Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

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!

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