consumed after refermentation, resulting in derived beers such as Geuze or Kriek.

Unlike conventional ales and lagers, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer's yeasts, lambic beer is instead produced by spontaneous fermentation: it is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavour: dry, vinous, and cidery, with a slightly sour aftertaste.”

Well, sour is right. Lambic beer doesn’t really taste like beer much at all. We tried some fruit limbic as well – cherry to be precise. Had I not known that what I was drinking was actually beer, I would not have been able to classify what exactly the liquid was. Cherry lambic is red and has a slight fruit flavour to it, but is not sweet as one may expect. It was sour and actually a little difficult to drink. Definitely an acquired taste.

So there you have it folks. Belgium: not the country for people on a diet, but definitely the land for people who love carbs. I’ll see you all at chocoholics anonymous later. Like, in a year.

Fun links!

http://www.leonidas-chocolate.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speculaas

Sunday, October 3, 2010

P is for...

Dear readers,

I am currently in Krakow, Poland – a really long way away from the promised Portugal, but hey, at least the country still begins with P.

In the time it has taken me to get from Portugal to Poland, I would say that I’ve managed to gain about 5 kilos. Oopsies. And after thinking about it a bit, I have determined that my downfall all began in that pirri-pirri chicken eating country, the land of Nandos (not actually...Nandos is South African, bet ya didn’t know that) and really good soccer teams, Portugal.

You see, and sometimes you might actually see if you venture into certain Nandos stores, Portugal is home to a little tart, and no, her name isn’t Juanita. To be precise, these divine little tarts are said to have originated in a bakery near Lisbon, in a small suburb called Belem. The tarts themselves are known as Pasteis de nata, or to you and I, Portuguese tarts. You’ve probably had some at one stage or another – they are readily available in Australia - but you’ve not had them until you’ve had them at the Bakery in Belem; crisp, flaky, multi-layered pastry and warm, smooth custard, with a sprinling of sugar, crisp like the top of a crème brulee.

After visiting Pasteis de Belem and finding a table among their dozens of cavernous rooms, which are desperately required due to excessive patronage, we sat down to find each table equipped with a powdered sugar and a cinnamon dispenser. OK, yes we’re eating sweets, but what’s with the cafe-style accessories? . Mr Von Strudel and I controlled ourselves when ordering and demanded...ahem, requested the waiter to bring four tarts between us. This order could have easily spiralled to dizzying heights. Tap a little cinnamon or powdered sugar on top of your tarts and prepare to see the light More-ish? Understatement!

Having fallen in love with these tasty morsels, I began seeing Portuguese tarts everywhere (like when your friend has a certain make of car and you start seeing them everywhere?) however none that I sampled could come close to the fresh-out-of-the-oven deliciousness of Pasteis de Belem. Still worth the eating and a bargain at EU 0.70.

Did I mention pirri-pirri before? Oh, yes I did. And no, it’s not called perri-perri a la Nandos. I’m not quite sure where the deviation comes from, but you will not find anything perri-perri in Portugal.

We first happened upon pirri-pirri on our first night in Lisbon, at a dinner held by our hostel (rated second best hostel in the world – Lisbon Lounge – highly recommended). The amazing cook, Pedro whipped up a Portuguese storm for dinner: Portuguese soup, an enormous salad complete with berries, pirri-pirri chicken, ice cream, red wine and more bread than you could imagine. Nandos is grossly inferior in comparison to this freshly-prepared chicken, with spices and oils and who knows what else lathered all over it. With only a mild warmth to it, the sauce is certainly not overwhelming, but it certainly does fill your mouth and cover your fingers, which you will lick clean if someone else doesn’t.

While in nearby Cashcais, and it was down to the Portuguese equivalent of the charcoal chicken shop for lunch. The first thing that hits you, even a kilometre away is the smell of roasting chicken. A large cloud of smoke floats above the shop from the barbeque, over which dozens upon dozens of chicken rotate, awaiting their destiny – my stomach. For the cost of a charcoal chicken back home (none of this crazy AU$14 for a meal at Nandos) we feasted on half a pirri-pirri chicken and small chips (which was actually enormous). There was finger-licking, chip-dunking, the search for excess sauce; and all this done on a park bench opposite the take away store. For such a small price, it was possibly the best meal I ate in Portugal, and certainly has happy memories for me.

