Another travel post! I was in Genoa in Northern Italy for work a few weeks ago (my first trip there) and despite it being a very short visit, I managed to pack in quite a lot of eating. I really wasn’t very prepared for the trip, having to spend more time on the work part of things, but the city surprised me – it turns out that Genoa has the largest medieval city centre in Europe, an entirely rejuvenated old port area, and plenty of affordable and excellent eating. I also had a short list of the food highlights of Genoa and Liguria (thanks for the list, A!) and I did manage to eat all the main things on it!

It all started on my first lunch break when I wandered into Zena Zuena on Via XX Settembre. This “fast food” eatery had a number of foccacias and pizzas on display and locals were crowding the counter to get a couple slices for their midday meal. I joined the scrum and ordered a bowl of minestrone alla genovese and slice of Focaccia di Recco.

Lunch

The minestrone in Genoa is tinged green, being laced with the fabulous pesto of the region, and was served with a slice of the typical bread of the region – focaccia, topped with lots of olive oil and a bit of rosemary (tucked in the napkin in the corner). The foccacia di Recco is also known as focaccia al formaggio; it’s not like the usual thicker focaccia but is made of dough as is used with pizza, rolled very thinly and is used to sandwich a layer of cheese (usually a fresh stracchino). The entirely thing is cooked in a pizza oven until the bread is cooked and the cheese is oozing out.

After work, while wandering around the medieval centre, making the most of the fading light, I encountered many enticing food shops and bakeries and not having a moment for aperitivo, I stepped into one bakery with trays of farinata in their window.

Farinata

A snack sized portion of farinata was sliced off for me – only 60 cents! I think many people do this when alone as they didn’t blink when I asked for it.

Snack Sized Portion of Farinata - 60 cents!

As for the farinata – it was a thin baked pancake made of chickpea flour, not unlike the socca of Nice. I loved it.

Anyway, that little snack was a precursor to a proper meal – I had identified Trattoria Ugo as a place serving traditional Genovese cuisine at very reasonable prices and I went early to ensure I’d get a seat. I needn’t have worried; the trattoria was quiet on a Tuesday night but not worryingly quiet – many locals trickled in through the evening.

In the Trattoria

For my primo, pansotti con salsa di noci, a very typical pasta dish from Genoa. Pansotti are a type of ravioli that’s normally shaped as triangles but here were made into semicircles; they’re filled with wild greens and the intensely creamy and cheesy walnut sauce paired incredibly with them.

Inside the Pansotti

For my main course, I ordered the house special – acciughe ripiene (stuffed anchovies), served with breaded and fried mushrooms, a slice of aubergine prepared the same way, and grilled vegetables. I tried asking what the anchovies were stuffed with but there didn’t seem to be an actual answer – I believe they’re always stuffed with the same thing: cheese, garlic and breadcrumbs. Here they were fried but I saw many delicatessens also selling them roasted. Delicious.

Acciughe Ripiene

For dessert, I chose a budino alla vaniglia con cioccolato fondente – a homemade vanilla pudding with dark chocolate. This smooth pudding was a little firmer than a pannacotta but was no less delicious for it.

Budino alla Vaniglia con Cioccolato Fondente

Three courses (without drinks) totaled €27.

The next day, I used my long lunch break to trek to Antica Sa’Pesta, an old restaurant in the medieval part of the city. The place looks like time stood still from the beginning of the century, with its old wooden tables with shared seating.

Antica Sa' Pesta

I ordered only a single dish, their gnocchi with pesto (there’s usually something with pesto each day) – I had heard great things about their pesto and I wasn’t to be let down. The gnocchi were excellent but it was the pesto that stuck with me – it was an extraordinarily vibrant green and with a great basil and cheese flavour. If it was one thing that surprised me, it was the amount of cheese that went into the pesto here.

Gnocchi with Pesto

Various baked pies and dishes were also on offer for takeaway. I wanted to try one of the vegetable pies that are so common in the region and went with a slice of torta di bietole, made with Swiss chard, to takeaway.

Torta di Bietole

I ate it later after work and though it was a bit on the soggy side, it was fantastically delicious. There was a thick layer of a fresh cheese on top of the cooked chard and the flavour of it all had me wolfing it down with my fingers.

