Sweating, shopping and snacking

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Jun 202009
 
Looking out over the river

Looking out over the river

That’s pretty much what you do in Singapore.  It’s quite hot but the thing we’re really not accustomed to is the humidity.  Walk outside and you melt.

Our hotel is quite close to Little India so we ventured to the very different part of town.  The Mustafa Centre here is massive and sells everything from mangoes to microwaves and more.  We were a little disappointed with the prices – expecting them to be quite cheap, when really it is only the currently favourable exchange rate that saves you a dollar.  We hoped to have lunch at the Tekka Centre, which is loaded with Hawker stalls, but alas, it was completely closed for renovations.

After a disappointing start, we decided to hit the shops as it is currently The Great Singapore Sale.  Although Leah was succesful almost straight away, it did take me a while to find some decent mens shopping.  Orchard Road is like one big shopping mall, with massive buildings housing many a shop on either side of the road.

Along the river at Clarke Quay

Along the river at Clarke Quay

For dinner we headed to Coriander Leaf at Clarke Quay on the river.  Singapore lights up at night and it was particularly busy as it was river festival time.  Dinner at Coriander Leaf was excellent.  So much so that we talked our way into the full cooking class the following day!

South East Asian Sampler @ Coriander Leaf

South East Asian Sampler @ Coriander Leaf

After about four hours sleep (this jetlag thing is real), we grabbed breakfast then headed back to Coriander Leaf for our ‘Singapore Street Food’ cooking class.  The class was taken by the owner and chef, Samia Ahad.   It was an observation class, so we watched (and ate) while Samia explained and prepared… lamb satay skewers with peanut sauce, Hiananese chicken rice, Singapore chilli crab, Singapore fried noodles (they were pretty good, Dad), fried tofu with spicy sauce and mango mousse with tapioca pearls.  Lets just say no dinner required for us tonight.

Samia adds the crabs to the chilli sauce

Samia adds the crabs to the chilli sauce

For the other photos from the cooking school, head to the Singaporean food gallery.

La Maison Arabe

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Jun 052009
 
Tagines cooking at La Maison Arabe

Tagines cooking at La Maison Arabe

The cooking class with La Maison Arabe is listed as the #1 thing to do in Marrakech by TripAdvisor.  Our host at our Riad also advised us that the class came highly recommended.  It is so popular normally that we weren’t sure we would be able to get in. Luck was on our side, and we were booked in for the Thursday, our last full day in Marrakech.

The class is conducted at the hotel’s “country club,” which has excellent facilities.  The class takes a maximum of 8 people, but on our day there were only 4 in total – us and another couple.  Our translator was Mohammed, who spoke excellent English and gave us a briefing on the basics of Moroccan cookery.

The facilities and the chef

The facilities and the chef

Spice mix (before ground)

Spice mix (before ground)

Moroccan food relies heavily on spices and dried fruit, which is unsurprising given the desert-like climate.  The main spices are salt, pepper, saffron, tumeric and dried ginger (for savoury foods).  Sometimes cinnamon and Ras-el-Hanout are added.  Ras-el-Hanout is a spice mix, bought premixed from a spice merchant.  It can have up to 24 spices included, and each vendor will have his own version.

We prepared a 3 course Moroccan meal.  Firstly, a Moroccan raw salad, which is just tomato, green capsicum and red onion, mixed with a little oil, white wine vinegar, cumin and salt.

Morrocan salad

Moroccan salad

The main course was a tagine – chicken with preserved lemon and olives.  It has salt, pepper, tumeric and saffron, plus coriander and parsley.  You serve it in the tagine, with the skin of the preserved lemon artfully arranged over the chicken.

Tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives

Tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives

Finally, a simple Moroccan dessert – oranges with icing sugar and cinnamon. It’s simple, but it’s delicious!

Simple but delicious!

Simple but delicious!

Overall, the experience was well worth doing – the setting is beautiful, the translator and chef are lovely and there’s something very satisfying about cooking the meal yourself.

Happy customers!

Happy customers!

