Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

Japan for food’s sake

November 8, 2010 - 7:55 pm 3 Comments

Japan and the Japanese dropped from the sky. The archipelago of 3,000 islands and its people were created by the gods Izanagi and Izanami, according to sacred Shinto texts. The divine couple joined “their majestic parts in a majestic union” and gave birth to a new world.

In the middle of the overwhelming heat of summer I spent three magnificent weeks of traveling around this amazing country, known for its culture, its food and its people. And all the three are basically one and the same. The culture is often about food and eating, the food is its own culture, and what people are talking and thinking about - is food.

I was stunned by the variety and quantity of food that is available on every street corner, on every floor of the buildings. Most often a quick meal is only 2 steps away.
It’s not only savory food that is readily accessible, it’s evident that the Japanese also have a special fascination with classic French patisserie. Macarons, cookies, tartelettes, petit fours, creamy cakes, croissants, eclairs, you name it. (Of course “fine-tuned” to Nipponese perfection with a pinch of green tea or red azuki beans)
And clearly this is why you get the feeling that people here eat a lot. All the time, anywhere you look, at any hour of the day, you see people chewing, nibbling, munching, snacking, it’s almost like some sort of national pastime.

Even though I love eating in a good restaurant, spending some money on dazzling food, great service and location, I find street food the most captivating experience when traveling, this is where you really feel the soul of everyday people.
Japanese streetfood is not your common bad-for-your-health fatty processed cheap meat sans origine or high-cholesterol, trans fat spiced snacks like in many of our western countries. In Japan eating fast doesn’t automatically mean eating bad. From a street vendor you can have the most wonderful chicken skewer, which ingredients are not much more than chicken, a soy sauce based glaze and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. From a hole-in-the-wall restaurant you can get a warming noodle soup with a generous topping of simmered pork, green onions, ginger, bean sprouts and sea weed. Or you could go for the classic “Onigiri” - a portion of white rice, most often pressed into a triangular shape, with a filling of tuna and mayonnaise, or fish roe, or salmon, or egg, or pickled plum, or seaweed, or shrimps, the list goes on forever.


The trip started in the tucked away north, on the island of Hokkaido. Well known for its beautiful pristine scenery, its snow-capped mountains, its friendly inhabitants and last but not least, its phenomenal seafood. Here one of the highlights was a complete sushi dinner that seemed never-ending. One delicacy after another. Sea urchin roe, scallops, king crab, hairy crab, monkfish liver, squid, salmon roe, abalone. Apart from the fact that here you will find an incredible variety of seafood, the cold sea of Hokkaido makes seafood that is packed with flavor and of supreme quality.
Hokkaido has a lot more to offer, nice small cities with a laid-back atmosphere, cute countryside dairy farms, great national parks with all sorts of wildlife, winding roads, impressive mountains and a lot of good, good food.

Next stop on the trip was Hiroshima, the city destroyed by the first atomic bomb 65 years ago. It’s nowadays a bustling metropolis, with its tragic history displayed in the Peace Memorial Museum. On the menu here was the specialities: Oysters - big ones - raw, steamed, grilled, deep fried. Okonomiyaki - something between a savory pancake and an omelette, filled to the brim with good stuff like cabbage, noodles, pork, shrimp, seafood, bean sprouts and green onions. Then topped with bonito flakes, mayonnaise and the special okonomiyaki sauce, kind of sweet barbecue sauce.

Then on to Osaka for some Takoyaki tasting frenzy - octopus balls, pieces of octopus in batter, fried in the shape of perfect balls in a special cast-iron skillet. Topped with bonito flakes, green onions, mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce.

In Nara I had a chicken-only dinner in what I feel must be the smallest restaurant in the world, not much bigger than the size of a closet, one chef, one grill, one bar counter and 8 bar stools. To get to your seat you had to squeeze in between the beer cases piled up against the wall and the other diners. The chef served up all kinds of grilled chicken parts, external and internal, claustrophobic feeling included in the menu price.

In Kyoto the obvious choice is Kaiseki - the traditional multi-course Japanese seasonal cuisine. An art form that is as much about aesthetics as it is about cooking. Other musts when in Kyoto are the excellent tofu and the yuba, a thin, glossy skin from boiling soy milk.

Tokyo was a revelation foodwise, and completely blew my mind with its enormous array of points of interest for a foodie.
One great example is the Kappabashi district, a whole neighbourhood of streets lined with restaurant supply shops. Here you will find everything, and I mean everything, for your home kitchen, your restaurant or your bar. Hundreds of shops selling knives, plastic display food, restaurant signs, interior decorating, ceramics, uniforms, pots and pans, chairs, bento boxes, refrigerators, specialty kitchen gadgets, rice bowls and chopsticks…
A paradise for someone like me - now I only had to convince the airline to let me bring 200kg of kitchen equipment and ceramics on the plane back home.

