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.


Three foody things you need to know:

Albert Heijn, or more specifically, chicken curry from Albert Heijn:


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!

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?'s

Pasteis de Belem:

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