Archive for the ‘Ingredients’ Category

Chef’s guide to Rome

May 18, 2012 - 4:00 pm 11 Comments


Updated April 28, 2013

So, you’re visiting Rome? Maybe for the first time? And you’re wondering where to eat and drink? I’ve had lots of requests for tips like this from friends and foodies lately. So I decided to help my everyone out  by recommending a few places around Rome that I think offer quality food, drinks and all things related. Basically “Rome from a chef’s point of view”. Yes, it’s all about eating and drinking – if you’re looking for fashion shopping tips, I’m sure there’s a blog for that too…somewhere else.

Apart from the obvious recommendation which is Ristorante Metamorfosi, the place where I am working, I propose a number of places in or near the center of Rome.
Most names on my list are places where I tend to go back time after time since I have found them to keep offering a constant high quality. The rest, a few places in here, I have found very interesting at first visit, and they have a good probability of becoming my future favorite hangouts.


Er Buchetto

This tiny hole-in-the-wall is more of a snack bar than a real restaurant, but this does not mean you will leave hungry. The name “Er Buchetto” actually means “small hole” – very suiting considering its size. This is one of those typical places that chefs love – excellent food in the simplest of ways. The place has a long history and is one of those unbeatable spots to find a bit of the atmosphere of ancient times. The porchetta is the way to go. Either as stuffing in a piece of white bread or on its own. Have a plate or two of marinated vegetables and cheese on the side and wash the whole thing down with a carafe of house red. If you’re lucky (or willing to wait) you might find a seat inside, otherwise a porchetta sandwich to-go is the perfect snack while touring the city.
Via del viminale 2F (Termini)


Just next to the Castroni shop on Via Cola di Rienzo. This is a historic bottega  in 2 sections, filled to the brim with Italian specialities. One section of the bottega offers buy-and-take-home products like cured meats, cheeses, pasta, conserves, truffles and spirits, the other part offers cooked food, both hot and cold, meant to be eaten at one of the standup tables or even taken home. Some  examples – cooked meat and fish, salads, pasta, lasagna, vegetables and one of the best Roman fast foods – supplì  - deep-fried risotto balls!
Via Cola di Rienzo 204 (Prati neighborhood)


Head to this Panini shop in the Monti neighborhood if you’re looking for a quick meal of good bread filled with Italian quality ingredients. Don’t expect to sit down since the place is tiny, and bringing your panino to the nearby piazza where seating is plentiful is a great idea anyway! You will find an ample choice of different panini and obviously beer and wine to go with that. Service is excellent and they will happily guide through their selection of panini, even in English.
Via del Boschetto 112 (Monti neighborhood)

Pastificio on Via della Croce

Pastificio is a generic name for the shop of a pasta maker. This particular pastificio makes pasta of course, but as a bonus it also serves  bargain plates of pasta for lunch on weekdays. These guys offer at least two varieties of pasta a day – all of them classic recipes from Rome and beyond. Lunch starts at 1 pm. Sharp. So sharp you can set you clock by it. Probably the only thing in Rome that begins on announced time. For 4 € you get a fresh pasta dish served on a plastic plate and then you help yourself to a glass of wine at the counter and some water from the bottles at the tables. A couple of minutes before 1 pm a line will start to form and business begins, so be there on time. Some examples of what might be served here are tonnarelli cacio e pepe, meat-filled ravioli, gnocchetti with tomato and tuna sauce, taglioini with butter, ham and green peas or amatriciana.
Via della Croce 8 (Centro storico)

Roscioli - Salumeria e Ristorante

Roscioli is a upscale delicatessen-cum-restaurant where you can have a outstanding lunch or dinner. Start off with  some cold cuts, burrata with sun dried tomatoes and a dish of pasta. The Roman classics  Carbonara, Cacio e pepe and Amatriciana are prime choices. They also have loads of foodie bling-bling to take home – oils, pastas, jams, salts, wines and so much more.
Via dei Giubbonari 21 (Centro Storico)
Tel: +39 06 6875287

Antico Forno Roscioli

This is one of the best bakeries in town, serving sandwiches made-to-order and sublime thin-crust pizza as well as selling delicious  bread, pastries and scrumptious biscotti. Try the pizza bianca with a slice of mortadella, the pizza rossa and a handful of “brutti ma buoni” cookies for those with a sweet tooth.
Via dei Chiavari 34 (Centro Storico)