Jun 012009
 

The fast AVE train from Barcelona delivered us in Madrid in under three hours.  There were unfortunately some avian casualties noted on the nose of the train after the 700km journey.

Art outside the Prado Museum

Art outside the Prado Museum

The Prado Museum is free on Sunday evenings so we visited to view some Spanish art along with Bosch’s ‘Garden of Delights’ and Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas.’  Outside the museum there had been a painting competition during the day – the courtyard was full of easels displaying locally-themed works in many styles.

Spanish vegetarian

Spanish vegetarian

We sampled the vegetarian cuisine at Restaurante Integral Artemisa – eggplant lasagne, vegetarian paella, catalan-style spinach and yummo fried zucchini balls.  The second night we ate very cheaply at Puerto Rico Restaurante – two courses and drinks for two for €15.

Kermit plays for us in Puerta del Sol

Kermit plays for us in Puerta del Sol

Gaudí’s city

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May 312009
 
Gaudí's Sagrada Família

Gaudí's Sagrada Família

We arrived in Barcelona a day after (fortunately or unfortunately?) the big parade that followed Barcelona FC’s victory in the Champions League Final.

Football aside, we’re in Spain!  Tapas,  sangria, paella and… hot chocolate ?  Not ’til 10pm though, if you can get there without starving!

We had excellent tapas at Nou Candanchu – pa amb tomaquet (a Catalan specialty – bread topped with crushed tomato and olive oil), grilled mushrooms, fried whitebait, garlic prawns, croquettes and fried potatoes with hot sauce.

Pa amb tomaquet

Pa amb tomaquet

Paella marinara, washed down with sangría

Paella marinara, washed down with sangría

This hot chocolate is like molten chocolate with churros to dip.

This hot chocolate is like molten chocolate with churros to dip.

Of course no visit to Barcelona would be complete without some  Gaudí.  In fact, you probably can’t avoid it unless you walk around with your eyes closed.  The Sagrada Família church is one place we expected to see scaffolding!  It is a massive construction project that began in 1882 and due for completion (yeah, right) in 2026.  Our admission fees went towards the €18m required to fund the work (that’s just 2009’s budget!)

View of Barcelona from Sagrada Família

View of Barcelona from Sagrada Família

So apart from being the most intricate, extravagent, over-the-top, ridiculous church you’ve ever seen, it is quite amazing to see the construction process in action from the floor up to the spires (we caught the lift up and walked down one of them).

Sagrada Família

Sagrada Família

Parc Güell is also home to more of Gaudí’s work.

Parc Güell, Barcelona

Parc Güell, Barcelona

Parc Güell, Barcelona

Parc Güell, Barcelona

May 282009
 
La Boheme

La Boheme

Where to begin?

Perhaps with our first 3 course meal.  We ate lunch at La Boheme, and we were so full for the rest of the day that we had a very light dinner!

Julian had the Menu Provencal and I had the Menu Vegetarian.  My entree was a huge salad, with olives, zucchini, semi-dried tomatoes and marinated mozzarella.  I’m not normally a big fan of mozzarella (a bit too bland for my liking) but marinated like this it was lovely.  My only complaint with this salad was the dressing – a bit too lemony for my liking.

My first French salad

My first French salad

Julian’s entree was an Assortment de charcuteries de Provence – basically an assortment of Provencal meats, including a very tasty chorizo like sausage.

Mini ravioli

Mini ravioli

For my main, I actually ordered the Tian de legumes de salson a la creme de basilic.  For some reason I ended up with Ravioles croquandres sar sa compotive de tomates fraiches, which was like miniture ravioli, filled with some kind of cheese and maybe basil(?) in a tomato sauce.  Despite the mix-up it was still incredibly tasty.

Julian's tagine

Julian's tagine

Meat-loving Julian had the Tajine de taureau aux fruits socs – despite the fact we are going to Morroco in a week!  We saw quite a few African inspired dishes on Provencal menus, so obviously the cultural influence has worked in both directions.  FYI, taureau is bull, a regional speciality.

