It’s difficult to believe that we were in New York City last week! It was only my second time but Blai’s first time and we were gonna hit all the high spots and, of course, eat well! We flew American Airlines direct to JFK and I was pleasantly surprised by how much space we had and quality of the food provided. What wasn’t so great was the flight taking up most of Friday, which meant that we landed mid afternoon Friday, checked into our Airbnb apartment in downtown Brooklyn, and then went directly to find dinner.

My friend Diana had sent over a huge list of delicious places and one really jumped out at me – Yemen Cafe & Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, only a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. As soon as we sat down, we were brought a huge round of warm clay oven bread, lemon wedges and zhoug, the fresh green and spicy sauce served with Yemeni food.

Warm Clay Oven Bread, Lemons, Zhoug

Two bowls of lamb soup were also presented to us. It smelled very lamby but its flavour was much gently than that which its scent hinted.

Lamb Soup

And a plate of salad! This, we think, accompanied our main course and was brought as a sort of starter.

House Salad

Being somewhat wary of American portion sizes and not wanting too much waste on our trip, we ordered only one main course and one appetiser to split between us. Weirdly, we wanted something quite comforting and ended up with hummus! It was excellent homemade hummus and we ate probably way too much of that round of flatbread with it.

Hummus

And then our main course, the Yemeni national dish saltah, arrived. This was a hot stone bowl of a thick, slightly gelatinous vegetable stew topped with a frothy fenugreek sauce. We stirred our bubbling bowl hesitantly…and ate a little with rice. Then we tried it with bread and knew that we were onto a winner. It really is best with the warm flatbread – somehow the stew (with okra being the thickening agent) went amazingly well with it. I need to find saltah in London!

What we should have done was follow the lead of the Yemeni guy at the next table who dumped in a couple spoons of zhoug and stirred vigorously before tucking in with his wife. He was impressed by how we cleaned our bowl though!

Saltah

The saltah came with a portion of their lamb haneeth, a falling off the bone chunk of tender spiced slow roasted lamb. The rice we ordered as a side dish and that highly scented pile of spiced basmati came with a little drizzle of saltah sauce on it.

Lamb Haneeth and Rice

And to drink? Iced Yemeni tea, which hit the spot.

Iced Yemeni Tea

Our first proper day in the city started early… like 6am early. Jetlag had hit us a bit and we used that early morning to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

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After walking for a bit (and having a bit of tea somewhere), we found ourselves in Chinatown and we headed for a place on my list for cheap dumplings (also, it opened at 7am, which was useful) – Vanessa’s Dumpling House. One order of fried pork and chive dumplings and a veggie filled pancake (a thick wodge of soft bread) saw our tummies filled for under $4. Bargain.

Dumplings and Filled Pancake

Then it was catching the 6-train and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favourite places in the city and where we spent most of the day.

Temple of Dendur

All that walking through the galleries builds up an appetite! We walked (some more) to a nearby Papaya King and grabbed hot dogs to eat in Central Park. On the way, we also ran into a Dean and DeLuca (the upscale grocery store) and picked up a doughnut from Dough.

It’s here I need to mention the fantastic weather we had during our week there. Thumbs up!

Two Papaya King Hot Dogs

Dulce de Leche doughnut from Dough

Anyway, lunch was great! Papaya King’s hotdogs were excellent (no, I couldn’t tell any difference from Gray’s Papaya from my last trip) but as for topping, I don’t really get the New York onions, a stewed mixture that hints of cloves and cinnamon. I preferred the relish – pickle relish mixed with mustard. Their corn dogs and curly fries are excellent too. And that doughnut! Oh, it was brilliant – this was a dulce de leche one with icing that wasn’t too sweet and topped with lots of toasted almond slices.

After lunch, we returned to the Met again! And still, after spending most of the day there, we didn’t ever make it to the second floor!

All that walking around the Met was killing our feet and we needed another sit down mid afternoon. Tea and a snack then and that snack was our very first black and white cookie, a New York classic. It was alright (soft cakey cookie with icing) but I didn’t see the great appeal of it.

Black and White

One final round through the Oceania galleries (fantastic) and it was time to go. Dinner, as is normal for any jet-lagged traveller, was required a little earlier than usual. However, our chosen restaurant, Ootoya in Times Square, had a one hour wait for a table (it was Saturday night). No matter – we waited in the Starbucks next door. When we finally sat down, we were ravenous.

My kaasan ni set was a stoneware bowl of chicken katsu in a soy-dashi broth topped with lots of grated daikon and a poached egg. I ordered this as a set, with rice, miso soup, steamed egg, and pickles.

Kaasan Ni Set

Blai’s buta shio koji with negishio was fantastic – the pork belly had been marinated in shio koji before being grilled and were then topped with sliced spring onions that too had been in shio koji. It was so utterly savoury and moreish.

Buta Shio Koji with Negishio

Altogether it was a lot of food! I only just about managed to squeeze in some warabimochi (another big portion!) at the end!

Warabimochi

And that was only our first 1.5 days in the city.

Yemen Cafe & Restaurant

Yemen Café and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Vanessa’s Dumpling House

Vanessa's Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

Papaya King

Papaya King on Urbanspoon

Ootoya

Ootoya on Urbanspoon

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!

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