A definite foodie destination – even featured in Anthony Bourdains No Reservations.
Gabriele Bonci makes pizza al taglio (by the slice) extraordinaire. Slowly risen dough, first-class flour and highest quality topping ingredients makes for a special treat. (And a higher-than-normal price)
Apart from pizzas with both classic toppings and loony new combinations, Bonci has some of Rome’s best deep-fried rice balls.
Via della Meloria 43 (Vatican)


Situated in the Parioli district, just north of the city center. This modern restaurant holds one Michelin star and serves contemporary cuisine with Italian flavors interpreted by young chefs. This is the place to go when you want to splurge on a memorable meal with first-class service, or just to enjoy a contrast to pizzas and pasta-laden trattorias.
Via Giovanni Antonelli 30/32 (Parioli neighborhood)
Tel: +39 06 8076839

Antico Arco

On top of the Gianicolo Hill (which is just west of the Trastevere neighborhood) you will find this restaurant that successfully blends traditional flavors and modern preparations in a contemporary setting. Service is friendly and what comes out of the kitchen is proof of the chef’s solid skills. Try the varm mozzarella in crispy phyllo dough or the anchovy, burrata and zucchini flower gratin. Don’t miss the carbonara with truffles or the excellent amatriciana.
Piazzale Aurelio 7 (Janiculum Hill)
Tel: +39 06 5815274

La Gatta Mangiona
In Monteverde, south-west of the center and just next to the Pamphilj park you find this restaurant and pizzeria. The atmosphere here is noisy and effervescent - just the way it’s supposed to be in Rome!
This place offers an extensive menu, so finding something for everyone’s taste shouldn’t be a problem. The menu includes some of the best fritti in town - crispy supplì with new and old flavor pairings, deep-fried zucchini flowers, baccalà and potato crocchette – then a long list of pizzas from their wood-burning oven, and on to tweaked pastas and secondi from the traditional cuisine. They offer a nice selection of wines and artisan beers. And don’t forget to scrutinize the chalkboard thoroughly – the seasonal specials here are well worth a try.
Via Federico Ozanam 30 (Monteverde neigborhood)
Tel: +39 06 5346702

Nanà Vini e Cucina

In an extremely central location like this (just next to Fontana di Trevi) finding a decent place to eat can often be a nightmare. Romans themselves steer clear of these areas when it comes to dining since it’s hard to find a restaurant that actually serves you anything that could be categorized as flavorful and genuine. Nanà is an exception to that rule. The restaurant offers Neapolitan cuisine with simple but very tasty seafood dishes, pastas and pizza. Good coffee and traditional Neapolitan desserts.
Via della Panetteria 37 (Centro storico)
Tel: +39 06 69190750

Da Danilo

A very good trattoria choice on the Esquiline Hill, not far from the main station Termini. The obvious picks here are the traditional pastas, especially Carbonara and Cacio e pepe. The mixed antipasti is a great way to start your meal.
Via Petrarca 13 (Termini)
Tel: +39 06 77200111

Trattoria Monti

Another good restaurant on the Esquiline Hill, just a few minutes walk from the Termini station. The cuisine has its roots in the Italian region “Le Marche” which is situated on Italy’s east coast, between mountain and sea. Although one might find inspiration from other regions on the menu, many of the dishes are classics from the Cucina Marchigiana.
Via di San Vito 13 (Termini)
Tel: +39 06 4466573

Tempio di Iside

Never mind the service which at times can be more than a bit confusing. Come here for the food. Excellent raw and cooked seafood starters, as well as risotto “frutti di mare” and pastas.  For main course fresh fish and seafood can be chosen from a display and cooked to order. It can seem a bit pricey, but it’s still great value for money when we’re talking really fresh seafood.
Via Pietro Verri 11 (On the corner of Via Labicana)
Tel: +39 06 700 4741


I would no doubt dub this one of Rome’s best pizzerias. The pizzas here are much closer to the Neapolitan thick-crust style than the Roman thin-crust style. The soft dough is carefully crafted from quality flour and is left to ferment and rise slowly with great results. You can find both traditional toppings and more creative combinations.
Its location is a bit out of the way, but with the Metro A line it’s still pretty easy to reach.
Via Statilio Ottato 110/116
Tel: +39 06 7154 6118


