Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

On the Beaches of Barcelona

Raw oysters (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The best part of Vilassar de Mar was the blue. In the mornings, we woke to the bright glare of the ocean pinching sunlight from the sky and pitching it in through our window. The early hours were cool and dry, lulled by the soft crash of waves and shattered by the Renfe searing down the tracks with a load of commuters headed for the city center. In Barcelona, the merchants in La Boqueria would already be unrolling the shutters from their stands to reveal hanging hocks of jamón and stacked fruit, and the bleary-eyed tourists would be marching down Las Ramblas with bulky black Canons strapped to their chests. But in Vilassar de Mar, there was only ocean, a multi-hued blue dotted with sailboats and solitary paddle boarders cutting the surf.

Balcony, Villasar de Mar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

What we couldn’t figure out in Vilassar de Mar was when things were open. On the day that we arrived, just after lunchtime, the little town was shuttered. We wandered uphill from the shore, the only direction to wander, and passed cafés and shops, all closed. Even the grocery store participated in the afternoon siesta hours, only opening again late in the evening. We were still hesitant of ourselves, the only tourists on the deserted streets, slow in our Spanish, when what we should really have been speaking was Catalan.

Fresh mussels (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Choosing somewhere to eat is hard when you’re so fresh to a new place, when you want so badly to make the best decision, but are too hungry to decide. At least there weren’t that many options. Halfway up the hill, we found a small bakery that was still open. One lazy couple sat beneath a yellow umbrella, slowly picking at fish bones. The tables were covered in clean white cloths and inside the windows, glazed pastries billowed beneath the glass. » Continue reading this post…

Berlin to Burladingen, and Back

Opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The weather was unseasonably warm on the Alb. While Berlin’s skies were overcast and gray, raindrops dripping from every balcony and eave, Stuttgart’s sun was shining. A filmy blue sky unrolled over deeply green hills as we drove away from the city and into the rural landscape of the Schwäbische Alb. It’s called the Swabian Jura in English, but that feels so wrong to say, I just won’t.

I forget how pretty the Alb is when I’m not there, especially in late spring and early summer, when the trees have bloomed and the fields sprout full of wild daisies, dandelions and purple wildflowers. I love the unreal color of green coating the grass, the way the landscape looks freshly dipped in dew.

Flowers on the Alb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My brother and I are on our way to our grandfather’s house. My uncle is driving, we’re chatting about the upcoming world cup and which nations are the happiest on Earth. He outlines our program for the weekend. When you only fly south for a long weekend, your hours are tightly regulated. My aunt and uncle are coming for dinner, the next day, if the weather holds, we’ll go grilling on the Eichland. There’s talk of Eurovision.

Burladingen is all talk, it’s always all talk. By which I mean, we start a constant stream of visiting and chatting and catching up from the moment we set foot in my grandfather’s house to the moment we leave. And in the Southern Germany I know, there’s no talking without something tasty to go with it – creamy mushrooms wrapped up in crepes, Danishes and coffee, homemade pizza finished with a round of my grandfather’s bootleg raspberry liqueur, dark bread for breakfast with butter and jam, cake and cake and cake. “It’s not my fault if you go home hungry,” my grandfather says. » Continue reading this post…

City of Memory

In the Louvre (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“Paris is a great blind love, we are all hopelessly in love, but there is something green, a kind of mist, I don’t know.”

Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar

I remember eating snails for the first time. I was fifteen, in a dim small bistrot in the Quartier Latin, and the waiter laughed to see the foreign teenager eager for garden pests. I remember scooping them out with a little fork and slurping the salty flesh, the dusky mouth feel of butter, garlic, and herbs. The bistrot was split over two levels, and I sat with my family on the upper level, looking down on the heads of the Parisians below. Young and golden-haired girls. I don’t know why that made such an impression on me. The table was darkly wooden, worn smooth by elbows and swipes of the kitchen rag and the whole place was dark. Deep red tapestries on the wall and strange, small knick-knacks powdered with dust on wooden ledges. Every now and then, the grit of sand between my teeth.

I feel beautiful in Paris. As if the cobblestones kiss my feet, and the wind blowing up the green Seine smell is a caress along my cheek.

