Tag Archives: food

Prague: How about the food?

I found eating out in Prague very cheap (250-500 Kc per meal, often including dessert and a soft drink) and I really enjoyed trying a few different restaurants with traditional Czech food.

Most Czech dishes are very meat-based and contain also dumplings, with some added cabbage here and there. Probably not the lightest meals but very tasty!
My meat feast over the long weekend started with a delicious venison guláš, served alongside with bread dumplings.

Venison guláš

The following day I tried a “farmer’s plate” with pork meat, grilled sausages (grilované klobásy), bread dumplings, potato dumplings, cabbage and gravy.

All-pork farmer’s plate

It was then time for a basic beef guláš in a cheap cafe’, and on my final day some roast duck with dumplings and cabbage.
All food was really good but I particularly enjoyed the venison guláš and the all-pork dish.

And for dessert? I recommend trying the trdelník, a traditional rolled pastry coated in sugar and sold in street stalls around Prague. But don’t fall for the tourist varieties filled with all sorts of sweet things, from chocolate to ice cream: the classic version, empty inside, is the best one!

Trdelník

Discovering Bacalar town

The name “Bacalar” most likely derives from the Mayan b’ak halal, which means “surrounded by reeds”. The town was named a “Pueblo Magico” in 2006 because of the magical experience it offers thanks to its natural beauty and historical relevance.

So when you are tired of trying outdoor activities, go for a walk around town! The highlights are the main square and the Fuerte de San Felipe Bacalar (the fort), which was completed in 1729 and is open to visitors. But don’t miss exploring the streets, with their shops, restaurants and food stalls. The town comes alive at night, when most of the eateries start serving food.

A 10-min walk from the centre is the municipal market. If you’ve been following me for some time you’ll know how much I love markets! I love the vibe, the colours, the people, the interactions that develop in what is often a loud and chaotic environment. The market and the little grocery stores in Bacalar were quieter than I expected. But the colours and the people didn’t disappoint.

Discovering Marrakech

Before travelling to Marrakech I didn’t really know what to expect. I had the feeling that it would be a chaotic place full of historic buildings, people in traditional clothing, and lots of colourful stalls dotted around the narrow alleys in the souks.

In simple words, that’s exactly what Marrakech is.

The Medina. This is Marrakech in its essence. The old Marrakech. The traditional Marrakech. The most intriguing part of this city. The Medina of Marrakech is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cultural value and its impressive number of masterpieces of architecture and arts. And it will not disappoint!

Visit the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, once a theological college dating back to the 14th century but rebuilt two centuries later and the largest madrasa of all Morocco. Spend some time at Palais Bahia, built in the late 19th century and intended to be the greatest palace of its times.

Walk with no purpose except that of discovering the city, lose yourself in the maze of narrow alleys, follow the pungent scent of spices, let the local artisans approach you as they are trying to sell you some of their artifacts.

Reach Jemaa el-Fnaa, the real centre of Marrakech. This square is synonymous with chaos but this is what makes it such a great place too! Visit around sunset and you will be rewarded with amazing colours and incredibly vivid images. Bargain a price with the water sellers and they will be “yours” for as long as you like. Watch the women in colourful traditional dresses, the snake charmers, wander around the food stalls displaying a large variety of dishes: they all contribute to the charm of Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Then sit down and eat at one of the food stalls, all easy to identify because they use reference numbers. One word of warning though: they tend to overcharge tourists so make sure that you only order from menus with prices on display! But don’t let this spoil the experience: the food is very good and fresh, and a meal in Jemaa el-Fnaa will be the perfect end to a day of discovery of Marrakech.

At the “Festa de l’Unita’ “

ItalyPhotogallery_021

When I was a child, for me and my friends “Festa de l’Unita'” was synonymous with: summer, evenings out, food and dancing.

ItalyPhotogallery_022Despite its political connotation – it used to be organised by the Italian Communist Party, and now by the Democratic Party – the Festa de l’Unita’ is seen by most as a big annual social event. Together with the myriad of festivals that characterise Italian towns in summer.