Pizzeria Tonda is actually a cousin of Pizzeria Sforno, and you notice it by looking at the menu which offers basically the same selection of well-executed pizzas and excellent deep-fried appetizers. The spot is a bit out of the way in an residential area and you might want to catch a cab to get there. Tonda has one ace up its sleeve though, it’s open on Sundays!
Via Valle Corteno 31 (Montesacro neighborhood)
Tel: +39 06 8180960

Pizzeria Florida

Very good “pizza al taglio” (by the slice) in a great downtown location, where trying a few different pizza slices won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Great place for a quick lunch or an afternoon snack while sightseeing in the neighborhood.
Via Florida 25 (Just across from Largo Argentina)

Excellent fritti, supplì and pastas. Chef Arcangelo Dandini serves very finely executed versions of classic Roman dishes. This is upscale “Cucina Romana” at its best.
Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli 59 (Prati neighborhood)
Tel: +39 06 3210992


Mondo di Laura
When I don’t bake my own cookies, this is my supplier. Laura Raccah bakes cookies and baked goods with inspiration from Tel Aviv, London and New York. All products are kosher, made from organic ingredients and are sold in very cute, gift-friendly packaging. The best and most convenient place to buy them is Lauras little shop in the Ghetto. Don’t forget to try the cookie named “Pepita” – dark chocolate chip cookies with pink Himalayan salt. Divine!
Via del Portico d’Ottavia 6 (Ghetto)


Does anyone of you like chocolate? This is a real chocolate factory from 1923, renovated in later years and now complete with chocolate shop, café, bar and restaurant – decorated with old chocolate moulds and factory equipment.  The buffet lunch is good value for money and the setting is nice. A bonus is that you from here have a great possibility to explore the San Lorenzo neighborhood where most tourists never go.
Via Tiburtina 135 (San Lorenzo neighborhood)


Old-school pastry shop where both décor, recipes and flavors are well conserved from an epoch long before I was born. The shop dates back to 1916 but the pastries are fresh! You won’t find fancy looking cakes or patisserie a la francaise, but you will find classic Roman sweets and a variety of simple but tasty calorie bombs.
Via dello Statuto 60 (Termini)


Mercato Esquilino

This is a cool place to visit even if you’re not planning on doing any actual grocery shopping. Definitely the most multi-cultural market in Rome is situated just a stone’s throw away from Termini train station. Here you will find - in addition to the common fish, meat, vegetables and fruits – heaps of exotic ingredients from Asia, Africa, South America and beyond.
Via Principe Amadeo & Via Ricasoli (Termini)

Mercato di Campagna Amica del Circo Massimo

This Farmer’s market is held every weekend in the Circus Maximus neighborhood, bringing regional produce (fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, wine, olive oil etc) from all over the Lazio area closer to the city people. Here you will find good local products offered at honest prices straight from its producers. And it’s a lot of fun to walk around here too, especially when you observe how much the offered produce changes from season to season. Open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Via di San Teodoro 74 (Circus Maximus)


On a cobble-stone street in the Monti neighborhood (and just next to Tricolore bakery) you find this charming little boutique in the herb-dealing business. This is a real promised land for a chef, with a huge amount of fresh herbs in pots, shoots, leaves, salads, spices, seeds, plant growing utensils and more. Simply put, a great place to go when you need to add some herby fragrance to your cooking (or your balcony).  At Aromaticus, owners Luca and Francesca also serves light lunches from 1pm. Herb-filled salads, fish carpaccio, and hand chopped steak tartare are some examples from the menu. For sure, a shop of this type is bound to become all the rage among us city dwellers.  Even the old Roman retirees living across the street has learned to pronounce “urban farming” in near perfect English.
Via Urbana 134 (Monti neighborhood)

Er Cimotto

This is the greengrocer I go to when I need to find something out of the ordinary. It can be an exotic fruit, a hard-to-find vegetable or a particular berry. They always carry a good selection of fresh herbs as well as bread, pasta and other staples.
Piazza della Malva 6 (Trastevere neighborhood)

La Tradizione

One of my favorite shops in Rome. Few places has such an outstanding selection of quality cured meats and salami. A fair selection of interesting cheeses makes it even harder not to buy more than you planned.
While you’re in the neighborhood don’t forget to stop by Pizzarium for a pizza slice, it’s just a few steps away.
Via Cipro 8 (Vatican)

