Category Archives: Food

Sardinian delicacies

The Italian food is the best food in the world, and every province boats of a range of delicacies that would make a randomly chosen country proud. In this context Sardinia is no gastronomic champion, and yet it also does possess some articles of culinary pride. I must say right away that the craziest Sardinian foods were nowhere to be found despite our best efforts. These are: 1. casu marzu, the maggot cheese which features live insect larvae that jump up from time to time to threaten your eyes as you eat; 2. the snails that are borrowed underground for half a year, become fashionably rancid and then eaten in this form; 3. the sea urchins that are added to pasta and eaten in season in fishermen’s traditional restaurants. As far as I understood, the maggot cheese is nowadays illegal – you can imagine all kinds of health norms that it breaks – and so you can only buy it from under the carpet. It would not stopped me most likely – but the occasion did not present itself. Some other exotic dishes were tried though!

This account of Sardinian food is in the traditional Italian order of serving, from antipasti to pasta and pizza to main dish to the dessert.

In a small place on a side street in Cagliari we noticed a chance to enjoy a selection of local specialities with a choice of local wines. For me of course the mushrooms topped the list. But also ricotta fume with plum marmalade was remarkable, as well as the thinly cut pork cheeks and wonderful Sardinian casizolu cheese. There are three main sorts of red wine in Sardinia – these are cannonau, monica and carignano. This particular glass is of cannonau.

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Fantastic Turkish food in Istanbul

Surely many readers of this blog have been to Turkey. I have been there several times myself. And yet every new visit is a discovery of something new. It is one of the clear lessons of this trip that the longer you spend in a particular place, the deeper – qualitatively different – becomes your understanding of that locale. A single additional day can add an entirely unexpected flavour and depth of immersion. And every so often when the moment comes to leave I have the feeling that only now came the time when I am truly really discovering a place. So it was in Istanbul. I haven’t mentioned all the little discoveries I made there in the previous post: say, the gorgeous SALT galleries where you can spend hours enjoying the vibe, the free super quick wifi, the endless amount of books in open access in the library. Other discoveries are related to people you meet on the road – and I have my ways to get in touch with the locals. Finally a good way to sample the country’s specificity is by getting acquainted with the richness of its cuisine.

Let’s start with the classics! The wonderful köfte – small meatballs – are the pride of the Turkish kitchen, a simple yet amazingly tasty dish. They are invariably accompanied by grilled tomatoes and peppers.

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Philippine food

The Philippines is another country with a crazy kitchen. For quite a long time I’ve been curiously observing Philippine restaurants in various corners of the world with their menus,full of incomprehensibly exotic names. Finally I had a chance to explore them at the source.

This report follows a series of food reports that also includes Peruvian, Japanese, Chilean, Indonesian and even Hawaiian cuisines.

My stay in Manila was only 5 days long. This is entirely insufficient in order to try out all the wonders of Philippine cuisine. Even if you check out several new articles per day as I did. Whole series of enticing names remained undiscovered, such as crispy pata, grilled isaw, sinigang, kesong puto etc etc etc.

Let’s start from bibingka – a rice cake covered with cheese. The Filipinos eat constantly, 5-6 times a day, and in between they must take some snacks. Bibingka is exactly a kind of a light snack that allows them to bridge the interminable gap between for example fourth and fifth food intake of the day. I ordered bibingka as a starter. It has a rather subdued, nuanced taste, clearly exhibiting coconut milk and cheese.

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Wonderful Indonesian food

The last post about my trip in Indonesia will be about the wonderful Indonesian kitchen. Indonesian is highly varied and fascinating. People were warning about how spicy it would be but after Thailand it seemed quite moderate and yet rich in flavours and nuances. It has several staple dishes which never let you down and the number one in this list is surely nasi goreng.

I ate this main Indonesian dish in expensive restaurants and for one dollar on the street. In each case it was well prepared and very tasty. Nasi goreng simply means fried rice, usually it is served with various fried ingredients. In this case there is chicken, egg and prawn. If you want to fill your stomach in Indonesia without experimenting too much, nasi goreng is the obvious answer.

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The food of Singapore

The choice of food in Singapore is fantastic. We went for the local specialities and the most famous local speciality is definitely the chilli crab. The recipe was invented in the 50s by a local crab saleswoman who mixed chilli with tomato sauce and created this rather extravagant dish. Over time the recipe got so popular that today even Malaysia declared that in fact it was invented there! It seems a local sport in South East Asia to argue about who invented this or that tradition. In Indonesia I witnessed some rather negative Indonesian emotions towards Malaysia which apparently also pretends it invented the batik weaving – Indonesia’s pride. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

We checked out the chilli crab in the restaurant owned by the son of the recipe’s inventor, called simply Roland’s Restaurant. Apparently the prime minister eats crab there on the occasion of the Chinese New Year. We decided if it’s good enough for the prime minister, it will be good enough for us. I must say it is quite impossible to eat crab in an orderly fashion. Its claws and bones need to be broken with a special instrument, rather like scissors. Everything is practically designed so that under the pressure of these scissors the bones would fly out of your sauce-slippery hands into random directions! After the dinner I looked like I had just left a battlefield – my blue t-shirt was all covered in red traces. To top it off, they don’t provide any proper tissues, and the water in the bathroom is dosed – so you have no chance to clean yourself. Fun!