In the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy all towns and villages seem to have their own Festa de l’Unita’ during summer, and all local events culminate in a main final event that takes place in one of the major cities (like Bologna) in late August-early September.

But for us children, politics was of no interest. All we were interested in was the opportunity to be out until late (well, later than the usual 6-7pm), eat lots of traditional food like crescentine and tigelle, perform our own version of polka, mazurka and waltz at the live music events, and buy raffle tickets in the hope of winning those nice toys that were on display.

During a recent visit to Italy I went to a Festa de l’Unita’ with some friends. It must have been at least ten years since the last time I attended one of such events. The village hosting it was small. The event was quite large. Nothing seemed to have changed since the 80’s.

Two ladies handing out stickers welcomed us at the entrance.  They always give you a sticker when you enter a Festa de l’Unita’.  You get labelled.

Next was the funfair. Not a big one but enough to keep kids and teenagers entertained for a bit. I was tempted to pay a couple of Euros and throw plastic rings around the necks of very colourful plastic swans, but the idea of using my money to buy food seemed more appealing…

Food. One of my main priorities during any visits to a Festa de l’Unita’ as a child. This has not changed with time.  Who can resist some crescentine fritte, freshly made in front of you? They may almost drip with oil, but they are delicious! So of course I had a couple.

 And then there was the live music. There was a large dancing area, a stage and a band playing. The female solo singer was pretty good. But the music was the same as 30 years ago. Ballo liscio, with its polka/mazurka/waltz, dominated the scene. Some group dance songs from the 60’s featured too. The dozens of people dancing seemed to have loads of fun, though!
Looking at how well prepared they were, how in synch they moves appeared, and how no one ever seemed to miss a step, I wondered if the locals spend the whole year taking dance classes with the only purpose to show their abilities at the Festa de l’Unita’ over one week in summer…

We left before the end of the evening, with the feeling that some things have never changed and probably never will.

Let’s talk about Piadina

Ever been to Italy?
Ever tried piadina?
No?
Well, this is something that really deserves a place in that growing wishlist of things you want do & try when you travel!emilia_romagna_map

Piadina is a traditional regional food that originates from Romagna, the south-eastern part of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy.

Piadina is a type of flatbread made with white flour, olive oil or lard, salt and water, all mixed and then cooked in a flat pan. When it’s cooked you add the filling, which can be anything from cold meats – in the more traditional versions – to Nutella – in the modern variants.
A classic is piadina con prosciutto, stracchino e rucola (Parma ham, soft cheese and rocket). Delicious and definitely one of my favourites!

Piadina Italy Romagna food

ItalyPhotogallery_016And let’s not forget the people involved: a good piadinaro never fails to entertain you with a good chat and a joke! The man on the photo on the left was so excited about me taking pics of his kiosk that started boasting about it with his “competitors” at the market: “This lady is taking photos of my food, and not yours! She is going to take me overseas with her!”.
But no, he didn’t make it into my suitcase in the end…Italy Romagna food piadina piadinaro

Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer Lovin’

 This is my summer lovin’: Italian Ice Cream!
Or as we call it: Gelato!!!!gelato, ice cream

Having been living abroad for well over 10 years now, Gelato is probably what I miss the most from back home. And a regular and unmissable treat during my brief summer visits.
No, don’t tell me that we can have Italian ice cream in most foreign countries now. I know. But it’s not the same.
Gelato eaten on Italian soil on one of those warm summer evenings that still smell of childhood and school holidays is the best!

Featuring in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.

Tribute to Vietnamese food – part 3

And after Part 1 and Part 2 we have now reached Part 3, the final part of my Tribute to Vietnamese food!

Ready? Let’s go!

The hotpot in the header image was served in a budget restaurant in Da Lat. The pot was placed at the centre of the table and kept simmering while the ingredients were cooking. Not being familiar with the cooking technique, I kept staring at the pot wondering when it would be ready and safe to eat. I must say, it tasted very good.