Tokyo has more good eats than one could finish in a lifetime, all types of Japanese cuisine is represented here, but it’s also a melting pot for much adored foreign cuisines and Tokyo has thousands and thousands of French, Italian, Chinese and American eateries, often run by Japanese staff.
The interesting thing about the Japanese is that when they copy something they cherish, be it a concept or a recipe, they often make the end result even better than the original. Perfection is a key word here.

In the world’s biggest fish and seafood market - Tokyo’s Tsukiji - you will find everything possibly imaginable in ways of seafood and fish. From big chunks of blood red, almost black whale meat, to tiny shrimps the size of a needle, to red sea bream still bent from rigor mortis, to strange looking creatures like taken straight out of a science fiction film. Here activity starts when most people go to bed, in the late evening or early night. Fresh fish and other food products pour in from all over the world, gets sorted and packed by wholesalers for further shipment or sold at the morning market. It’s a hypnotizing experience walking around the market in the morning, observing the frenetic activity and sheer amount of seafood that changes hands here every day. This is also where the famous tuna auction takes place every morning at around 5:30 am.


Traveling, in general, in Japan is very easy. Not because it’s easy to talk to people or ask for directions (surprisingly enough english is not a widely spoken language), but because everything works as it is supposed to. Trains run on time, bookings are respected, prices are fixed and people do whatever they can to help you, they will even go out of their way to follow you to the train station and make sure you get on the right train. The feeling of unrivaled service is a common denominator in Japan, whether you pay for it or not.

In fact traveling as a foodie in Japan is a really intense experience, and I realize while writing this, I could probably write a whole book about my 3 weeks of eating and drinking. About the noble ingredients, the extraordinary gourmet food halls of the department stores, about the izakaya’s (beer halls or equivalent to pubs) noisy crowd, about the thousands of varieties and classifications of Nihonshu, or sake as we call it.

The biggest secret in the Japanese cuisine - is the cooking, or where applicable, the non-cooking.
Everything is less cooked in Japan. People are not afraid of the chicken still being slightly pink and moist in the center, or the pork meat still retaining part of its natural softness and pinkish hue and not being cooked to total stiffness and protein-white color. Another paramount difference between Japanese cuisine and its western counterparts is the unadulterated freshness and the keen emphasis on seasonality of food and from this fact comes part of the Japanese food philosophy: “Food should be enjoyed as close as possible to its natural state.
Or as the general golden rule for us cooks says - if you are in possession of really, truly good stuff - keep it simple!

A hard thing to get used to while eating in Japan, is the relentless slurping while Japanese people eat noodles. In Europe we are always taught to not make noise while eating, but in Japan they actually find it strange not to slurp (and we’re talking LOUD slurping) while you are throwing down your Ramen noodles. Even the most posh lady with her Gucci purse and high heels won’t refrain from a bit of loud slurping while feasting upon a large bowl of soba noodle soup.

If there is one negative thing I have to say about eating in Japan it would be that it’s allowed to smoke inside the restaurants, whereas on the street you can’t smoke freely. Not a cheerful experience for a non-smoker trying to enjoy a nice meal.


Zanzibar – the Spice Island

July 31, 2009 - 10:12 pm 1 Comment

Zanzibar coast


As the plane comes in for landing in Zanzibar town the most magnificent view comes into sight.
The amazing waters off the Zanzibar coast - from the deepest blue to the clearest turquoise sea one can imagine - dotted with small wooden boats. Palm-fringed white sandy beaches, and inland whole forests of coconut and banana trees. Along the water´s edge the typical african style beach huts - in contrast to the ornate colonial palaces and grand stone structures of Zanzibar town.

Zanzibar spicesZanzibar. Just the name by itself evokes exotic images and sensations.
A tropical top destination for honeymooners, beach-seekers and backpackers, this island is a jewel thrown into the Indian ocean just off the east coast of Tanzania. With a romantic calm and laid back atmosphere it´s the perfect place to forget about work, stress and problems of everyday life at home.
Known for having been an important trade center for spices and slaves, its paradise beaches and coral reefs, its interesting blend of different cultures and architecture styles, and for being the birthplace of Queen´s Freddy Mercury.

Arab doorwayIn the Empire game, the Portuguese and British took turns at leaving a mark on Zanzibar, but it was traders from Arabia, and in particular Oman, who had the most enduring influence on the island - not least by introducing Islam, now practised by 95 percent of the people. The population of Zanzibar today is an interesting mix of people from Africa, the Arab states, indians and europeans among others. All living side by side - most of them sharing the same religion.

