Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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…

Learning to Speak Spanish Part II – Besar

Colombian fruit salad (Eat Me. Drink Me)

I don’t think I need to explain why I learned my second Spanish verb. First, you want, and want is sweet, but a kiss – a kiss is even sweeter.

There were plenty of other sweets in Colombia. Small rest stops lined the road from Bogotá to San Gil; sometimes these were open-air stores, sometimes just a flapping tarp above a long wooden table covered with piles of candies, pastries, and fruits. There were wafers sandwiching white, nutty nougat and small plastic cups of arequipe, a creamy caramel just begging to be spooned into your mouth. There were bins full of milky ice cream bars. There were garish pink- and yellow-stained sticks made of pure sugar to celebrate the New Year. On the beach, women and men wandered up and down past the open tents hawking cocadas from the stack piled high atop their heads. They were sinfully good – thick shavings of freshly-grated coconut slathered with caramel.

fruit in colombia (Eat Me. Drink Me)

Colombian citrus (Eat Me. Drink Me)

But perhaps even better than all the sweets were the fruits. In Colombia, you could try a different fruit every day and never run out of days. Besides your array of typical tropical delights, Colombia is home to a number of fruits that aren’t found anywhere else. There’s zapote, borojó, curuba, mamoncillo, annona, and chontaduro as well as passion fruit, guava, mango, apple, pear, blackberry, strawberry and more than six types of banana. There’s the pitalla, a little yellow grenade with creamy white insides and peppery black seeds – which apparently explodes your intestines when you eat too many of them. Or the uchuva, known in English as physalis – plump, firm, and thin-skinned and wrapped in papery, veined leaves.

Colombian Fresa (Eat Me. Drink Me)

fresa jugo (Eat Me. Drink Me)

But my favorite by far was guanábana (soursop in English), if only because each time I saw the giant fruit with its green prickled skin, I could follow up with a modified rendition of the Muppet song. » Continue reading this post…

Learning to Speak Spanish Part I – Querer

lengua in traditional colombian salsa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I learned Spanish verbs in this order: to want, to kiss, to eat. And I learned them not because I had a sudden interest in educating myself or for any other practical purpose, but for the only reason anybody learns anything when there isn’t any reason to.

We met buying jewelry. Or rather, I was buying. He was selling, working with a Mexican who made the pieces – rings, necklaces, and bracelets shaped from silverware. I thought – it’s me! Food and jewelry combined! – and I don’t know, I was feeling exuberant and chatty and the weather was uncharacteristically balmy for Berlin and we started talking. And now I’m learning to speak Spanish.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time practicing at the source, so to speak. After spending Christmas in the US, we flew to Colombia for three weeks to visit his family. On our first real night in Bogotá, he said, “my uncle is coming for dinner,” and I thought, You can do this. It’s good practice. Your five Spanish classes are totally sufficient to say ‘Hi! I am fine! My Spanish is bad!’ But apparently, when you say, “my uncle” in Colombia, it means, “my entire extended family.”

So that night, I met everyone within a hundred mile radius – aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, an uncle’s wife’s sister. And maybe my Spanish wasn’t as good as I thought, because “No hablo mucho español” didn’t get me very far. I was asked a number of questions I’m not sure I answered correctly, learned to dance vallenato, and had my first taste of Colombian cooking – lechona, pig skin stuffed with pork, rice, peas, potatoes and spices and cooked in a brick oven all day until the skin is crackled and the rice suffused with the fragrance of pork. » Continue reading this post…

The One and Only

Hagia Sohpia, Istanbul (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
tea, Turkey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Let me tell you something about standing downwind from the pungent armpit of a singing Turkish man.

Garlic is better in than out.

Thank God for the breeze blowing up the smell of the Marmara Sea, for the perfection of the gulls as they glide beside the boat. I’ve never noticed before how they hold their stick legs taught against their tails when they fly. How effortlessly aerodynamic they are. The other passengers on the ferry chuck scraps of bread to the gulls. Every few minutes, a man with a tray piled high with simit scoots past our knees and sells these ring-shaped breads doused with sesame seeds. Most of them end up bobbing in the ocean in bits after having been thrown to, and rejected by, the gulls.

Marmara Sea, Turkey (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The group of men beside us is now singing dirty Turkish songs. Not that I speak Turkish, but a dirty song sounds the same in any language. The second verse breaks off into raucous laughter, someone makes a jibe – the laughter doubles. I am also inclined to believe these are dirty Turkish songs, because they’ve just finished comparing the size of their willies with each other. Classy.

The men are silent for a while. They lean against the railing and throw bread to the birds. One man begins to sing alone. It’s a sadder song, and even though his voice isn’t very good, the rest of the group listens quietly as he sings, and when he stops it is quiet again.

I have found nothing endearing about this group of men. They are as crude as a group of drunk fußball fans singing national songs in the U-bahn or that group of guys at a party doing keg stands. Awfulness is not restricted to one specific culture. And yet it is this solitary singing that makes me feel the most out of place. » Continue reading this post…