May 23, 2012

Berlin (and a little bit of Dresden)

1) Eating like a Berliner: Doner Kebabs, Currywurst & Mushrooms, Pfannkuchen

Doner Kebabs from the Turkish district (after an intensive 4 hour walking tour - too hungry to take a proper picture..oops)
Currywurst in Dresden
Pfannkuchen aka the "Berliner" - yeast dough donuts covered in sugar
2) Movenpick Ice Cream
Technically Movenpick is Swiss but 1 scoop of Mrvenpick for 1 euro??? We each got was our dinner for the day.
+ chocolate chip & coconut, cappicino and straticella flavors in a waffle cone

 3) Haggen Daaz
Not really that big of deal except that we got German ice cream in Germany. Woot.
+ Hazelnut hot chocolate
+ Chocolate chip/chocolate ice cream cake with brownie filling.

4) Brunch Buffet
Almost missed our bus for this meal but it was so worth it. 12 euros for unlimited brunch buffet? Finally a city that has heard of brunch! I went for the smoked salmon, roasted veggies and caprese salad.
Cappuccino with a plate of desserts including chocolate covered strawberries, nutella crepes, fruit sticks and yogurt parfait.

May 17, 2012


People and by people I mean wikitravel warned me that Dutch food was not going to very good, something about the dishes being bland and underwhelming. So it came as a big surprise when my mom and I literally spent our entire trip eating. Our schedule consisted of breakfast, walking, snack, lunch, walking, dinner, and dessert. Then repeat for 2 more days. Granted most of the food we ate consisted of crepes and french fries. Is that considered real food?

Dutch Pancakes at Sara's Pancake House
+ crepe with cherries, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and powdered sugar
+ cappuccino
+ legit syrup
We had our first Dutch pancake experience at Sara's Pancakehouse, a small shop somewhere in the Southern part of Amsterdam. Apparently Amsterdam is known for its pancakes? The pancake aka crepe was out of this world. It might have been the best crepe I have ever had (Shocking considering we are comparing this to Paris and Montreal). Everything about the dish was perfect and most surprising of all was the nondescript place we ate them from. After that experience, we were hooked and decided that we needed to eat our fill of pancakes before we left. I did some googling and according to the New York Times, the place to go for pancakes is none other than Pancakes! so that's where we headed the next morning.

Breakfast at Pancakes!
on left: traditional Dutch apple pancakes with raspberry sauce
on right: chocolate, banana and mixed nuts crepes

Pancakes! is a tiny little establishment with about 5 or 6 tables and swathed in typical Dutch blue and white. There was about a 30 minute wait but what's 30 minutes for the city's best pancakes? We opted for the dutch pancakes which came with fresh squeezed orange juice and a banana/chocolate/nut medley. Unfortunately, the meal was somewhat disappointing. Maybe it was all the hype or our raised expectations or the specific dishes we ordered but we both agreed that Sarabeth's offerings were definitely better.

Pomme Frites and Pickled Herring
Pomme frites with mayo
Picked herring sandwich with pickles and onions
Before I visit a new city, I compile a list of the it foods that the city is known for and I make it point to try it when I am there. Pickled herring was one of them. I've never actually encountered the concept of pickled herring as a dish before, except for the jars sitting in our fridge at home that my dad buys and then no one eats...but since this was supposed to be an authentic Dutch specialty, I had to give it the proper attention. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the combination of the herring with the sweet pickles and onions on a roll, my mom was not a fan. On the other hand, pomme frites aka french fries was something that we were quite familiar with. The way they serve them up is in big thick wedges in a paper roll with a massive serving of mayo on top (we asked for ours on the side). Golden perfection. 

Ice Cream 
Yogurt and Mango flavored ice cream

We stumbled upon this ice cream place after our breakfast at Pancakes! and lo and behold, there's a line stretching out onto the sidewalk and an award on the window stating that its been crowned the best ice cream in Amsterdam. Yea, it was pretty darn good.