Rolls and dumplings with sauce
Rolls and dumplings

The rolls and dumplings above are from Hoi An, a town whose reputation as the ultimate gourmet getaway is steadily growing. Great food and lovely composition on the plate for this dish!

Cao lau
Cao lau

Cao lau is one of the most popular Hoi An specialties, and its ingredients are noodles, slabs of pork, bean sprouts and fresh vegetables. The noodles are quite different from any other Vietnamese dish: thicker, quite chewy and with a firmer texture. The dish tastes delicious!

Homemade Vietnamese meal
Homemade Vietnamese meal

Last but not least, here’s the highlight of my food experiences in Vietnam: a fully homemade meal which I helped preparing when in Hanoi! Noodles, vegetables, and rice paper rolls. Very tasty.
See also this post for the full experience.

And this is the end (for now) of my Vietnamese food memoirs.
I hope you enjoyed it!

Tribute to Vietnamese food – part 2

Vietnam is a country of waters: hundreds of miles of coastline, rivers, and huge delta areas characterise its length. Fresh fish and seafood are readily available, and therefore such dishes abound in the Vietnamese cuisine.

Here are some of the mouth-watering seafood dishes that I savoured during my trips:

Steamed squid dish
Steamed squid with spring onion

The one above was my first meal at the night market in Phu Quoc, a great place to be. The squid looked fresh and tasted great. The sugarcane juice went very well with it too. The fact that my stomach was not upset at all after the meal (I am sadly prone to food poisoning when in the tropics) made me return to the same market a few times during my stay. And more seafood dishes were tried.

Steamed squid dish
Steamed squid dish

This steamed squid dish was nice and fresh and served at one of the cheap seafood restaurants on Ang Bang beach in Hoi An. A pile of morning glory was my choice of side dish as usual…

Shrimp and squid with ginger
Shrimp and squid with ginger

This shrimp and squid combo was actually made of two separate dishes but when put on the same plate they fit very nicely together. Again, all seafood looked and tasted very fresh. As you would expect on an island like Con Dao.

Mackerel soup
Mackerel soup

The mackerel soup above was prepared using a mackerel that had been caught under my eyes in Con Dao and then immediately taken to the restaurant kitchen. It couldn’t have been any fresher! The mackerel was cooked in three different ways, and the soup version is the only one I took a photo of. Very colourful and yummie!

Fish in garlic sauce
Fish in garlic sauce

One more from Con Dao: fish in garlic sauce. A bit too much garlic maybe, but it supposedly helps keeping the mosquitoes away. Regardless of any mozzie repellent properties the dish tasted good, the presentation on the plate was very nice and it was incredibly cheap (I don’t remember ever paying more than 180,000 dong for a seafood dish, which is equivalent to less than £5!).

Last but not least in my seafood tribute is nuoc mam, the notorious Vietnamese fish sauce! Largely produced from fermented fish in smelly factories in Phu Quoc, the fish sauce is an ever-present ingredient in the Vietnamese cuisine.

Nuoc mam, or fish sauce, from Phu Quoc
Nuoc mam, or fish sauce, from Phu Quoc

More images and comments about Vietnamese dishes are still to come. Keep following me!

(The first part of this series is here: Part 1)

Tribute to Vietnamese food – part 1

I am not exactly a cooking enthusiast or a foodie.
And I never thought I would ever write about food.

But I love Vietnamese food so I thought I’d pay a small pictorial – but not only – tribute to some of the dishes that I tasted during my two trips to Vietnam.
Disclaimer: this is not meant to be an extensive review of Vietnamese cuisine, but only a sample of what I tried (and took a photo of).