But then again, anything involving food generally leaves me quite content.

Helpful links

Not sure what Nandos is? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nando's

Pasteis de Belem: http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hasta luego Spain...finally

Apologies for the delay in subsequent postings. I can imagine you’ve all been hanging on the edge of your seats wondering what in Allah’s name horchata is, not to mention how appetising something called a farton could be. Well you can all exhale now, for this is to be a bumper edition where I cover off Spain in one fell posting.

We first came across street vendors pouring ‘horxata’ out of refrigerated vats at all the popular tourist destinations in Valencia. It looked like a mix between chocolate milk and an iced coffee, and was really quite affordable. Mr Von Strudel and I vowed we would try it and notch it up to ‘cultural experience’, regardless of what exactly horxata was, we would try it.

Well, it so happened that this traditional southern-Spanish drink was explained to us the next day on (another!) free walking tour. Our Scottish guide pulled us over the side of a main square next to not one but TWO horchatarias. He then pulled out a bag of what looked like dried chickpeas, or garbanzos, that the Spanish are fond of eating. He told us each to take a nut and try it. What we’d been offered were not garbanzos, but tiger nuts, or chufas (not tiger testicles as an animal-loving American once mistakenly thought). The nut itself was quite sweet, and slightly bitter. The outside was quite rough and striped, which is, I suppose, how the nut came to be named.

He then explained the following which I have stolen from Wikipedia:

“The horchata (in Valencia, orxata of xufa) is a refreshing drink (including dessert), prepared with water, sugar and tiger nuts”

and

“It is served ice cold as a natural refreshment in the summer. Tigernut horchata is also used in place of milk by the lactose intolerant.” This should be very good news to a certain friend back home *HIII FAITHHHH*.

Served with horchata was some sort of pastry that dunked in the liquid and slurped down. At that stage, we hadn’t quite caught the name.

The next day, we returned to the same location and sat down to order our horchata and pastries. Not knowing the name of the pastry, we made a dunking motion and out came our pastries with our milky-looking concoctions.

I took one sip of my horchata...and nearly spat it out. Expecting something pleasantly sweet like the nut I had tasted yesterday, I wasn’t quite prepared for the chalky texture of the drink and the bitter, almost sour taste of the beige liquid. Bracing myself for round two, I hoped that dipping the pastry in the drink would magically make things better. Sadly not. The pastry itself was nice, much like a plain éclair or the like and obviously fresh. Pity about the name.

I guess I can notch the experience up to, well experience. But never again.

Tapas gratis in Granada

We arrived in Granada late evening, and the place was alive. Streets were busy and the temperature in the early twenties. We asked the guy at reception (who we dubbed Ernie, as in Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street due to the uncanny resemblance) if there was a guest kitchen so we could do the budget traveller thing and cook ourselves an affordable yet nutritious meal. Ernie fairly laughed at us and fired at us in Spanish (never tell the Spanish you can speak or understand Spanish if you’re at a beginner or intermediate level) that haha, there was no need for a kitchen when you have free tapas.

Really? Free? If there’s one thing a budget traveller loves more than a guest kitchen, it’s free stuff.

Not quite sure of the whole ‘free tapas’ thing, we keep wondering what the hitch was. We walked through the buzzing laneways of Granada, seeing people sitting outside enjoying little plates of food, drinks, and children running amok at 11:30pm on a Thursday night. Oh Spain.

Too chicken on the first night, by the second day, we had steeled ourselves and went to a gorgeous outside restaurant and ordered a pitcher of Sangria. Out came the pitcher...but no food. We looked at each other and thought that perhaps we had to order the tapas. Before we could make that silly mistake, out came a waitress with a little pan of paella. She placed it in front of us and left. “This is for us?” Our smiles grew wide and we tucked into the saffron-yellow rice. Next round, we received deliciously garlicky potatoes. We couldn’t believe we were being fed simply because we were drinking.

The day continued, we got wise and started ordering the smallest beers we could, and received plate after plate: fish croquettes, jamon and melon, bread and meatballs, olives, salad. We went to bed that night without dinner, having spent the day eating and eating.

Although the free tapas rule doesn’t just apply to alcoholic drinks, as we found out at lunch-time the following day. Escaping the sweltering heat outside, we went to our local sandwicheria and ordered two lemonades and our sandwiches. Out came the drinks...and some fries and jamon on bread. Score! Free entree.