+ stroopwafel
+ waffles with dark chocolate and candied nuts
On Saturday, we journeyed  to the Albert Cuyp Market which one of the most well-known flea/foodie markets in Amsterdam. In addition to some nuts and a cornish hen (yup a whole one) that we sampled, there was also a stroopwafel and a chocolate waffle. Stroopwafels are made of two layers of as sweet cinnamony batter and in the middle is a layer of thick caramel sauce. They are fantastic. You can buy them from the grocery store or if you are lucky and happen to stumble across a little stand at the flea market, you can buy a fresh one for 1 euro. wowzers. The waffles were also absurdly delicious, made fresh to order and smothered in chocolate and nuts :)

Beer and Meat
+Cornish hen
+ beer
+ dippings for fries and meat
There's a been a big trend in microbreweries in Amsterdam in the past few years. Although the city is the HQ of Heineken, independent breweries weren't really a thing until pretty recently. We had dinner at Bier Fabriek, a rustic restaurant with a small food selection and even smaller beer selection. There's a handful of bar snacks you can order, some salads and the roasted cornish hen.  For beer, there were about 4 offerings with 2 on tap that the restaurant brewed themselves. You can see them roasting the cornish hens about 20 or 30 at time upon entering the restaurant, there's a huge rotisserie oven right by the front and 4 chefs manning the device. All in all, Amsterdam was quite the foodie adventure.

May 16, 2012

Tuscan Wine Tasting

We had originally planned to stay in Florence for a little over 2 days but then we found out that our flight was a good 6 hours later giving us almost an extra day. Sooooo that meant that we could be even more adventurous with our time. If there is one thing that I know about the the region of Tuscany (which is not very much), its that the countryside is gorgeous and the wine is fantastic. What else was there to do but to confirm this for ourselves through a tour of the Tuscan countryside and a wine tasting in an 800-year old castle?

Different barrels we saw during the wine tour each housing different kinds of wine at various stages of the fermentation process.
The place that we did our wine tasting is known as the Trebbio Castle, it used to belong to the once powerful, Italian family known as the Patsys. It also houses the "conspiracy room" for you history buffs out there who might just happen to know what that is. Currently, there is a family who lives in the castle and the husband and wife have turned the castle and surrounding area into a winery. The history of the family is quite beautiful and somewhat tragic, and our tourguide provided us with an enthusiastic recount of how the Trebbio winery came to be.

The first two wines that we sampled: a light Chianti with about 7% alcohol content (bottle is shown in the middle) and a heavier Chianti with about 12% alcohol content (shown on the left).
We also tried three wines authentic to the Tuscany region. Two of which are "chiantis" made from a specific type of grape only found in Tuscany. One was quite light and had only been aged for about 6 months before it was bottled and one which was much heavier and had been aged for about 3 years. During the wine tasting, I got to learn all about the nuances of wine smelling, sipping and swirling.  Now, I quite enjoy swirling my wine around its glass to observe the level of the alcohol content although I still cannot tell for my life the different fruity aromas that each wine emits. With our wines, we also received a medly of tasty snacks including olive pate, bruchetta, pecorino cheese, Italian salami and freshly made olive oil all on homemade bread. During the tour through the dungeons of the castle, our tourguide also spent an extensive amount of time teaching us about the different qualities of oils and how to tell a really legit olive oil from a not-so-legit one.

The last wine we sampled which was a much heavier and very sweet dessert wine.
The last wine we tried was a dessert wine, it resembled more of a port than wine as it goes through a wild process of hot and cold fermentation for quite a few years. The alcohol content on this one was over 16% and tasted incredibly sweet. Not surprisingly, this was my favorite one of the three that we tried.

Snapshot of the outside of Trebbio Castle, a nearby edifice whose purpose I have forgotten and some misty rolling hills.
And yes it is true, the countryside of Tuscany really is absurdly goregous. It was raining the day we went which just made everything get covered in a romantic misty fog and added that much more to the countryside charm. The rolling hills and fields of oil trees and vineyards made the 1 hour bus ride to and back quite enjoyable.