The creme de la creme!

The creme de la creme!

Finally, dessert.  I had the dessert du jour (dessert of the day) which was creme caramel.  It was divine – the perfect combination of sweet caramel sauce and smooth custard.  Mum, you would have loved it!  Julian had the Sabayon aux fruits de salsons, which he tells me was quite tasty, but he probably wouldn’t order it again.

I won’t bore you with details of our other meals, but I thought you might enjoy this snapshot of Provencal food – the reputation for robust, simple, flavourful food is well deserved.

At the markets

At the markets

May 222009
 
Prosciutto at Antica Salumeri

Prosciutto at Antica Salumeri

I’d like a hundred grams of prosciutto, please!

Parma is the capital of food.  Parmesan cheese, Parma ham (prosciutto) and home to the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).  Close by is Modena, home to thick, sweet balsamic vinegar.

Aside from welcoming us, our host introduced us to an excellent place for dinner, Mosaiko Ristorante.  How appropriate that the first thing we should eat was parmesan butter on crusty bread.

Our mains were:

  • Tagliata di vitello alle nocciole con patate individia e porto (Veal with nuts, potatoes and port)
  • Branzino in crosta di pane risotto croccante alle zucchine e basilico (Bass in pastry crust with risotto balls, zuccini and basil sauce)

So delicious and accompanied by a glass of red Sicilian wine.  Then followed by coffee semifreddo and chocolate soufflé.

The veal

The veal

We’ve also visited a couple of local ‘enogastronmias’ (Casa del formaggio and Antica Salumeri) for local cheese and cured meats.  At Antica, Luigi hand-turned the slicer that carved slices of prosciutto so fine they are almost transparent.  We watched in awe and in hope that the larger than life butcher would finish slicing without having a coronary.

Pancetta, parmesan and prosciutto

Pancetta, parmesan and prosciutto

So what to do with this parmesan, prosciutto and pancetta?  Well we found this thing in our apartment called a kitchen, and we set about to cook the best simple pasta around: onions, garlic, butter, white wine, pancetta, tomato, broccoli, sage, topped with parmesan and served with homemade garlic bread.  Yum!

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

Parma is quite a nice city.  It has a sizeable university population and some great parks, churches and the Torrente Parma running through it.

Cattedrale, Chiesa e Monastero di San Giovanni Evangelista and Battistero

Cattedrale, Chiesa e Monastero di San Giovanni Evangelista and Battistero

May 202009
 
Typical Venice

Typical Venice

Venice is a city living on borrowed time.  Its buildings are in various states of repair, many badly in need of a paint job or replastering.  Its streets are narrow and often you’ll be confounded by a dead end.  It is slowly but surely sinking.  And I absolutely loved it!  Something about Venice just spoke to me.  If you avoid the most crowded streets and places until later in the evening, it is really quite quiet.

We were blessed to find a fantastic b&b close to the train station but in the Santa Croce district.  Al Gallion B&B was wonderful – Daniela is the owner and speaks excellent English and was amazingly helpful.   Breakfast included home made apple cake and jams.   A bargain at only €90 a night!

Grand Canal

Grand Canal

Daniela leant us “The Secret Venice of Corto Maltese,” a guidebook featuring a series of food-oriented walking itineries (how appropriate!).  Our first morning in Venice we ventured off on her recommended Orient Door itinerary.  It was a wonderful, relatively quiet way to see the real Venice.

Of course, we couldn’t leave Venice without a gondola ride, however overpriced!  Julian played the gondalier and he offered us a €10 discount.  We floated peacefully down the canals as the sky turned pink and watched Venice light up as night fell.  How romantic!

Venice from the water

Venice from the water

We also checked out the seafood market – amazing!  We wished we were staying somewhere self-contained so we could take some home to cook.  Instead, we did our research and had dinner at Osteria al Mascaron, known for its seafood pasta.  After a bit of confusion with the menu (the English version doesn’t really match up with the Italian, and pasta was listed as €28, minimum of 2 people – did that mean €14 each?) we shared the scampi spaghetti.  Words cannot adequately describe how amazing this was, so I’ll just leave you with a picture.