In the 19th century Zanzibar rose as the center of a vast and rich empire, based on trade in spices and slaves. For the Omanis Zanzibar had an excellent position for trade in the Indian ocean. One can imagine the traffic of ships loaded with ivory tusks, spices and slaves in the Zanzibar ports in its heyday.

Fresh cloves

Fresh cloves

The single most important export was cloves. The demand for cloves, was during a short but intense period extremely high and allowed for making huge profits.
The clove industry on Zanzibar was largely wiped out by a hurricane in 1872. Today the plantations on Zanzibar are mainly for the tourist trade, but on nearby Pemba island the clove crop is still of great export value.

An island being composed by that many different cultures will of course have a very interesting cuisine. And it´s clear that the Zanzibar cuisine has had a lot of different influences over the years. A melting pot of african produce, asian love for potent spice mixtures and arab techniques.

Zanzibar town marketEverywhere you go, the subtle perfumes lingering in the alleyways and backyards will reach you and hypnotize you. You just finished eating lunch, but funnily you feel hungry again… Garlic, ginger, chili, cardamom, curry, cinnamon, cloves. From kitchens and restaurants, a pot of boiling soup or an outside barbecue, so familiar but yet so exotic - there´s no escape from the magic scents that fills the air.

Pepper (Piper nigrum)
IMG_3165As for green, red and white and black pepper, all come from the same pepper berry. Green pepper is the freshly picked berry. For red pepper, the berry is left on the vine for one or two more months, where they turn red. The berries stay red when dried.
And for white pepper? The red berries are picked, soaked in water and the outer husk is removed. As the berries dry, they turn white.
Black pepper is the still unripe green pepper berry, picked and given a quick boil in water, then dried. The outer green layer, shrinks and darkens.
Which pepper is the hottest? That would be the green pepper, according to our guide, followed by white, then black. Red is the mildest.

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
IMG_3324This spice, named after the French word “clou” for nail, comes from the flowering nail-shaped buds.
The tree matures after about 8 years, and after that it can be harvested twice a year for about 50 years.
Harvesting is done by hand by pickers climbing the trees, gathering the small buds in baskets made of coconut leaves.
The cloves are dried for three to four days on mats in the sun, the buds turn a dark brown color and the spice is ready for use or sale.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

This very common spice widely used around the world is actually the bark of the cinnamon tree. It has a incredibly long history used as perfume, medicine and spice. This tree is indigenous to Sri Lanka and that´s also where the biggest cultivation of cinnamon is to be found these days.
After the rainy season the smaller shoots of the tree are stripped of their bark. These sheets of bark are then put overlapping to dry in the sun. As the bark dries it will automatically curl up in the form of a cinnamon stick. The sticks are then cut to the right size. The small pieces and flakes that falls of during the process is then ground into cinnamon powder.
The people of Zanzibar does not only use the bark though, the whole plant can be used for different purposes. The leaves can be used fresh or dried in cooking and tea. The stems can be burnt as incense to give the house a nice perfume and keep mosquitoes away.

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
IMG_3125-3- is the seed of an evergreen tree native to the Molucca Islands. The tree produces 2 spices, both Nutmeg and mace, and grows up to 60 feet tall. Although the tree takes seven years to bear fruit, it may produce until the 90th year. Both spices come from the tree’s small yellow apple-like fruit(can be used to make jams), which splits into a red outer membrane, mace, and an inner brown seed, Nutmeg.
The spice has a wide variety of uses, apart from being used in sweet and savory cuisine around the world, the nutmeg oil also has some therapeutic uses.

Other spices present on Zanzibar are among others - ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, vanilla, annatto, cardamom, tamarind, menthol and ylang-ylang.

Cocoa pod

Cocoa pod



Rambutan & Cinnamon

Rambutan & Cinnamon

Banana tea

Banana tea





Paris – Parigi « La Capitale du bon goût »

November 6, 2008 - 2:21 am 5 Comments

Paris - it is a real gastronomic paradise!
For me and many others « La Capitale du bon goût ».

Eiffel tower - Tour Eiffel - Torre

Besides that, talking about culture, you can find all the arts, music, theater, movies, painting, dance, graphic, sculpture, photography etc - it´s impossible to describe how much delight this city gives the palate - here you find averything and more. It has a rich cultural life and something is always happening. No city manages so well to mix the old with the new as Paris does.

Ville de Paris

The city represents one of the most important places in the world for people who loves good food! From the simplest piece of bread to the “haute cuisine” of the famous french chefs there´s one thing in common, the excellent quality of the ingredients and the way they are treated.