After the pesto lunch, on the way back to work, I grabbed a gelato from Cremeria della Erbe, meant to be one of the best gelato purveyors in the city. I was surprised by how soft the gelato was but was reassured by a local that this was how it’s meant to be. My strawberry sorbet and coffee-ciok (coffee gelato studded with milk chocolate bits) were fabulous.

Gelato number two

That evening, I sought a shop that has been selling candied fruit for centuries – Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano.

Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano

Inside, I found the saleswoman wrapping Christmas pandolce … for Carluccio’s! So yeah, Carluccio’s pandolce is from this most famous of Genovese shops. I’ll be trying one this Christmas for sure! Anyway, I returned home this time with some of their candied chestnuts (scented with a bit of orange blossom) and chocolate covered candied orange peel, some of our favourite things.

On my last morning, I returned to a cafe just a few doors down from Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano – this cafe was Fratelli Klainguti and it and the candied fruit shop were both greatly favoured by Italy’s most famous composer, Giuseppi Verdi, who spent over 30 winters in the city.

Fratelli Klainguti

I decided to try their Falstaff, Verdi’s most loved hazelnut paste filled brioche.

Verdi's Falstaff

With a cappuccino, that was my breakfast that morning. The Falstaff was very good (the hazelnut paste was incredible) but to me, didn’t need that extra sugar fondant on top. Verdi clearly liked his pastries very very sweet!

A Cappuccino and Falstaff

There’s even a signed picture from Verdi himself, proclaiming that the cafe’s Falstaff is better than his own!

Verdi

Right before I headed to the airport, I visited the Mercato Orientale in search of some fresh pasta and pesto to bring home. I did find some but I also discovered a busy, vibrant market with beautiful fish, meat and produce of the region. Oh, how I wished I could have brought it all home!

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If you’re looking for more Ligurian specialities, the ones I didn’t have time to seek out were: stoccafisso accomodato (a stew of dried unsalted cod), coniglio alla ligure (Ligurian-style rabbit), trippe (tripe). And you know what? The city is extremely pretty too – make sure you find time to visit the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (avoiding lunchtime when it’s closed!) and the numerous palazzi.

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

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Porto Antico

All my photos from my short trip can be found in this Flickr album.

My Instagram feed probably gave it away but I was in Belgium last week for work. Sadly, the excitement of the novelty of Belgian food has now worn off for me – it was probably the endless chips, dairy and mayo that did it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chips, dairy and mayo but when encountering some combo of the three at almost every meal….well, yeah, I needed a break.

On our last night in Leuven, we were, to our relief, brought to an Italian restaurant. I think I’d been expecting an average Italian restaurant, perhaps catering for the cheap-and-cheerful student population, but what I was not expecting was a brilliant Slow Food restaurant. And that’s exactly what Ristorante Rossi is.

We had all been booked in for their €35 3-course menu; there’s also a 5-course menu, an a la carte option, and occasional themed menus that reflect one particular region in Italy. The restaurant itself is quite small and quaintly decorated with vintage Italian signs and red and white checked tablecloths. On that Thursday night, the place was packed (Leuven, being a university town, has a busier Thursday night than Friday night. On Fridays, the majority of the students go home.) and buzzing, and the food on the surrounding tables looked excellent.

Anyway, first was an amuse of vitello tonnato on crostini. I love that classic combination of creamy tuna sauce with mild and tender veal.

Vittello Tonnato Crostini

Next was a giant pea and cheese arancino sat on a bed of pea puree, drizzled with pesto. This generously-sized ball of fried risotto (about the size of my fist) went down easily and I may have also helped myself to my friend’s unfinished portion. I clearly had no idea of the size of the next few dishes to come.

Pea Arancino with Pea Puree and Pesto

The pasta course was spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with mint. This was fabulous (such an unexpected combination) and I could have gorged on this for my entire meal. But good thing I didn’t. I was again offered my friend’s extra ravioli but I just couldn’t manage anymore, especially when I saw the fish that was to come!

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Mint

Our main course was that fish I saw – I’m not entirely sure of the species but it was a white fish that flaked easily and had been cooked with a delicious crispy skin. This was served with a celeriac puree, a creamy gravy, green beans and to my utter surprise, seared foie gras! And that little blob of dark green in front? A pesto of parsley and pistachio, from what I could gather – gorgeous stuff.