I remember once, sitting in a café in Montmartre, before I went back later and it all seemed forced, sitting there with friends and a carafe of wine and a basket of pain, feeling very old. Paris was fresh, wrapping me up in its magic cloak, and of course the wine was bad and the checkered tablecloth covered in tannin spots and bread crumbs, but there beside our table were the artists with their thick trompe l’oeils of the Eiffel Tower, the Lautrec posters I bought by the ream to later hang in my college dorm room, the cafés the cafés the cafés with tiny tables and even tinier wickerwork chairs. » Continue reading this post…

Tradition Looks A Lot Like Chocolate Cake

Sachertorte (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I didn’t eat Wienerschnitzel in Vienna. Even though it’s where Wienerschnitzel was born. Even though it’s something you’re supposed to do. When you only have three days in Vienna, sometimes the schnitzel falls by the wayside. And though I shall live, I feel as if I’ve missed something important. A part of history, a tradition.

Tradition and tourism are two things that don’t often end well together. Rarely do locals hang out where the tourists do. I’ve been to Times Square numerous times – but never while I was living in New York. In Berlin, taking visitors to see the Brandenburger Tor is like being a tourist myself, since there’s really no other reason to be in that part of town.  Food for tourists is usually bad. Food for tourists is usually traditional (or Pan-Asian, why is that?). Ergo, traditional food is usually bad.

Aida (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Detail inside Paul's Church, Vienna (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

In Vienna, tradition and history infuse the city, from its tourism to its local life. Of course, tradition is a bit hard to avoid in a city where a marvelous monument or palace or church graces every other corner, where the buildings lining the streets sport corniced gables or hidden frescoes and other finely-wrought details. Vienna is a city that takes its past as a cultural capital seriously. Even today, there is music and art everywhere.

One lovely part of Viennese history is a tradition of elegant cafes and pastry shops serving afternoon coffee and cake. From outside, the cafes emit a honey glow, inviting the cold and the tired inside with the promise of whipped cream and jam, marzipan, macaroon, hazelnut – and of course, a strong cup of hot coffee with just a splash of chocolate liqueur. Inside, confections, cakes and sweets slumber in sticky-sweet stacks behind polished glass.

Cafe Drechsler (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Wiener Riesenrad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At Hotel Sacher, we tried one of Vienna’s most famous desserts, the eponymous Sachertorte. » Continue reading this post…

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful: Dark & Stormy Cocktails

Dark & Stormy (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Please forgive me if I’ve already started humming Christmas carols… I get the feeling that in Berlin, the weather goes from summer to winter without even a nod to my favorite season. This is not a city that does chunky sweaters and burnt sienna trees. It’s a city that does all leaves/no leaves. Tank top/parka.

And you wonder why this isn’t a country that has apple or pumpkin pie. They don’t even have a season for it. What do you expect?

Not so long ago I was in Bermuda. Now there’s another night/day contrast we can talk about. A brilliant, beating sun, pink sand, water so blue it seemed unreal. A perpetual sunburn on my skin, cold drinks on the deck of a ship. Somebody please remind me why I left.

Beach in Bermuda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

While you can’t always take the island sunshine with you, there are some tokens of the beach that fit in a small bag. Gosling Black Seal Rum and ginger beer for one.

Dark & Stormies are simple, highball cocktails made with ginger beer and Gosling’s rum. And apparently yes, to make real Dark & Stormies you do need Gosling’s, as the drink is trademarked by the company, whose base is in Bermuda. It stands to reason then, that along with the Rum Swizzle, the Dark & Stormy is Bermuda’s national drink.

A Dark & Stormy is a beautiful drink. Sparkling, golden ginger beer topped with a jigger of rum that floats above the soda like a storm cloud. » Continue reading this post…

Zazdarovje!

Three shots of vodka (Eat Me Drink Me)

It was raining in St. Petersburg, and there were no street signs as David and I picked our way from Gorkovskaya Station to Pevchecky Street. Raindrops slowly wrecked the soft paper from our Lonely Planet pullout map as the station, which recalled a burnished bronze whale or a beached spaceship, receded around the curve of the road. It was more or less seven in the morning, and we had more or less slept in the airport that night.

Pevchecky St., whose location we’d more or less guessed since every map we’d looked at spelled it differently, would not be found, and our Russian, which was more or less nonexistent, was of no help. We were feeling very neither here nor there as we rounded another corner, past a street of gutted brick buildings draped in wafting blue plastic, when Pevchecky St. opened up before us. At least, we assumed so based on our ever-narrowing circles and multiple map cross-references. There were, of course, no street signs.