Paris photo collageHere one will find a unique atmosphere, for people that are open to new cultures and influences. Specially “foodies” will enjoy the broad selection of restaurants of all levels, stores with ingredients and utensils and litterature from all over the world, cake shops, bakeries. Here you will find a Michelin starred hotel restaurant next to a hole-in-the-wall that serves you a kebab with a completely divine garlic sauce. They both serve a purpose - to promote the beautiful thing we call diversity.

The two big institutions of the Paris gastronomy are the bistro and the brasserie. Bistro - the small restaurant with informal service that serves simple and traditional fare. Brasserie - in the beginning this was where they brewed the beer, later transforming into restaurants with traditional food from the region of Alsace and Paris. Often larger than the bistro, decorated in art nouveau - wooden panelling and mirrors.

The french bread, the artisan kind, is to die for. The way it´s made, with passion, leaving it to rest and rise slowly, with the best ingredients and traditional recipes. This procedure makes the final product without doubt superior. The golden crunchy crust. The interior soft, full of flavor with a definite body. A marvellous perfume. It´s impossible to resist any more, you have to do as the parisian on his way home from work with a baguette: Nibble!
Walking down the streets of Paris, any time of the day, you feels the perfumes of butter croissants, freshly baked baguette, walnut bread, pain au chocolat - a chocolate filled croissant…

…le foie gras du Périgord, les croissants, les huîtres, les vins, la baguette, le champagne, les pâtés, moules-frites, le camembert, le moutarde de Dijon, le steak tartare, la crème brûlée, le confit de canard, les marrons, les escargots, les macarons, le cognac, le roquefort… a thousand-and-one different flavors, an immense range of products from the famous « terroir français », a diversity that satisfies everyone.

Paris photo collage


Parigi - e un vero paradiso gastronomico!
Per me e tanti altri « La Capitale du bon goût ».

Notre DameAparte che, parlando di cultura, si trovano tutte le arti, musica, teatro, film, pittura, danza, grafica, scultura, fotografia ecc - e impossibile descrivere quanta gioia questa citta da al palato - qui si trova di tutto e di piu. C´e una ricca vita culturale e c´e sempre qualcosa da fare.
Nessuna citta riesce a mischiare il vecchio con il nuovo con stile e eleganza come Parigi.
La citta rappresenta uno dei posti piu importante nel modo per quelli che amano il buon cibo! Dal pezzo piu semplice di pane fino alla “haute cuisine” dei famosi chef francesi c´e una cosa in comune, la ottima qualita delle materie prime e il rispetto con cui si trattano le stesse.

Paris photo collageQui esiste una atmosfera unica, direi, per quelli che sono aperti per nuove culture e influenze. Particolarmente cosidetto “foodies” troveranno ristoranti di tutti i livelli, negozi con ingredienti e utensili e letteratura di tutto il mondo, le pasticcerie, i panifici. Qui coesiste un ristorante stellato di albergo accanto a un buco nel muro che vende un kebab con salsa di aglio completamente divino. Tutte due servono allo stesso scopo di promuovere la bella cosa che chiamiamo diversita.

Le due grandi istituzioni della gastronomia parigina sono i bistro e le brasserie. Bistro - il piccolo ristorante con servizio informale e cucina semplice e tradizionale.
Brasserie - al inizio luoghi per produzione della birra, successivamente diventati posti dove si trovano anche i piatti tipici della cucina alsacienne e parigina. Di solito sono piu grandi dei bistro, con decorazione in art nouveau - pannellatura di legno e specchi.

French bread - Pane franceseIl pane francese, quello artigianale, mi piace da morire. Il modo in cui viene fatto, con passione, lasciando il pane riposare e lievitare piano piano, con i migliori ingredienti e ricette tradizionale. Questo procedimento rende il prodotto finale senza dubbio superiore. La crosta dorata, croccante. La mollica morbida, piena di sapore, corposa. Il profumo meraviglioso. Non si puo piu resistere, bisogna fare come il parigino tornando dopo lavoro con la baguette appena comprata: mangiucchiare!
Camminando per le strade di Parigi si sente a qualsiasi ora il profumo dei croissants au beurre, la baguette appena uscito dal forno, le pain aux noix, pain au chocolat…

…le foie gras du Périgord, les croissants, les huîtres, les vins, la baguette, le champagne, les pâtés, moules-frites, le camembert, le moutarde de Dijon, le steak tartare, la crème brûlée, le confit de canard, les marrons, les escargots, les macarons, le cognac, le roquefort… mille e uno sapori diversi, una immensa scelta di prodotti del famoso « terroir français», una varietà che permette di soddisfare tutti.