Fish with Foie Gras and Celeriac Puree

Dessert wasn’t included in the menu and I opted to share a massive serving of tiramisu (€6,50). This was gorgeous, with lots of coffee and quite light, just as I like it. Look at those distinct layers!

Tiramisu

I forgot to get a photo of the little squares of chocolate cake that came with coffees and the bill – the two layers had been sandwiched together with cream and Nutella! Dreamy!

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Leuven (not sure if the students from the main university go there!) – our meal (with drinks and desserts) worked out to €50 per head. I definitely recommend it and definitely also recommend making a booking before you go.

Ristorante Rossi
Standonckstraat,2
3000 Leuven
Belgium

It sounds like it’s not just London that’s had a number of excellent ramen places open up recently. I’ve already tried one ramen place in Vancouver but when I heard of a ramen place direct from Japan, I jumped at the chance to try it. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is at the western end of Robson, surrounded by both old and new Asian places. You’ll know the end of Robson I mean if you’re familiar with the city!

My brother visited the place when he was back earlier this year and recommended the place and made suggestions on what to have. On his recommendation (and he got this recommendation from his friend), I ordered the cream soda float.

Wow, it was green. Like super green. It was good if a bit too sweet. It was perhaps more suitable as a dessert than a drink! I’m also convinced that my kidneys are now green.

Cream Soda Float

I went for the Toroniku Shio Ramen and this was how it was served, with its toppings separate from the noodles and broth.

Toroniku Shio Ramen

The bowl was full of their shio ramen, their signature ramen using just their tonkotsu broth seasoned with salt. The broth is beautifully creamy (though perhaps not as creamy as Ippudo) and delicious.

Shio Ramen

The toppings on the side were not the usual they serve on the ramen – the toroniku cha shu was made using pork cheek. This was excellent – I loved the texture and flavour of the pork cheek – and that pickled plum in the corner? It was crisp and provided a refreshing zing between bites of ramen and cha shu.

Toroniku Cha-Shu

My father ordered his usual – the kara-miso ramen, whose soup base is a miso tonkotsu with some spice within. His ramen was topped with the usual toppings, including the usual pork belly based cha shu. It’s good!

Kara-Miso Ramen

And we had to have the classic ramen accompaniment – gyoza. These were excellent specimens, full of porky filling.

Gyoza

With an order of tea, the total came to $40 CAD, not including tip. The main downside is the queue to get in; I think we queued for about 30 minutes in the cold and wet to get a couple of seats at the counter. Luckily I was on holiday so had plenty of time on my hands – I’m not so sure I’d be as keen after a day at work. But maybe I would for great ramen!

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
1690 Robson St
Vancouver, BC V6G 1C7
Canada

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka on Urbanspoon

We were in Nagoya for a work conference and for each day of the main conference, we would each pick up a bento box and juice/tea box for lunch. Now these were clearly mass produced bento boxes (they would have required about 1000 bento boxes per day) but the quality and variety of the food in each box was astounding.

On the first day, we received this beauty. It was a bit rice heavy but the fried fish, prawn (I got a second because my colleague couldn’t eat hers) and little hamburger were lovely. Everything was delicious.

Day 1 Bento

Our second bento was in the most beautiful box that I even managed to keep and bring back to London (after emptying out the food covered dividers!). Again there were three lots of rice but this was improved by having one of the rices cooked together with carrots and mushrooms. The sweet included in the top right corner was a curiosity – two large beans cooked in syrup! In the top left, there was an excellent braised tofu bundle filled with vegetables. Of all the bentos we had at that conference, I liked this one the best.

Day 2 Bento

The bentos handed out on the third and last day had one of its rices in the form of a Nagoya speciality – tenmusu, an onigiri with a prawn tempura in it.  This last box was a bit fried-heavy (the tenmusu, the prawn, pork in the middle and karaage in the top left corner) but just look at the designs printed on the food dividers!

Day 3 Bento

We even got a taste of ekiben, the railway bentos that can only be purchased at train stations or at special ekiben fairs. After our time in Nagoya, we took the shinkansen to Tokyo and while I bought this katsu-sando (most convenient for a train journey where you’ve not got a tray because your suitcase is in the way)….

