Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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…

A Murmur, the Wind, Some Fish, a Sea: Homemade Pizza Dough

Baltic Sea (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Everything sounds like ocean in the Baltic. The wind brushing through the tops of trees, sand sweeping against itself, the hypnotic hiss of fire on wood – even the ocean sounds like ocean. I felt disoriented my first morning, awake before the rest of the house and out for a walk. There was a brisk wind carrying the smell of brine and fish, driftwood and the specific salinity of coastal air.

Our house was part of a series of small summer houses, all pained the same cream color with the same thatched roof and thick green shutters. There were clearly big plans underway, and the clean green lawn outside our windows dropped off to an abrupt construction site. Swaths of bare earth still half frozen with winter, caked with the ridges of a dump truck’s wheels and forlorn palettes of latticed wood and bricks – this was our ocean view.

I wandered around the development, even ventured into the woods where I found an abandoned locker room whose placement I couldn’t quite comprehend. Why one would need to shower and change so far from the water was a mystery to me. The only solution being that the badgered ground was covering up the remnants of an old swimming pool. Children’s summer sunshine memories buried under frozen dirt and soon covered with vacation homes.

We must give the archeologists something to do.

For a while it was nice to be in the open air. Smelling ocean. Blinking in unadulterated sunlight. No big buildings, no noise, no city hemming-in. But I had underestimated the wind and I desperately wanted a cup of coffee.

Back in the house, people were waking up, and our bedraggled-looking crew grew in the kitchen. The sound swelled, murmurings, an oceanic susurrus with the break of laughter.

Ostsee (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

am Ostsee (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Officially, we sat down to breakfast around noon – but for that, the spread was plentiful and pretty. » Continue reading this post…

Woo Me With Roses and Roast Pigeon

St. John's wine, London (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s not hard to make me fall in love. For those of you who are trying, here are a few tips. Buy me a set of copper saucepans. Preferably from Paris. Preferably antique. Know that I only ever drink cappuccinos, and order them for me when we go out. Bring me gifts of strangely-shaped fruits – like baby pears or blue melons or something with an unpronounceable name in a language neither you nor I can understand. Or, take me on a weekend jaunt to London to eat at St. John’s, and there, ply me with brains and liver, bone marrow, goat’s curd, and other things I’ve never tried.

Oh, St. John’s. Oh, Fergus Henderson. The man who changed my life with a piece of pork belly.

This is my second trip to St. John’s, the first being almost a year ago exactly. And though this isn’t the Smithfield outpost, rather the newer one in Spittlefield, and though there isn’t bone marrow and parsley salad on this menu, I feel both giddy and supremely content at the same time.

I’m here with Ambrice and her parents. We’re sitting at a corner table, getting cozy with a bottle of chardonnay. Our meal comes out in hiccups – cold lamb’s tongue salad with arugula and herb-soaked breadcrumbs, foie gras on toast, cauliflower and chickpea salad dribbled with spicy mustard, goat curd with caramelized onions and mint on giant slabs of bread. We sop up the sauces with freshly baked sourdough crusts.

It’s sitting here that I am reminded, once again, of how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do, how I can’t wait to see where we go. » Continue reading this post…