Beppe e i suoi formaggi

This cheese (and wine) shop in the Ghetto carries an impressive selection of cheeses from both Italy and France. There’s also salumi , rustic bread and a selection of gourmet products. You can buy to take home or sit down and eat in the small wine bar section.
Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9a/11 (Ghetto)


This gourmet food shop has multiple locations throughout the city. Here you will find tons of food and ingredients from all over the world – a wonderland for expats and exchange students looking for a taste of home – or for a chef looking for unusual ingredients. They are also well-known for their own coffee blends and in some of their locations they serve very good coffee, in others I prefer to  just stay away from the coffee.
The biggest and best Castroni shop is on Via Cola di Rienzo 196. (Prati neighborhood)

When you are looking for kitchen equipment and tools, this should be one of your first stops. A well-stocked shop with a good mix of home kitchen tools and professional gear. Peroni sells a multitude of products ranging from knives, pots&pans, home appliances, utensils and drinking accessories to a big selection of pastry molds and necessities. Maybe you are looking for some Italian specials like an automated ravioli maker, a parmesan grater or the useful tagliapuntarelle?
Piazza dell’Unità 29 (Prati neighborhood)


La Barrique

Wine bar in the Monti area with a nice atmosphere, a good selection of Italian and French wines and a small but well-composed menu of tasty dishes, ranging from cheese and cold cuts to scrumptious pastas and classic main courses.
Via del Boschetto 41 (Monti neighborhood)

Open Baladin

This is the place to enjoy a great selection of Italian craft beer both on tap and bottled. They also serve quite a range of beer-friendly fare - burgers, flavored potato chips, fried scrocchette and pastas. The atmosphere is very informal and the comfy sofas can easily make you stay longer than planned.
Via Degli Specchi 6 (Centro Storico)


Small and unpretentious little beer pub where all the passion and energy goes into selecting and serving many great beers from around the world. Staff is exceptionally good at guiding drinkers in choosing the right beer according to their taste.
Via Benedetta 25 (Trastevere neighborhood)


An amazing beer pub with a wide selection of international beers and whiskys. Decent pub grub too! Slightly off the beaten track for tourists but well worth the effort to seek out. Open late, until 4 in the morning Thursday to Saturday (to 2 am the other days). Can’t get any better!
Via Portuense 82 (Between Trastevere and Testaccio neighborhoods)

Il Goccetto

A nice long list of wines by the glass makes this a great place. Pair this with friendly service and some traditional Italian snacks and we have a winner.
Via dei Banchi Vecchi 14 (Centro Storico)


If you want to learn more about Italian wines, here’s an excellent start. I went to a very interesting tasting a couple of years ago with Vinoroma founder Hande Leimer and have been a proud supporter ever since. Vinoroma does guided tastings, seminars, wine & cheese lunches and more. Tastings are held in a downtown wine studio with a thousand year old wine cellar.

Vino al Vino

This is a small neighborhood wine bar, often packed with wine lovers and quite noisy but it’s the perfect place to hang out with locals. They serve simple cold and hot fare, cheese and cold cuts, pies and their legendary caponata. The wine list is interesting and the prices are very reasonable.
Via dei Serpenti 19 (Monti neighborhood)

Caffè Paranà

This café serves a good espresso, and the fact that it is just in front of the Termini station makes it the best shot in this area.
Piazza dei Cinquecento 39 (Termini)

Tazza d’Oro

Just steps away from Pantheon, this is one of my favorite coffee roasters in Rome and a good place to start exploring Rome from a coffee drinker’s perspective.  Apart from the normal espresso, one of their big sellers is the Granita di caffè con panna, coffee granita with whipped cream – a good way to cool down in summer.
Via degli Orfani 84 (Centro storico)

Ai Tre Scalini

This charming little place in the Monti neighborhood can be found in the ivy-covered building on Via Panisperna (between Serpenti and Boschetto). It’s the perfect place for an after-dinner drink on a warm summer’s night. Usually packed with people both indoors and outdoors, occupying (more correctly “blocking”) the narrow street outside.
Via Panisperna 251 (Monti neighborhood)