Some restaurants obviously do better tapas than others, and I would hazard a guess that there’s a correlation between price of drinks and quality of tapas. In any case, one can really ‘eat for free’ in Granada – although just be careful about the cumulative cost of drinks. If you want to be a super cheap back packer, order your drinks one at a time and see just how much free food you can squeeze out of people!

NEXT: Potugal, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland...maybe all in one posting

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Repeat after me: paella

Valencia: home of oranges, a park where once a river ran, and most importantly to this blog, paella.
Now, for who just read that word as ‘pay-ella’ STOP. Say it again like that, and you may as well line up at your nearest tattoo parlour for your very own Southern Cross on your shoulder-blade. Would it help if I tell you that in Spanish language, double L, as in the double L in paella, is pronounced as a Y? OK, now try it again: pie-ay-uh.
I’m not quite sure how Paella came to be born in Valencia, but I’m really glad it did. I’m also really glad that I managed (with some help from my travelling companion) to suss out a somewhat less touristic restaurant in which to sample this Valencian speciality.
When thinking of paella (did you pronounce it correctly this time?) most people see bright yellow rice with opened mussels, prawns and other sea-dwelling creatures swimming around enjoying their saffron-bathed surroundings. I hate to break it to you, but that is not traditional Valencian paella. While it’s nice, it’s not the real McCoy.
So what is? When we took our seats at a beach-side restaurant in Valencia, it was already 4:30pm on a lovely, balmy afternoon. We took a look at the menu, spied what we came for and requested in our best Spanish: quesiera Paella a Valencia. “Are you sure you don’t want the seafood one?” came back at us in accented English “it is very nice”. No, we wanted what we came for: paella with rabbit and chicken, like any Valencian would want. “Oh, OK, if you sure...but might be 40 minutes”. No problem for us – at least we knew we were getting freshly cooked paella, and not a batch of packet-mix that had been sitting there for hours.
Two jugs of sangria later and out came our very own pan of paella – it was huge, or at least it seemed huge. We of course managed to finish the entire thing. On top of our saffron-infused rice and hunks of rabbit and chicken, were cooked snow peas – something we would notice more of on top of this Valencian speciality.
For those who followed Master chef season one (an eternity ago now) you may have remembered Gary and George crapping on about the importance of the ‘crust’ in paella – now, I’m still not quite sure what they were going on about, but I do know that the tastiest rice in the paella dish is what I would suppose is the equivalent of a crust – slightly more cooked than the rest of the rice, each grain takes on additional flavour and texture. Much like the skin on a good roast chicken, but it’s not a crust as such – just clumps of rice that have come stuck in places to the paella pan.
I think I almost ate that entire meal with my eyes closed, savouring each mouthful of that golden grain.
For those who claim that paella is a glorified version of risotto, I have this to say to you: seriously?!? Are you kidding? Step away from the Ainsley whatshisface packet paella and go to a decent Spanish restaurant and try saying it again.
Next up: horchata and fartons in Valencia
Tapas gratis in Granada; and
Pasteis de nata in Lisbon, Portugal

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Comidas a Espana

I’m sitting here writing this from the common room of a hostel in Valencia Spain. Yep, the budget travelling has finally kicked in.

Goodbye iced-coffees of New York and Frappes of Greece, add-ons such as these are no-longer included in the budget. Instead, I’m back to a somewhat more usual diet: muesli and yoghurt for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and meat and veg for dinner. My digestive system is thanking me after those rich, heavy meals of New York and the potential meat-overload in Greece.

Yet while I may no-longer be dining in restaurants each night, the gastronomic encounters have not ceased to exist – they’ve just changed slightly. And Spain is a great place for this to happen.

It freaked me out the first time I walked into a Supermercado and found a pig trotter reaching for the heavens, its disembodied leg trailing behind it, and several, in fact, dozens of other little pigs' trotters all waving ‘hello’ as I picked up my basket. Yes friends, that would be a whole leg of jamon, live (er, dead?) in the flesh, waiting for Spanish Mamas to take home to their hungry jamon-eating families.

From the Supermercado, to the normal Mercado, and the vibrant colours of fruit stalls, smells of fresh herbs and the general bustling vibe is enough to buoy you along the aisles as if you were there for your weekly shop. La Boqueria is Barcelona’s answer to Melbourne’s Queen Vic Market, although I would say, somewhat more impressive.

