Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
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!
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.
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?
Thursday, December 9, 2010
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...
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
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.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
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.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
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”
“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
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
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:
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
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
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.
Xi'an Famous Foods: http://www.xianfoods.com/
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
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.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
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.