Domus Birrae

Beer! My shop and tasting area of choice - drink-in or take out. Vast assortment of artisan beers, especially from Italy and Northern Europe. They also sell all the supplies needed by a home brewer.
Via Cavour 8 (Monti neighborhood)

Salotto 42

This is the wine bar of choice for a chunk of Rome’s chic crowd when having an aperitivo or an evening drink. The bar itself is very stylish and quite welcoming, but my favorite custom (especially on a warm summer’s evening) is to take my drink outside into the small Piazza di Pietra and marvel over the 11 gigantic columns of Tempio di Adriano just in front of the bar.
Piazza di Pietra 42 (Centro Storico)


No doubt some of the best gelato in Rome is to be found in this hole in the wall shop conveniently located in the Monti neighborhood. An array of flavors ranging from traditional zabaione, stracciatella or pistacchio to more modern creations like pear and gorgonzola, tobacco-flavoured chocolate or Amarena cherry and beer. Although having been open for less than a year, its new location on a quiet backstreet piazza, has quickly made it a favorite spot. Ice cream lovers from all over Rome as well as tourists queue up here on sunny days. Piazza degli Zingari 5 (Monti neighborhood)

Gelateria dei Gracchi
On fair walking distance from the Vatican, this is the perfect spot for an ice cream after a visit to the Pope’s crib. Great gelato made from fresh ingredients and seasonal fruits makes this a favorite spot with both locals and visitors.
Hazelnut, pistacchio and chocolate & rum are three praised classics to try.
Via dei Gracchi, 272 (Prati neighborhood)

Neve di Latte

Excellent gelateria close to the Maxxi museum in the Flaminio neighborhood, just north of the city center. Slightly off the beaten track maybe, but well worth the hike, especially in combination with a visit to the museum. They don’t have a very big selection of flavors, but the ones they do have are spot on! Both their pistacchio and hazelnut ice creams are illegally good.
Via Luigi Poletti 6 (Flaminio neighborhood)


Katie Parla

Whenever I have doubts about any food or eating-related issue in Rome, I usually turn to Katie Parla, an authority on the subject of eating out in Rome. She’s got both a nice blog (Parla Food) with lots of information about Rome, as well as a superb app called Katie Parla’s Rome with tons of suggestions on food, drinks and shopping.
You can even book a private food tour of Rome with this lady!


Now have a great time in Rome!

Foraging Rome - The Great Caper Leaf Caper

November 14, 2011 - 2:12 pm 5 Comments

Capers plant growing on Rome's ruins

Rome’s archeological sites are rich in history, as well as food. Even in a city like Caput Mundi you can treat yourself to foraged food if you just know where to look.

I had noticed the caper plants growing on a lot of the ancient walls, but until I learned of a Cypriot delicacy, a story told by Katie Parla, it never occurred to me to touch for them, let alone cook with them. I mean, if you want capers you’d buy it in the market, right? Well, it’s not really that simple. Sure, you’ll find both caper berries, the big elongated green fruits, and caper buds, the beginning flower buds, at the market. But this was not what I was looking for. I was hunting for the leaves. After a bit of experimentation, and using a simple pickling process, I transformed the ubiquitous caper plant into a tangy side dish. The pickled leaves can be used to season meat, fish or vegetables or even make up a substantial ingredient in a Mediterranean salad. Once pickled the leaves will keep for a long time in the refrigerator. When in season you can use the flower buds and caper berries in a similar way by applying the same procedure as for the leaves.

Continue to the whole post and the recipes at Parla Food

Pickled caper leaves


Can you smell that? Olfaction satisfaction

June 15, 2011 - 9:36 am 7 Comments


This week I am taking a sensory questionnaire about the sense of smell and its effects, answering a number of interesting questions in a straightforward manner:

1. What does your sense of smell mean to you?

Being a chef, my sense of smell is of extreme importance, I would say, second only to the sense of taste and the ability to evaluate and balance the basic tastes – salt, sweet, sour, bitter and the new kid on the block, umami (which is hardly definable anyway).
In the kitchen the sense of smell has many functions and can be really useful, but just like so many other things, it has to be trained right. It will tell you if the meat you´re cooking is of good quality, it will tell you when you left something in the oven, it will tell you that you forgot to throw away those uncooked pieces of fish and it will even tell you when the skillet is just about hot enough.