Having started as an open-air market in the early 1700s, La Boqueria is “one of the best markets in Europe” according to Chairman of the Vendors Association of the Boqueria Market. Biased somewhat? Perhaps, but I think he may be on the money.

As soon as you enter the market underneath its impressive stained-glass arch, the vibe of the market is evident – it’s a bustling, functioning market that also happens to have dozens of tourists floating through it. Delicatessens, grocers, fruiterers, dried fruits and herbs, fish mongers who will cook their produce right in front of you, it’s all happening in this market. We elbow our way through the crowds who congregate at the front, unaware that by doing so, they’re actually being duped into farewelling an extra euro or two on everything they purchase. It’s in the heart and towards the back of the market where prices are somewhat more affordable.

Having heard tales of amazing juices available in Brasil, I was bowled over by the colour and vibrancy of the fruits and juices on offer at almost every single fruiterer. Packaged mixed fruit each with its own fork, dragon fruit, the juiciest strawberries by the punnet – it really is a fresh-food heaven inside La Boqueria. But back to the juices. For EU1.50, I chose a raspberry and banana juice, while my partner chose a blackberry and coconut. Obviously fresh, I could almost feel the nutrients and vitamins coursing through my veins as I sipped my fruit juice cocktail, while taking in the other sights of the market.

Sheep’s head anyone? Rabbit carcasses? Pig’s head? Oh and yes, all still with their eyes in. A little disconcerting, but the Spanish would probably find it unusual that our butchers keep everything nicely removed from any memory that this meat we have before us on a Sunday afternoon was once baa-ing in a field. Oh, and more legs of jamon, with those little trotters neatly strung from the ceiling.

In addition to the traditional fruit and veg stands, there are also several stalls set-up as food stands, offering the freshest seafood cooked on the spot, baked goods, pizzas, pasta and salads. The seafood stalls are obviously popular, with locals and tourists alike sitting around shelling pipis and mussels while sipping a Spanish white wine.

We choose a fresh baguette with jamon for me, and chorizo for my partner. Everything is fresh, the jamon lovely and salty and stringy. For EU2, it really is a bargain. We top off our meal with a cabello de angel – or angel hair. When chowing down, I likened the little empanada-shaped pastry to a Christmas mince tart; there was obviously some sort of dried fruit in there and the pastry was crumbly, much like a mince tart.

From doing some further reading, I would never have guessed that the ‘fruit’ in the middle of my sugar-coated empanada was actually pumpkin!

The following is an excerpt from the translated Spanish Wikipedia page on cabello de angel:

The pumpkin is made by boiling the pulp of a gourd in a highly concentrated sugar solution until it unravels into a kind of fine threads of golden yellow. In Spain we use the pumpkin cider or musk. A syrup is often used in the same amount of sugar pumpkin. It is sometimes added to the mixture of lemon juice (an acid) and cinnamon for flavouring.”

Since visiting La Boqueria, I’m going to try and go to the market in most places we visit – the vibe is fantastic, and I think a really great insight into the types of food a culture eats.

While currently in Valencia, we have indulged in some seriously amazing paella and sangria – but they shall be a posting unto themselves.

Stay tunes, mi amigos!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Γειά σου, υποδοχή στην Ελλάδα (welcome to Greece)

You know what makes me happy? OK, it's obvious...food. Thus, it would come as very little surprise that Greece made me one very happy Von Strudel.

We all have Greek friends whose Mums and Yiayias make the most amazing food, and we’ve all vied for an invite to Greek Easter to sample the pastitsio, moussaka and tyropita at one stage or another.

Well my friends, it was like all my Greek Easters had come at once.

Staying within spitting distance of the Acropolis, we were literally surrounded by Greek restaurants, each with a multi-lingual spruiker posted at their entrances, promising the best mixed grills for two for EU20.

Jet-lagged from our flight from New York, when it got to the eating hour, all we knew was that we wanted some Greek lamb and we wanted it now. Trying to find the most affordable 500ml Amstel, our stomach’s got in the way of our budgets, and we settled for a nice looking touristy place, where a dapper, greek, silver fox had promised us free shots if we dined at his restaurant. Sold.