A rainy day in St. Petersburg (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Peter points west (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

St. Petersburg itself is a city neither here nor there. A closer look at its prettily-knit pastel canals reveals chipping walls and white paint going gray. Its gold-gilt domes and churches are covered with plastic wrap, and a layer of scum rims the decorative ponds. But hidden behind these crumbling facades and cold Soviet structures is a legacy of lavish excess and an underground St. Petersburg that hides itself from tourists – hipster coffee shops and old world cafés, elegant speakeasies and fine art. Beneath the city, these divergent worlds collide. In the Avtovo Station, giant pillars covered in intricate crystal designs line the platform; on each pillar, a crystal hammer and sickle. History is layered.

Curtains in the Hermitage (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Under Lenin's gaze (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soviet subways (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And food is hidden. The best food we found in St. Petersburg were in the most unexpected places. Halfway into a day-long walking tour, convinced I was about to die without caffeine, we stopped at the crumbling doorway of a kafe with half the letters missing – but inside was a spacious coffee shop, a long wooden table covered in MacBooks and baristas pulling carefully foamed cappuccinos. » Continue reading this post…

An Egg in the Hand (Post Script): Arepa e’ Huevo & Aji

Fried arepas (Eat Me. Drink Me)

After all this talking about Colombian food, the least I can do is leave you with a recipe.

One morning in Santa Marta, as I was recovering from a particularly retch-worthy day before (don’t drink the water…), we breakfasted on arepas e’ huevo. A typical arepa is a flattened, relatively bland disc of dough that’s been cooked in a skillet with just a little oil. Then, it’s topped with a slice of white farmer’s cheese and spicy ají.

But an arepa e’ huevo is something entirely different. This is an arepa, deep fried once, then stuffed with a raw egg and deep fried again. Double deep fried. Waistline death by delicious excess.

a satisfying stack of arepas (Eat Me. Drink Me)

I watched a few YouTube tutorials on making these arepas, and decided that it was going to be either impossible or phenomenal. Though watching someone deftly slip an egg into a tiny arepa glistening with hot oil is supposed to inspire you with confidence, it had the complete opposite effect on me. So I told the friend coming to dinner that depending on the way the experiment turned out, we might just be having ají for dinner.

In the end, inviting a friend to dinner turned out to be my saving grace. There’s too much to coordinate on your own – making sure the arepas don’t stick together in the oil, holding one open and dropping in the egg, sealing the hole shut with dough and frying it again. But the process is fun, and at the end of it, you’ve worked up quite an appetite.

Dropping an egg into the arepa (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas con Huevo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

My dimly-lit Berlin kitchen might be pretty far from a breezy seaside town on the Colombian coast, but just one bite of these delicious, rich, and dense arepas brought me right back.

Hot arepas con huevo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas con Huevo with feta and aji (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Arepas e’ Huevo

For the ají:
2 chiles
1 yellow onion
3 tbsp. » Continue reading this post…

Learning to Speak Spanish Part III – Comer

mojarra (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Sometimes when it’s snowing in Berlin, like now, and I look out the window at the white flakes fall, I can’t help but wish I were back in Colombia. Here, we breakfast before it’s light outside, coffee cups clutched close – necessary as much for their warmth as for the caffeine that propels us into our workdays.

In Colombia, breakfast was typically arepa with steak and eggs, café con leche for me, tinto for him and always, always freshly pressed juices. And I don’t know whether it was the joy of waking up late every day, of having somebody make me breakfast, or of eating outside at a plastic patio table with a balmy breeze ruffling against my skin like a kiss – but there was an ease in these mornings that I miss.

It all seems so long ago now, and I suppose a month and a half is a long time, when you’ve been subsumed into your routine, where you have a workday and projects and you see the same people on the weekends. It’s becoming hard for me to recall what Colombia was, except for the faint burn line still on the back of my legs and the memory of a taste.

gallina with rice and yuca (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Most meals in Colombia exist with this balance: meat, potato, yuca, patacones and aji. Often there was rice, and if it all seems very starch-heavy, it was. There were meals where I found myself craving something green, eating everything from the parsley garnish to the raw onion and tomato salad meant to add an acid bite to fried fish.

And here I’ll digress for a moment to talk about the fried fish, mojarra mostly, which we ate copiously on the north coast. At one small outdoor restaurant in Santa Marta, where all of the tables were covered in thick green plastic, the fish was fried to such a crisp that you could even eat the fins. » Continue reading this post…

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