Best shrimp spaghetti ever!

Best shrimp spaghetti ever!

May 172009
 
Church in Florence

Church in Florence

Florence is the city that is credited with starting the Renaissance, and produced famous artists including Michelangelo and Leondardo.  Architecturally it is completely different from Rome.  Many of the building facades are flat, but heavily decorated with painted or mosaic features.

We were actually pretty bad tourists in Florence.

I think we’d both reached saturation point as far as churches, museums and art galleries go, so we laid low for most of our time there.  We also missed our opportunity to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia (no tickets left) and see some of the Renaissance art in the Uffizi Gallery (again, no tickets available).

We believe he was a revolutionary?

We believe he was a revolutionary?

So, I don’t think we’re qualified to really pass judgment on Florence.  Our experience there was good, but not great.

Osteria De'Golosi

Osteria De'Golosi

Of course, I can’t let a post go by without mentioning food!  We enjoyed some excellent traditional tuscan fare at Osteria De’Golosi.  We’re creatures of habit, so we went twice.  First time J had roasted cinta pork and I had pasta stuffed with pears and cheese (no photo sorry!).  Second time we both had tuscan specialities – I had chicken with fresh vegetables, and J had stuffed calamari with tomato sauce.  Delicious!

J's stuffed squid

J's stuffed squid

May 132009
 
Trattoria der Pallaro

Trattoria der Pallaro

We heard about this Trattoria through the ever present and reliable Rick Steves’ Best of Europe guidebook.  There is no menu – you eat (or don’t) whatever they put in front of you.  Although, based on some reviews on Trip Advisor, the menu doesn’t change all that often.

First up is an antipasto course.  Raw fennel in olive oil (not a huge fennel fan), green olives, fava beans in an awesome tomatoey gravy, the world’s best proscuitto and pretty damn good salami and of course, crusty bread.  Shortly after we were brought this, they also brought out some fried risotto balls and some other fried patty, which were very tasty but escaped the camera.

Antipasto!

Antipasto!

Next up was the pasta course – a simple red tomato sauce, heavy on the parmesan (the way we like it!).

Pasta pasta

Pasta pasta

As if this wasn’t enough, the main was next.  Roast veal, broad beans with a tasty sauce, mozzarella balls and homemade potato chips.

Main course

Main course

Finally, dessert.  Apricot flan/tart with a shot of mandarin juice!

It counts as a serve of fruit right?

It counts as a serve of fruit right?

Phew.  All this food was only 25euros per person, including house wine and mineral water.

Trattoria der Pallaro is located at Largo der Pallaro 15, near Campo de’ Fiori.

May 092009
 

We had some fantastic food while we were in Greece.  In fact, we enjoyed one restaurant in Santorini so much we went back 3 times!  The third time, we got free lemon tart – delicious!  If you’re ever in Santorini (which I highly recommend!) try Aktaion in Firostefani.

Aktaion Restaurant - the best!

Aktaion Restaurant - the best!

I’ve always been a fan of Greek salads, and the ones in Greece, obviously, are the best.  A thick hunk of marinated feta perched atop kalamata olives, cucumber, fantastic tomatoes, green capsicum and salad onions, generously drizzled with olive oil.

Greek salad

Greek salad

We tried some of the regional specialties as well, including fava bean balls, Santorini salad (fish instead of feta), zucchini pie, moussaka, omelette and deep fried fava, tomato, mint and onion fritters.  Julian was even brave enough to try Greek coffee, which apparently has the texture of dirt or sand…

Deep fried tomato (with fava, mint and onion)

Deep fried tomato (with fava, mint and onion)

Santorini salad (topped with fish)

Santorini salad (topped with fish)

Fava balls (with smoked mackerel)

Fava balls (with smoked mackerel)

Sea Bream

Sea Bream

From here, I’m hoping our culinary experience will improve even more – we’re off to Rome today!

Greek coffee

Greek coffee