We settled in to look at the menu, and after sounding out the names (oh, so THAT’S how it’s spelled) we decided on dips to begin (tzatziki and eggplant) as well as a refreshing stein of Amstel (EU4). Chunks of fresh bread were brought out in a basket, and we ravenously tore into them, swiping licks of greek yoghurt and cucumber, eggplant and olive oil before devouring it all in 5 minutes flat (possibly less).

A Greek salad (yes, a greek salad in Greece is the same as back home) with a thick slab of feta on top arrived next, with Patatas: crudely cut potatoes deep friend and doused in salt.

Taking our time between ‘courses’ to chat with newly arrived friends J & L, we eagerly awaited the holy grail of our meal – lamb shoulder baked in a bag with potatoes and lemon. It was good, I wouldn’t go so far to say very good, but it was what we were after: lamb.

The next day, having collapsed in to bed full and maybe a little tipsy from happy hour at the hostel roof-top bar, we began the day afresh. When lunch time came (although these days lunch time can be anywhere from 12-6pm, usually around 4pm) we found ourselves just outside the touristic area, and what a blessing that turned out to be.

For those who’ve not had the privilege of having gyros in Greece – get thee to a travel agent. Simple, fresh, and not a ten-tonner like the doner kebabs of Brunswick St, the Greek gyro is manageable, but certainly filling. Flat, freshly made pita bread is wrapped around pork (or chicken..sadly summer is not lambing season) straight from the revolving spit, doused in garlic sauce, lettuce, onion and tomato...and wait for it – chips...I mean fries. It’s simple, it’s GENIUS, it’s delicious. Chips/fries in a gyro. Loves it. And for a measly EU2, you’re on to a budget-traveller winner (remember, I’m meant to be a budget traveller...)

Finally, there’s no way I can end a blog entry about Greece without a knod to the most unbelievable Greek Yoghurt and honey I have ever had. Not normally a fan of Greek Yoghurt, the home of the stuff certainly knows what to do with it, and does it well. Seriously good breakfast nommage.

PS - had the BEST freakin' Moussaka in Fira, Santorini, watching the sunset, with a glass of Santorini wine. Life doesn't get much better!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lucky son of a peach: Momofuku, East Village

Oh East Village. How I love thee. Let me count the ways: 'everything' bagels with cream cheese for US$1.75 from the bakery on 9th, PinkBerry on St Mark's, Butterlane Cupcakes (IMHO, better than Magnolia!) Cienfuegos (Cuban cocktail and snack bar - bowls of Cuban-rum punch and 'clean' empanadas) Xi'an Famous Food hand spun noodles; and that lucky son of a peach, Momofuku.

Translated as Lucky Peach, I would hazard a guess it is called this as if you actually manage to get in, you should consider yourself bloody lucky.

After trying several times to get in (ok, walking past on our way home and it having a line out the door every time) we finally managed to get three stools overlooking the kitchen area at 10pm on a Sunday night. These seats, while disregarded by some, are the equivilant of a foodie peep-show.

While quite simply a noodle joint in the East Village, Momofuku has managed to capture the gastronomic imagination of fickle New Yorkers by presenting itself in different forms throughout the city. A restaurant-proper a couple of blocks away on 13th and 2nd, fine dining on 1st between 10th and 11th, a 'bbq inspired soft-serve' and sweets bar in mid-town and East Village. Momofuku is everything to everyone (who matters).
But back to our East Village noodle bar.

Seated over-looking the kitchen, the first thing that struck me was the fact that all the chefs/cooks are white - that really typical-looking hospitality white-boy white. Regardless, they handled all the right ingredients - shallots, fresh shiitake, lychees and lots of condiments in bottles that I assumed are pickled-something-or-others.

Despite it being a Sunday and past 10pm, the place was still crowded - which was great for us to be able to use of mad spying sk!LLz to ogle other diners' dinner choices. In the end, we decided to start with steamed pork buns, with Momofuku Ramen and chilled spicy noodles to share for our main.