May 10, 2012

Napoli Pizza

If there is one dish Italy is known for, its pizza and if there is one city that is known for pizza, its Naples. The mecca of all pizza, it is the origin of the first margherita pizza named after Queen Margherita in 1889. It is where that lady from Eat, Pray, Love journeyed to all the way from Rome to sample the best pizza in the world and it is where Julia Roberts then diligently traveled to recreate the scenes from the white tiled walls of  the famous Da Michele. Go to any pizzeria you set your eyes on in Naples regardless of where it is or what it looks like and you will not be disappointed. Of course, with our time limited in Naples, I wasn't going to settle for just any typical pizzeria. We sampled two amazing yet surprisingly different places, both of which are considered some of the finest pizzerias that Naples has to offer.

Night #1: Dinner at Sorbillo
top left: mushroom, prosciutto and ricotta cheese
top right: olives, red peppers and sun dried tomatoes
bottom left: red pepper flakes, sausage and onions
bottom right: margherita
We arrived in Naples around 10:00pm and immediately set out to find a pizzeria that was still open. Lucky for us, we managed to catch Sorbillo right before they closed. The interior is modest and reminds you of any old corner shop in the suburbs of Brooklyn. Wine was served to us in plastic cups and came from a mini fridge at the front of the restaurant. Despite my initial reservations which would normally have me bolting in the opposite direction, we stayed because it came as a recommendation from a local Neapolitan.  The pizza came from a wood burning oven and the dough was handmade to chewy perfection. The menu featured pizzas ranging from 6-9 euros (that's all it costs for some of the best pizza in the world?) and offered a wide variety of toppings, some with tomato sauce and others without. Sure the pictures don't look all that impressive (we were quite hungry) but it was hands down, the best pizza I had ever eaten in my life. The goodness came from the simplicity of the creation. Surprisingly, the focal point of the dish was the dough as all of the toppings were sprinkled on quite modestly. When was the last time I had a pizza where I could still see huge spreads of tomato sauce? How about never? Is that how a proper pizza is supposed to be? Unlike the canned tomato concoctions I was used to, the tomato sauce was fresh, semi-sweet and refreshing. The toppings rounded the dish out nicely rather than overpowering the other ingredients. Can you tell that I'm a little obsessed? Alright so that was the first night.

Night #2: Dinner at Da Michele
+ Pizza Marinara
+ Italian beer
+ The Creed of Da Michele
Not shown: Pizza Margherita
There are two things you can order at Da Michele, pizza margherita or pizza marinara. I never knew there was a difference between the two. For beverages, they offered water and beer. Talk about simplicity. The restaurant has a bunch of closely packed flimsy wooden tables and chairs and as soon as you enter, you see the huge oven in the back where the magical creations come from. According to the restaurant owners, if you start adding toppings to the pizzas, the pizza loses its authentic taste. Thus the only ingredients used are pizza dough, tomato sauce, a splash of oil and mozzarella cheese. From what I could discern, the margherita pizza featured more cheese while the marinara pizza was dominated by tomato sauce and oregano. So simple yet so absurdly fantastic. So maybe topping-less pizzas aren't for everyone. I myself would never pick a margherita pizza over one covered in a medley of mushrooms and sausages, but if it were this particular margherita pizza, that would be a much closer call. So two pizzerias both claiming the title of the best pizza I have ever had: one with toppings and one without :)

May 2, 2012

Venezia, Roma & Firenzie

Venice Adventures
Best grocery store pizza ever with roasted peppers, mushrooms and sausages
Octopus Salad with lemon dressing
Not shown: squid ink risotto
Venice was just as I had imagined: canals, waterways and narrow, windy streets. The city's reputation is for its seafood although according to our hostel, most of the restaurants have all become tourist traps. We did have dinner at a quaint looking Italian restaurant and I was quite pleased with our selection: octopus salad and squid ink risotto. The octopus was tender and the dressing was fantastic. The risotto (this might have been the first time I've ever ordered risotto!) was creamy and indeed pitch black. We also had a mini picnic along the canals of pizza and biscoti. The pizza picked up from a grocery store/deli had a great topping combination although I might have just been very hungry.