Let’s start with this:

Stir-fry with beef in Vietnam
Simple stir-fry

This was my very first meal in Vietnam. On my first trip. Stir-fry with beef and rice. And a cup of coffee.
It looks like dinner or lunch, but in fact it was given to me as breakfast. A slight shock to my Western palate used to sugar rushes first thing in the morning! But I had to learn more about Vietnamese breakfast…

Next is the world renowned Pho, a bowl of broth with noodles and meat (usually chicken or beef) – another very common type of breakfast:

Beef pho, or pho bo
Beef Pho, or Pho Bo

I must admit I love Pho (not for breakfast, though! Lunch for me, please). Simple but tasty and filling. And cheap – which is always a plus. I love the little street kitchens that serve Pho, with their simple tables and chairs. I love sitting with the locals and watching them as they talk to each other and enjoy their meals. There is such a lively atmosphere there :-).

Talking about popular dishes, let’s not forget what is probably the most popular vegetable dish in Vietnam: morning glory with garlic!

Morning glory (water spinach) with garlic
Morning glory with garlic

Morning glory, also called water spinach, is probably the most common vegie in Vietnam. As a result, it never fails to show in restaurant menus, usually in the “sautéed” version. When travelling, this became quickly my favourite vegetable dish and I honestly cannot remember going two consecutive days without having my fix of morning glory with garlic!

The tribute to Vietnamese food doesn’t end here, so keep following me!

A day with Hanoi students

When they invited me to have “egg coffee” with them, I followed them with no hesitation. But when we walked into the back of a shop and up dodgy-looking stairs in very dim light, I started doubting my instinct and my trust in people.

egg_coffee_hanoi
Egg coffee – ©topofthephnom.blogspot.com

There was no need to panic, though. Instead I was about to embark on a journey of discovery off the beaten track!

I had met these two students at the Hoan Kiem lake park, where University students in Hanoi go to meet foreigners and practice English. After several weeks in Vietnam I was totally familiar with the scenario and quite enjoyed chatting to whoever approached me.

After the egg coffee – which was delicious – we promised to keep in touch. And when I was back in Hanoi 10 days later I contacted them.

“Would you like to see our University?”. Why not, I thought. And we got on a local bus full of students for our long ride to the campus. Once we got there, I soon realised that there were no other foreigners around. Everyone seemed to be staring at me with surprise and curiosity. Celebrity of the day!

One of the four lakes in the University campus
One of the four lakes in the University campus

“Now we are taking bicycles and going to my room so we can cook lunch”. Cool! We first stopped to buy some food from a tiny grocery shop in the street, then two more students joined us and the five of us rode our bicycles through the countryside to reach the area where these students live.

Riding a three-people bycicle!
Riding a three-seater bicycle!

Compared to the standards of students digs in my own city, these Hanoi ones appeared pretty “scruffy” and very basic. But they indeed do the job, and have everything we needed.

So we started preparing lunch. After washing and chopping the vegetables, I joined in the “rolling phase” of the nam (rice paper rolls) making. I broke the first one but soon mastered the art :-).

Roll Roll Roll!
Roll Roll Roll!

Our “masterchef” skillfully pan-fried all rolls while her “assistant” made a nice sauce, and the rest of us prepared the table. The resulting meal was a five-star!

“Do you want to see an artisan village?” I was asked after lunch.
Why not, I thought. And this time we hopped on motorbikes and drove (me as passenger) to Bat Trang village, which is famous for its ceramic/pottery production. We walked around the shops taking a lot of silly photos, then when I thought we were about to leave another surprise came.

We entered a small shop full of little plastic chairs and wheels with lumps of clay on top. We sat and were shown the basic technique for making a small vase. Then it was our turn! I have to say that none of us appeared a natural pottery maker, but we had lots of fun messing around with the clay. And after a while some of our production didn’t look too bad!

In the pottery workshop
In the pottery workshop

I had so much fun and loved the whole experience that day, and I am sure that other tourists would love it too! My student friends could even create a “tour package” based on my day with them (guinea pig!) and offer it to others, in exchange for their time and some English practice. I will suggest it :-).

And this is some of us!
And this is some of us!