Knocking back our tumblers of white white, we were initally confused when our pork buns arrived looking like folded, white, fluffy tortillas, hugging beautifully layered pieces of pork belly. Those in Melbourne would know that one may expect a BBQ pork bun ala Yum Cha, from the menu's name of the dish, but as with some other things in New York (or the US) sometimes things may have a similar name, but an entirely different meaning (Biscuits, jumpers, thongs). Such false friends are usually embarassingly deceptive, however this was one false friend that became my new besty. As described above, the 'bun' was steamed and encapsulated its pork belly piece, dripping with a plum-like sauce that we happily licked off our hands. This dish resulted in no-one being willing to sacrifice the forth portion and it being cut into thirds. This is a clearly popular 'appetizer' at the restaurant, as we saw these pumped out of the kitchen, one dish after the other.

Next came our ramen and chilled noodles. Sadly, the ramen, which bears the restaurant's name, was a bit of a disappointment. Ultimately, this is a 'niced-up' version of typical ramen - and perhaps as suggested by the kitchen's staffing, very 'white'. Pork belly (same cut as steamed bun) pork shoulder and an egg, with bamboo shoots and shallots, floated above fresh ramen noodles in a perhaps-too-salty broth. The real winner of this meal was the chilled noodles. Sichuan spiced pork sausage, spinach and cashews, made nice with chilled, fresh ramen. We were warned this dish was spicy - but we found it to be the perfect kick.

Perhaps is was the fact it was still 30C outside at 10pm, but the cold dish was the one we unanimously agreed was the dish that perhaps Momofuku should have put its name to.

Fighting eachother for the last bits of cashew and sausage at the end of the meal, our tumblers drenched with perspiration, as we had been an hour and a half earlier, we vacated the restaurant at 11:30 - when finally the restaurant had cleared out a bit.

Perhaps Momofuku is New York's current 'it' but I didn't find the place to be OMG-worthy. For noodles in the East Village, I implore you all to check Xi'an Famous Food restaurant around the corner on St Mark's - and make sure to bring your appetite and some tissues. Sans warning, THESE were the noodles that caused our eyes to water and noses to run, and at $6 per serve and no wait, we all finished our enormous boxes of hand-spun noodles AND a pocket-pack of tissues in one sitting.

Momofuku:
http://www.momofuku.com/
Xi'an Famous Foods:
http://www.xianfoods.com/

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The mouth hits the road: NYC


I am meant to be a budget traveller. As a budget traveller in New York, I have failed miserably.

It’s not that you can’t eat on the cheap in the city that never sleeps (nor do its residents’ appetites), it’s more that there is just some really exquisite food to be had. A

nd even more-so when you have friends with local knowledge.

Enter Ajna bar in the Meat Packing district. For me, the Meat Packing district conjures up images of Samantha Jones leaning out her window and screaming at transvestites at 3am in the morning. In reality, I am greeted by cobble stones and warehouse-sized buildings down by the Hudson River. It’s steaming hot, high summer in New York City. Donning my only pair of high heels, I carefully navigated my way from cab to curb, and gratefully had the door to Ajna bar opened for me; if the door was about six times my size, this guy was about triple – after all, they do things big in the US, and even bigger in the Meat Packing district.

Ajna bar, formerly Buddha Bar, is cavernous, a nod to the district’s former warehousing incarnation. At 6pm in NY, it’s still light outside, but inside Ajna, it is dim – skylights above the dining area giving away the bar-cum restaurant-cum club’s

attempt at mysterious and expensive.

Although expensive it certainly is. Three cocktails would have knocked me back US$45 had a local investment banking friend not picked up the tab at the end of the night. While being a Monday night, Ajna managed to almost-fill its dining section, and four to five groups of mostly women came and went from the plush bar-area, where attentive and seductively dressed cocktail waitresses/acting hopefuls serve delicious cocktails, with a fairly standard list of beers; nothing too foreign for the Yanks except a Stella – and does that even count?

So, three exceptionally strong cocktails later and feeling peckish, local friend suggests a place that does "Mac and cheese with truffles". Excuse me? Did I just step out of a Brett Easton Ellis book, or did you just say TRUFFLES with Mac and cheese? We hailed an ever-present cab while the sky, although heavy and dark, treated us t

o a non-threatening light show. To the Flat Iron district, and a non-assuming restaurant: Almond. Although one must pronounce this as ‘Al-mond’. The queen would die of fright at what the US has done to her language.