Tonkatsu Sandwiches

….my colleague purchased this chicken yakitori ekiben that’s one of the specialities of Nagoya. He said it was brilliant.

Alessandro's Ekiben

I only wish there had been more time and more stomach space for me to try more bentos on this trip!

I didn’t expect to be in Barcelona on our last trip, thinking we’d be in the village up until it was time to fly out. It was Blai’s mother who suggested a night in the city and who am I to turn down a visit to Barcelona?!

It was a friend in Barcelona who originally introduced me to Forn Mistral, a bakery with two locations near Universitat metro station in central Barcelona. There’s one bakery on Ronda de Sant Antoni and another nearby with a large cafe attached where I’d previously tried a delicious toasted flauta with sobrassada and cheese…

Flauta with Sobressada and Cheese

…and a slice of an excellent Galician tuna empanada, both coupled with a big milky coffee.

Galician Tuna Empanada Slice

Their main specialities though are their croissants and their Mallorcan ensaïmades and it was this past trip when I finally got it together and bought one of their ensaïmades. These large round flaky lardy pastries come in a number of different sizes, from bite-sized canape to giant wagon wheel. They’re also available plain, filled with the traditional cabell d’àngel (a candied pumpkin filling), marzipan, chocolate or sobrassada (the last three are new fillings to me!).

Not one to do things by halves, I ended up buying a medium-sized specimen (it was quite large!) filled with cabell d’àngel and between Blai and myself, we carried it all the way home to London!

From Forn Mistral

Opened

Ensaimada

Yes, it was as good as it looks! Thin layers of flaky lardy pastry, the sweet stringy jam in the middle…..we demolished this in two days (only because we controlled ourselves – it could have gone in one!). Next time, I reckon we could get 2, one on top of the other, into the same box!

Do stop by if you’re in the city though – those toasted sandwiches really are gorgeous.

Forn Mistral
Ronda de Sant Antoni, 96
El Raval, Barcelona, 08001

and

Carrer de Torres i Amat 7 (for the cafe)

Carcassonne is only about 45 minutes away by train from Toulouse, thus making it a perfect day out. It’s famous for its impressive walled city and castle, restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. It’s also famous for being a board game, which is probably how most people are familiar with the name! The town itself is made up of two parts – the walled city/castle on one side of the river Aude and the lower city (la ville basse) on the other side – and altogether it’s small enough to explore in one day.

From the train station, It’s a bit of a walk to the walled town but not a difficult one. As we were there on a Tuesday, we encountered their weekly market in Place Carnot and it was fun walking around the small square and seeing what was in season. It took great effort not to walk away with a melon or a head of pink garlic. But we weren’t there for the market – onwards we went.

Melons were in season

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It was only from the old bridge crossing L’Aude that we got our first view of the walled city and it was impressive.

A First Sighting of the Old Town

Crowded!

It’s absolutely lovely walking through the walled town, even though it’s quite crowded (just like the Middle Ages perhaps?). Our tummies, though, demanded lunch not long after we entered it. We avoided the super touristy al fresco eateries near the main entrance of the old town and headed further in to find Comte Roger, a restaurant with a fine lunch prix fixe (€21 for two courses) and a shaded terrace.

My Salade de melon et jambon du Pays, vinaigrette balsamique was just the ticket for that warm day.

Salade de melon et jambon du Pays, vinaigrette balsamique

Blai’s Terrine maison de merlan frais, haricots verts, pois chiches et coulis de poivrons rouges was not to be sniffed at either – the terrine of whiting was very light and pleasant.

Terrine maison de merlan frais,  haricots verts, pois chiches et coulis de poivrons rouges

We both opted for something light – Blanc de seiche cuit plancha, brandade de morue et tapenade d’olives noires. This was a tumble of thinly sliced grilled cuttlefish on a little hill of brandade de morue, that delicious paste of salt cod and olive oil.

Blanc de seiche cuit plancha, brandade de morue et tapenade d’olives noires

The other option for the main course was cassoulet and it looked remarkably good. Dessert options weren’t terribly exciting, however, so we decided to skip dessert and head straight for the castle after lunch.