Roman Pizza
Zucchini & Ham
Eggplant, Tomato & Ricotta
Tomato & Pesto Bruschetta 
Apparently there is a little pizza rivalry between Rome and Naples. Having tried pizzas from both cities, I'm inclined to say that Naples inches ahead. However, the pizza we did have in Rome was quite delicious. Our location of choice was Dar Poeta located in the Trastevere district of Rome. The crust is thicker than what we had in naples and the cheese was more plentiful but the topping combinations were all quite interesting. My selection of roasted eggplant, salty ricotta cheese and cherry tomatoes tasted amazing after walking around for an entire day.

Nutella & ricotta cheese calzones 

One offering that Dar Poeta is very well-known for are its dessert calzones: stuffed to the brim with nutella, sweet ricotta cheese and covered coco powder and powdered sugar. I could probably have eaten an entire one all by myself. Its a good thing we divided it up. 

Florentine Eats
Paninis, coffee & ice cream 

Two food groups dominated by time in Florence: carbs and carbs. And by carbs I mean bread and bread. Everywhere we went, it was paninis and paninis and prosciutto. Apparently ham is called prosciutto in Italy although its not really ham and not really the salty prosciutto we get in the states. Its more like slices of tender, salty pork with a bit of fat on the edges. Either way, its delicious and every corner meat deli sells it. The other item that is absolutely amazing are the sun-dried tomatoes. I've never had sun-dried tomatoes that were so tasty in my entire life. We rounded that off with what else but more gelato and a few shots of espresso. 

Italia Pastries

10 days of traveling = 3 meals (or more like 3.5 or 4..) a day = a lot of eating = a lot of desserts.

gelato. pizza. wine. repeat. (insert some pasta at the end).

So yea, its true. Italy has the most consistently best gelato. I had it every day, sometimes twice a day. I had it by the leaning tower of Pisa, in the train station of Florence, by the Rialto bridge in Venice, in Trastevere in Rome and whenever else I saw it. 

Hazelnut & coffee in Rome; stracciatella and pistachio in Pisa; strawberry in Venice; cookies and vanilla in Pisa.
We made a promise to try a different flavor every time we had gelato but after about the 6th time, it was pretty obvious which flavors we had a preference more. My favorites: tiramisu, stracciatella, pistachio (only if its dark green!), coffee and caramel.  
There were also a lot of pastries. One which I had never encountered before is the sfogliatella, most well-known in Naples but also found in nearby cities such as Florence. There are two kinds, frolle (smooth) and ricce (curly). The curly one is infinitely better as it resembles a very crunchy multi-layered croissant filled with cream. The smooth one is more like pound cake and has a ricotta-like filling, but there was something slightly unappealing about the texture and there was also weird fruit pieces on the inside. Without the filling though, it was quite tasty.

Scaturchio - the nost famous pastry shop in Naples selling both versions of  sfogliatella. The curly one is on the top right and the smooth one is on the bottom left. The pastries on the bottom right were spongy and soaked in liquor. We were not a fan lol. But the eclairs here were very tasty. 
More sfogliatella, donuts filled with chocolate, nutella and vanilla, and a pastry filled with cream and covered in hazelnuts. 

+ Roasted chestnuts by the Medici Palace in Rome!! Ate these after about 10 hours of walking, tasted SOOO good
+ Chocolate liquor shots in edible chocolate shot glasses from Caffe Vicolo Del Cinque in Rome! A super cute book store that also sells 10 different versions of chocolate shots.
+ And one of the few times that we actually drank beer. 
To be continued....Venice, Rome, wine tour of the tuscany country side and the pizza of Naples!