Almond is a large, inviting restaurant, with a sweet terrace on the street frontage. Although sans-booking (seriously, even on a Monday night?) we are seated almost immediately. We wander in past a fresh seafood bar, and I look up to see where the walls meet with the ceiling – aged with chipped paint, wooden slats crown walls that are a pale blue, and the exposed wood turns yellow like honey, a results of dozens of tiny tea-lights littered through-out the space.

The menu is non-threatening, but does create

a quandary – what to order? Scallops, chorizo, ragus, and the famous Mac and cheese with truffles. Amazing. We settle for an Eggplant three-ways appetizer: babaganoush, croquettes (definitely making a revival) and an almost ratatouille-like concoction. Thumbs up. Mains. Mains were lip-smackingly good. I frown upon lip smacking (so vulgar!) but I swear I almost did. I had chosen a ragu bolognaise with fettuccini. Serving sizes were great – none of this nouvelle cuisine crap, and not your typical ‘stuff them to their g

ullets’ US serving size; in the worlds of the infamous goldilocks, it was ‘just right’. And delicious! The fettuccini had been cut down to a manageable size, so there was no unnecessary and time-wasting fork twirling, when all I wanted to do was get that food in my mouth. The ragu/bolognaise consistency was great – stodgier than bolognaise, but less constructed than a ragu. Did I mention delicious?

Dessert came recommended by a colleague of local friend – the pot au crème chocolat. Basically a thicker than dipping chocolate consistency, topped with cream and topped with roasted and salted almonds. What a simple, but perfect combination. Not too heavy, sweet and salty, the chocolate dispersed by the cream. Needless to say, we took the subway NOWHERE the following day, willing all those calories to disappear magically before we hit the Greek islands in a week. Only time shall tell.


Apologies for shocking photo quality - sneaky snap of pot au chocolat!

While the food was fine-dining quality, prices were relatively reasonable: 2 bottles of wine, two starters, four mains, two desserts and three muscats (don’t judge, I’m on holiday) including tip and taxes was US$240.00 for four people. Of course, I can’t afford to be doing dinners like this all the time, but I’m sure glad I did this one. For those heading to NYC, check out Almond – it’s not hugely on the radar just yet, but get on to it!

And for the record: truffles in Mac and Cheese = win. So astoundingly delicious, and garlicky and perfumed. Would nom again.

Ajna: http://www.buddhabarnyc.com/

Almond: http://www.almondnyc.com/

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wilkommen ins blog!

I begin this blog in my home town of Melbourne, Australia; home of hidden lane ways, the best coffee around and a gastronomic abundance of restaurants, cafes, pubs, eating houses, bakeries, patisseries, Japanese bbqs and dumplings. Truly, our taste buds are spoilt for choice in Melbourne, and are often whisked to far-off places without every physically leaving our padded dining room chairs.

In Melbourne, we can have the best Xiao Long Bao dumplings at Hu Tong, authentic Mexican at Mamasita's, George's moussaka at Helenic Republic (that's a Masterchef joke for those playing at home) and potentially the best coffee you will ever find at Brother Baba Budan.

It could be all very safe to take my taste buds on mini gastronomic holidays, I would pack them little suitcases and make sure they all have sunscreen, without having to travel more than 6kms from home, however...while my taste buds may be happy not going the distance, my feet and my heart are throwing their hats in the ring, in fact, my whole body is ganging up on itself: everyone versus my taste buds. It's time to go: Fifi von Strudel (that's a Big Brother joke, if you didn't quite catch that).

So, my little taste buds are being dragged from the comfort of inner-suburban Melbourne for a sabbatical in the big wide world.

Beginning in New York and whiling my way around Europe, my taste buds will experience the best and the worst of what the world has to offer. I hoping for more of the former, and less of the latter.

Now, one thing you need to know about my little tasties (is that wrong?) is that they have a penchant for things that have been baked, poached, candied, creamed, whipped, glazed and with a cherry on top. That's right, the taste buds have a sweet tooth (this is getting weird, taste buds with anatomy? Feet and heart in a boxing ring punching on with taste buds? I promise less personification of my anatomy henceforth!)

So as I leave my sweet crepes at Choix, my ULTIMATE almond croissant at The French Quarter, delightful Red Velvets at Little Cupcakes, waffles with nutella from the guy at Degraves Street Subway and possibly the saddest farewell: Turkish delight doughnuts at Maha, I also look forward to discovering - literally - the sweeter things that life has to offer, from around the world.
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