Comte Roger
14, rue Saint-Louis
11000 Carcassonne
France

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the main castle. It was certainly worth the entrance fee and walking along the walls of the town (included in the ticket) was an experience I won’t soon forget. (Then again, I do love a good castle.)

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Yes, Carcassonne is also worth the visit even though it’s significantly more touristy than Toulouse. Time for me to dig up my board game!

Toulouse feels like so long ago already! We spent three nights in Toulouse (a quick and pleasant 5.5 hour TGV ride from Paris Montparnasse) and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘pink city’ (named for the pinky-orange colour of its bricks). Apart from the grand sights, including the grand Basilica of St. Sernin and the beautiful Church of the Jacobins, the food was amazing! We didn’t make any bookings and mainly just walked in off the street based of the menus outside and most everything was very good. Only once did we use an online recommendation and that was at J’Go.

Rue du Taur

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Cloitre

We were hungry and tired from walking on our first full day in Toulouse and we settled for a little restaurant along a narrow alleyway in central Toulouse – this was Le Coq Hardi. It was full of locals on their lunch break, always a good sign! We opted for the lunch menu, which was about £12 for two courses if I recall correctly.

A Tarte Mozzarella et Tomate was a simple but lovely start to the meal.

Tarte Mozzarella et Tomate

Blai’s Poulet Fermier à la Crème et aux Champignons was the better of our choices. Actually, it was incredible. The roasted leg was massive and doused in a delicious creamy mushroom sauce. The fries that accompanied it were just about the best fries ever – freshly cut, crispy, crunchy, a bit of tenderness, wonderful flavour.

Poulet Fermier à la Crème et aux Champignons

My cassoulet was not the best example, with its very dry beans, but the meats on top – duck confit, Toulouse sausage, bacon/ham – were all excellent.

Cassoulet

My Île Flottante was simple but the perfect light finish to the meal.

Île Flottante

Le Coq Hardi
6, rue Jules Chalande
31000 Toulouse
France

For dinner on our first night, we headed to the restaurant-rich area around the Marché Victor Hugo and ate at J’Go, one of a small group of restaurants in Toulouse and Paris.

Œufs pochés sur toast et poitrine de Porc Noir grillé, façon piperade

Blai’s Gigot d’Agneau fermier du Quercy à la broche were thick slices of a most tender roasted lamb leg and he opted for yet more fries on the side. These had clearly been fried in duck fat!

Gigot d’Agneau fermier du Quercy à la broche

My Grande Salade Fraicheur was the most popular item on the menu with half the tables ordering it. And I could see why! This massive salad with lettuce, tomato, green beans, melon and grilled peppers was topped with duck ham, grilled duck breast, cold roast lamb and the most amazing slice of buttery foie gras I’d ever had.

Le Grande Salade Fraicheur

Desserts were equally impressive. Blai’s Sablé aux abricots et zeste de citron vert was again simple yet well executed and delicious.

Sablé aux abricots et zeste de citron vert

My Assiette gourmande autour de l’abricot was a little selection of different apricot preparations – a macaron (dry and the only dud), baked, in a financier and in a pudding. Yeah, we were stuffed afterwards!

Assiette gourmande autour de l’abricot

J’Go
16, place Victor Hugo
31000 Toulouse
France

After a long day in Carcassonne (that’s the next post!), we returned to Toulouse tired and hungry and we fell into one adorable place with great outdoor seating in the centre. Le Troquet was full of locals again and they looked to be having a grand time. I must say what sold it to me was the al fresco seating and the Toulouse sausage on the menu.

And indeed, my sausage was far from disappointing – it was excellent. And that homemade potato puree on the side was wonderfully creamy and buttery.

Toulouse Sausage

Blai ordered the fish special of the day – the grilled cuttlefish, which was perfectly cooked to tenderness.

Grilled Cuttlefish

For dessert, we ordered the profiteroles. Our waiter teased me for ordering it after seeing it go past me but I was confused. I ordered profiteroles; what passed me had been a mountain! Yes, it turned out to be a single giant profiterole!

Giant Profiterole!

Le Troquet
11 Rue Baronie
31000 Toulouse
France

There’s some seriously good eating to be had in Toulouse and I do hope to return one day, not only to eat, but to further explore the surrounding region.

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