Everyone’s smell-analyzing profile is different due to distinct genetics, training, background and memories. Not everyone registers the same result when faced with the same scents.
This is useful for us in the restaurant kitchen, since we often consciously try to bring out “taste memories” from the guests’ past. Since flavor to a great degree equals smell, this is where much of the work has to be done. It’s not every day that it happens, but if you manage to strike the right note and bring out some of those far-away taste memories, dinner can become supernatural.
Smell works in a much more “immediate” way than for example the sense of vision. The smell is a direct broadband connection to your brain without firewalls. We are taught and used to criticize, contemplate and doubt whatever our eyes register - but the sense of smell is something that goes straight into your bone marrow and you can’t stop it.

Until not long ago, I have had the unfortunate habit of being a mouth-breather, missing out on a lot of enjoyable scents and some important information. This happened especially often when I was stressed, intensely concentrated or had been in the company of cats. These days, with greater awareness, I manage to control my breathing to my favor.
Breathing deeply through your nose is more important than you think.

2. What are some of your strongest scent memories?

Coffee roasting - I used to live in a small apartment close to a place called “Lilla Kafferosteriet”, artisan coffee roasters in Malmö, Sweden. It´s a small place in the city center where they roast and serve a variety of coffees paired with great coffee knowledge. During days that the wind was to my favor, I could have that lovely fat, aromatic, funky, spellbinding, toasted scent entering my open window. It’s a smell so intense, so complex, I couldn’t stop sniffing it. I became addicted enough to actually do a small detour every day on my way to work, just to have a quick dose of that seducing, invigorating scent. It’s a smell I don’t come across often any more, the scent that is released in the moment of roasting the coffee beans. Freshly brewed coffee I smell a number of times every day – but the coffee roasting smell is a rare one and never fails to put me back in that open window on the second floor on a tepid spring day.

3. What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking &/or your

I love the smell of citrus peel, especially lemon, but I hate the fact that it’s not a lingering smell, it’s so volatile, so short-lived and as a perfume it loses its value quite quickly. Potency of a scent is not only in its opening attack, but also in its ability to linger, stay around, wrap spaces and persons in its magic.

Sourdough bread. Whenever I go to a restaurant the first thing I do is smell the bread, it’s a decent indicator of quality, not only of the bread but also of the food in general. Restaurants that know how to bake good bread often know how to cook good food.

Dill pickles – its briny sweet and sour overture followed by the sharp aromatic properties of the dill is just an otherworldly combination that leaves little room for ambiguity - you either love it or hate it.

Red peppers roasting over an open flame. It smells divine and tastes just as good.

Tomato vines. It’s the one part of the tomato plant that actually smells like what you wish the tomato itself tasted like.

Japanese tatami mats. I usually don’t notice their smell much until I get close – lying down on a tatami covered floor with closed eyes is a dead sure way to experience pure nature indoors. It’s a warm smell of hay, herbs, horses, soil and what your sun-tanned skin smells like after a day at the beach.

4. Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?

Gasoline for me is a highly intriguing scent. So complex, so lingering, so heavy but yet in a refined way. I might have created the liking of gasoline-like smells quite early. As a kid, and later youngster, I divided my time between the kitchen (natural habitat of my mother) and the garage workshop (natural habitat of my father) which meant equal parts of vanilla and motor oil.

I also get some sort of positive reaction to stinky cheeses. I mean, not just the normal cheesy smell. The ones that have a smell that makes you think about sour mold, garbage truck or smelly feet, smelly to the point where amputation might be necessary, though. I guess the fact that they are cheeses makes it alright, would I find the same smell in any other place, I would run.

Natto. I had heard so much about it before I went to Japan. There are only two Natto-related groups of people. Lovers and haters. And the haters are as usual the loudest. So it sure wasn’t a positive image of Natto I had built up in my mind. It took quite some time for me to actually dare ordering it in a restaurant. When I finally did, I approached it very slowly as if it was some sort of radioactive substance.
The first sensation was a pungent odor of hot garbage and yeast. As soon as that first punch of olfactory abuse had faded, other smells came into focus. I could perceive some blue cheese, ammonia, but above all, a very consistent scent of coffee. Not a smell of old rancid coffee beans, but a smell of fresh ground lightly roasted coffee. The combined impression of the smell was – not bad at all! I know many Western cheeses that have a far worse perfume. Then on to the first chopstick-full bite of it. Taste was yeasty, definitely yeasty. Then a slight metallic sensation tickled the tongue and at last there was an acidic subset of flavors that in a way amplified the other impressions. The taste was definitely not my cup of tea. But there was one last thing. Consistency. Worst of all - unlike anything that would be considered normal in the Western world. Intact, fairly firm beans in a stringy, sticky fermented, almost bubbly goo that will cover the inside of your mouth although you try so hard to swallow it. I could smell natto any day, but eating it – no thank you.

5. Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.

A smell that immediately makes me go crazy, and awakes the hunger in me, no matter if I just ate, is the smell of barbecue. The perfume of slowly burning wood in combination with small drops of fat and meat juices dripping down on the hot coals with a loud hissing noise, creating flames and sending small droplets of extremely perfumed steam in every direction. On a person like me, this works even better than female pheromones to get me going.

Another, certainly adorable smell is “Arrack“. It’s a liquor of Southeast Asian origin made of fermented and distilled juice from palm trees and sugar cane. It’s considered the predecessor of rum but has a sweeter complex smell with notes of caramelized vanilla, toasted almonds and smoky chocolate. It’s perfect to use in desserts and baking, makes a splendid pairing with chocolate.

6. What smells do you most dislike?

I hate the smell of a newly opened, newly printed book. If the smell is strong enough it makes me want to throw up. It’s a stench of vomit mixed with a smell of the “forklift section” of an IKEA warehouse and a bit of cheap glue. The first moments of opening a new cookbook can be quite a suffering because of its opposing nature – beautiful pictures and horrible smell.

I’m not fond of the smell that develops when welding metals together, a really harsh smell of burning metal, fireworks, with a chemical tone to it.

The smell of old fish. Can’t stand it – but it’s a very good signal that someone needs to go through the contents of the fridge.

The stinky, murky water that remains in the vase a couple of days after the flowers have died.

7. What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?

I have a couple of newcomers in my fragrance repertoire:
Sesame oil. I truly hated it because of its nauseating, repulsive, offensive, choking smell.
Nowadays I love it which is quite unexplainable since I still consider it a gross smell, too sticky and brutal, but with a bunch of addictive properties. I even use it often in my cooking.
Cilantro – here I had the same problem. I found it really disgusting as a smell, too green, too crude, too earthy. It has a perfume strikingly similar to a wild plant called Petasites hybridus, quite common where I grew up and which I hated. Their umbrella-sized leaves were fun to play around with, but I just couldn’t stand the smell of them. For me it all changed after a two-month stay in Mexico – the country of cilantro. There was just no escaping it. And slowly but surely it created some sort of curious addiction which will most certainly last a lifetime.
Other entries of the same category are Tar, a complex smell of scorched soil, liquorice and burnt leather that takes some time getting used to, and good Whisky, a blend of so many different fragrances that your head goes into a spin.

8. What mundane smells inspire you?

Coffee, again. A freshly made cup of coffee is a kickstart for all senses and its scent is one of the best ways to get out of bed in the morning.

Garlic. Fresh or lightly cooked garlic is a great way to get the imagination (and hunger) going in the kitchen.

Burning candles
. I’m not a big fan of those immensely popular perfumed candles, but rather a neutral wax candle and the aroma its wick releases.

9. What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?

This childhood memory is rather a non-memory: In my native Sweden, stepping outdoors early on a cold winter’s morning, the ground uniformly padded with a thick layer of soft, cotton-white glistering snow that squeaks with each step upon it and mutes most of the surrounding sounds – the world is never as quiet as in a place full of snow. The overcast skylight reflected in every direction making you feel like being in a well-lit photo studio, temperature well below zero degrees, the air crisp like cornflakes. Inhaling, filling the lungs with cold air, chilling the whole inside of the body. After a couple of deep breaths, what do I smell? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not one single thing. It always amazed me how the freezing cold like that created a complete absence of smells. It was like being in a giant scent vacuum.