The crab:

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Kuching gourmet

As the plane approaches Kuching, its panorama appears somewhat unreal. Brownish serpentine rivers running their parallel ways, as if painted by a mad artist on the emerald jungle. Slowly they enter the city, the brownish zigzags still cutting it into pieces. You get out of the plane, touch the ground with your feet and repeat to yourself in disbelief: this is Borneo, Borneo!!!

Due to the abundance of budget airlines it is amazingly easy to hop around South East Asia. Particularly if you buy the tickets a little in advance, the prices may match or beat Ryanair. Hence from Penang we made a plane hop to Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Sarawak is no sultanate due to the fact that before WWII it was ruled by the so-called White Raja dynasty. These were (white) descendants of a British adventure seeker James Brooke, who got the title of a Raja from the Sultan of Brunei in 1842 in murky circumstances, mostly as a thanks for military help. WWII changed it all, after the Japanese occupation Sarawak was incorporated into the British Crown colonies and later moved into the Malaysian Federation as it was formed.

As you can see, it is an Airbus:

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Japanese food

The Japanese culinary universe is so vast that to try to describe it all would be a fool’s errand. Every prefecture, every island and every region offers a new discovery. On the other hand, the foods you have grown to love can be found with a remarkable consistency in every new town.

It must be immediately pointed out that the Japanese food in Japan is a completely different animal to what passes for Japanese food outside of Japan. In Japan itself very often a particular establishment specialises in a particular dish for decades. Everything is prepared from carefully selected ingredients. Therefore even very cheap dishes often surprise you with an incredible taste.

A separate chapter in the Japanese cuisine is the kaiseki cuisine, which I described in my post about staying at a ryokan in Kagoshima.

Most photos in this post are made with an iPhone with impatiently trembling hands… so please don’t judge them too harshly for photographic quality!

The story starts with such an ostensibly simple food as noodles. Noodles are helpful as they help a traveller out cheaply, quickly and effectively. In Japan there are three main noodle types: udon, ramen and soba. For my taste, ramen is the best, although I like soba too.

Ramen are wheat noodles, often prepared as a soup with some tasty additions. Here for example you’ve got pork pieces and freshly cut onions as additions:

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Ryokan Onsen Kaiseki

This post is about the experience of staying at a real ryokan in Kagoshima, which included an onset bath as well as a kaiseki-style dinner.

Let me start though by describing what kinds of hotels exist in Japan.

The theory of Japanese hotels
There are two main types of hotels in Japan: business hotel and ryokan.

Business hotel
Business hotel is reminiscent of a small and rather impersonal Western hotel. As a rule, the room in such a hotel will be very small, but fitted like a LEGO toy with a whole list of items, which is quite invariable. There are things that you would expect in a hotel: a usual bed, a TV, a small table where you can work on a computer (internet surprisingly tends to be provided by a cable modem, in-room wifi is rare).

Every Japanese business room, no matter how small, will also always have:
– ­a hair dryer;
– ­flashlight;
– ­three bottles (soap, shampoo and conditioner);
– ­a small disposable toothbrush with a minuscule tube of toothpaste;
– ­a small disposable hairbrush.

As a rule you will also have an en-suite bathroom, very small, which would include a bath tub as well as a technological miracle called “Japanese toilet”, which will often have a heated seat as well as a special tube that comes out to wash and dry your intimate parts.

Traditional ryokan
The other type of the Japanese hotel is called ryokan. This is a completely different style of accommodation. The rooms in a ryokan will be somewhat bigger, but will have virtually no furniture to which we are used to. The floor is covered with tatami mats. The walls are represented by sliding partitions from wood and paper. Oftentimes the bathrooms are shared. The ryokan room will not have a chair, but rather a low seat as well as a low table, you are meant to sit essentially on the floor. Instead of a bed you sleep on a special Japanese mattress (futon), which is put directly on the floor. When it is not used, the futon is kept in a cupboard behind a partition. It is not all that convenient to sleep on a futon, in fact it’s quite hard, so I found it tiring to stay in ryokan all the time – ­and consequently interchanged ryokans and business hotels, to experience both comfort and tradition.