Another flashback from when I was a kid, was a special kind of glue that we used in kindergarten. This glue was made especially for kids and contained no toxic substances, no acids and was harmless to both kids and nature. It had a very strong scent of almond, deep, slightly sweet, a bit greasy - pure almond. Somewhere in the neighborhood of Amaretto I would say. It had no smell of volatile aggressiveness like so many other types of glue. The smell was so bewitching that many of the kids actually tasted some. But “they said” it didn’t taste as good as it smelled…

10. What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?

The smell of old peoples’ houses always takes me back to when I was a child and visited my grandparents. I have no idea what this smell is made up of, but if they ever made a perfume or air freshener out of it, it would be called “Old peoples’ house”. It’s typically not a delightful smell, but neither an unpleasant one. It’s just based on home. Closed doors. Dust. A certain type of diet maybe. A bit of medication. It’s quite complex and smells a bit like fog looks. You never know where it starts and where it ends, all of a sudden you’re just surrounded by it.
I don’t know if their houses actually smelled like that already when I was young, or if it’s just my brain playing a trick on me. Whatever might be the case, this smell is firmly connected to happy memories of being served pancakes at my grandmother’s house after school, or a weekend sleepover at my grandfather’s house.

11. What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?

Most of these are early memories from the kitchen – my mother, Guru of sweet stuff, baking or making candy for Christmas - the amazingly rich aroma from toffee cooking on the stove, a sticky, warm, caramelized vanilla-like aroma. It can also be browned butter, cinnamon rolls just out of the oven or my grandmother’s onion-loaded meatballs.
Smoked meat and fish always reminds me of home. Smoking in combination with salting is a very common way of treating meat and fish in Sweden. Every time my father returned home with a cold smoked sausage or salted pork meat it was a feast.

Another, less pleasant one, is the smell of school locker room, after an hour of physical exercise. Body odors in combination with warm, stagnant water from the showers creating high humidity, a hint of sweaty shoes, shampoo and Axe® deodorant.

12. What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?

Standing on the edge of a bay in southern New Zealand on an autumn morning, an overwhelming strong smell of iodized wind, fresh sea and fish, algae and cucumber, ocean spray on my face, grey clouds laden with rain, minerals, rugged coastal scenery – heavy on all senses, but still such a perfect snapshot of what nature is like, not the picture-perfect postcard representation. To me that morning smelled like what it tastes like to eat a good oyster – or even what it must feel like to be an oyster. Whenever I eat an oyster now I always send a thought to that remote, wind-beaten bay.
In some way it seems to me that every time I am close to the sea, in that salt-loaded air, my sense of smell is heightened, like every bit of city-caused nose congestion vanishes in an instant.

Something that never seizes to amaze me when I travel is how different countries can have such distinct smells. I still remember the first time, after having reached conscious age, that I visited a Mediterranean country. This country just happened to be Italy, sheer coincidence. I was coming from Sweden, a quite chilly place with its very delicate perfumes reminiscent of pine, floral grass, fresh wood, sea. Arriving in hot Italy I had a slight sensorial shock where my senses were turned upside down – I registered so many new scents, like a complex theater scene made up of fragrances. Terra cotta, dirt, citrus, garlic, burning wood, decay, aromatic herbs, grilled fish and a kind of deep smell of antiquarian shop. Wow! This was a place that actually had a perfume!
This has happened many times since then, although now Italy sets the standard and is the new base for comparison. For example last summer I went to Japan which has a completely different set of ambient smells. There you would find scents of fish, but fresh fish, never that old stinky fish. Seaweed, burning charcoal, green leaves, incense and a little bit of something resembling chicken soup.

13. Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you.

Honestly, I’m not a big reader, unless we are talking about food literature, and even then I prefer books that communicate with captivating pictures and not only words. My latest project has been to start a journey towards an extended knowledge about wines (starting from scratch). I attended a wine tasting and I bought a book. When I opened up that book and started reading, it was like I discovered a completely new language. This must be what it felt like for the first world explorers, arriving to a new continent, discovering a new culture, and with it, a new language.
I came across a wholly new way of describing the things we smell, feel, taste and experience in relation to wine. New words with an outstanding ability to make my mouth water just by reading them.
It’s interesting to read about how to put a name on what you feel and smell, since scents basically are feelings. In the same way I found it fascinating how people manage to divide scents in categories, since I’ve always felt that scents tend to resist classification. What they are to one person, they might not be to another.

What does the sense of smell mean to you? What are some of your favorite and non-favorite smells? Leave a comment!


This sensory questionnaire was originally created by Glass Petal Smoke