As Japan is essentially four volcanic islands, she possesses quite a number of hot springs. Ryokan is often built right next to a spring and includes an onsen. An onsen is a Japanese bath. The focus of an onsen is the hot water bath, filled with the water straight from the spring, often very hot indeed.

Ryokan can differ significantly in terms of class. I described above the simple ryokan. High class ryokan will be quite different. It will have large rooms, sometimes with a view to a private garden, which you can admire while meditating in your room. You might have a private bathroom. You don’t have to open and close the futon yourself, the personnel will do it for you. Of course there will be an onsen in such a ryokan. And finally – ­most pleasantly – ­a high class ryokan will include an elaborate breakfast and dinner service in the kaiseki style, the high style of Japanese cuisine.

The Japanese consider several days in a high class ryokan the best possible vacation. Already from my last trip I really wanted to stay in such a ryokan if only for a couple of days. However it turned out rather complicated. The minimum price for such a stay is 100 dollars, often it is several times more. But whatever the price, in November and December Japan experiences the peak of the tourist season, and the best ryokan are booked out for many weeks in advance! You also have to take into account the fact that as the ryokan experience involves a whole unwritten etiquette, not every ryokan will agree to accept a foreigner, as the owner might not speak English and might find it stressful to deal with a foreigner. Particularly one travelling solo: the tariffs in ryokan are traditionally per person, rather than per room.

Often you can only get in touch with ryokan by emailing or faxing them – ­they are not present in the usual reservation systems such as You could also call, but bette speak Japanese then. Finally after a number of failed attempts I found a ryokan in Kagoshima which met my specifications and was ready to accept me.

My room:

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Coffee in Latin America

After writing about the food in Argentina and Chile, I would like to devote a separate chapter to Argentinean and Chilean coffee. I love coffee, but only in particular preparations. Of course nothing on Earth is better than coffee in Italy. In Peru and Bolivia the coffee is rather disgusting. However once I arrived in Argentina, the land of Italian descendants, the coffee shares started going up! I discovered a coffee chain Havanna offering a truly endless variety of preparations and sampled every article with gusto!

I must say in general that the coffee terminology is turned upside down in every new Latin American country. Sometimes the same term has the opposite meaning within just one country. For example in Puerto Iguazu I described in detail to a lady in the coffee shop that I want the coffee that in Europe is called caffe latte. Finally she got my request and said: well that’s lastima! Lastima worked quite well in Buenos Aires, although produced some hesitation at times. However ordering a lastima in Mendoza resulted in a mini-espresso (very tasty)!!!

(This is true for everything though, not just for coffee. Particularly in Chile and Argentina they have invented an argo vocabulary for everything under the sun, and the Chilean vocabulary has nothing to do with the Argentinean one. In Chile in particular the pronunciation is terrible, the words are not finished, every sentence is interlaced with jargon. With some of my interlocutors, I had to ask them to repeat every sentence. Perhaps though they simply enjoyed exercising their linguistic superiority over a hapless gringo. In Argentina they have invented a whole separate grammar, they decline verbs in a different way. But at the end of the day this is wonderful. Adds a local feeling.)

So in order to avoid linguistic debacles, I often use the old trick “I’ll have what she’s having”. Sometimes I even unobtrusively photograph the item and then point to it on the screen of the iPhone. Otherwise explaining the particular coffee variety you want may take days.

This is what they call capuccino in Argentina. A little cup. Next to it packed in gold is an alfajor, see below. In Argentina they always bring a glass of sparkling water with the coffee – a ­wonderful habit, in my opinion.

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Avocado with champagne in Santiago

Some months ago I wrote about the wonderful Peruvian cuisine. Now I would like to describe my gastronomic experiences in Argentina and Chile (with emphasis the latter). The food in these countries can be characterised as relatively simple but fantastically tasty.

Argentina is of course famous for its amazing steak, which is accompanied by wonderful Malbec. I already describe taking a self-guided wine tour in Mendoza. I’m a big lover of steak and it took me some time to select the variety that I like the most among many offered in Argentina. Interestingly it is not the most expensive one – ­which is usually ojo de bife, or ribeye. Ojo de bife tends to be rather boring, although it comes from the best meat. But the tastiest – ­definitely not the healthiest – ­is bife de chorizo. It is a real steak with small fatty parts. It’s quite incredible, just melts in the mouth. There is an ever fatter variety, very popular in Argentina, with whole long pieces of fat included, which is called here asado, but this one I could not eat.

In Argentina they love their steak well-cooked, which is right against my preference, as I like it tender and bloody. Every denomination here needs to be decreased by one notch, so for example if you want it medium-rare, you ask for rare, for medium you ask for medium-rare etc. I insisted every time that I really want it rare, i.e. jugoso, sí, sí, ¡bien jugoso!

One of the many melt-in-the-mouth Argentinean bife de chorizo:

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