Never Too Many Cooks in bcnKITCHEN

bcnkitchen-8 The secret to Spanish cooking is good Rais

Ever since Thomas did his cooking class in Cambodia, I’ve been looking for my own similar Food-Venture. Luckily, our stop in Barcelona included a day at bcnKITCHEN, a unique facility which offers everything from cooking classes to show-cooking to corporate bonding sessions.

When I think about it, Catalonia Tourism was probably strategically using our day at bcnKITCHEN as a type of corporate bonding session to allow our group of traveling bloggers to connect while exploring Catalan cuisine. It was a brilliant move, a recipe for success.

And the secret to this recipe, like much of Spanish cuisine, was good rice… I mean Rais Continue…

Great Tapas in Seville

Seville tapas

OK, it’s not exactly hard to find tapas in Spain. But it is a bit of a challenge for visitors to find GOOD tapas here when they don’t know the secret hot spots. Honestly, we were about to give up hope until we got to Seville. The city’s tapas scene is very competitive and Sevillanos have some pretty high standards.

A bit of research led us to Vineria San Telmo. The amazing little cafe serves up some seriously delicious, extremely innovative tapas that finally made it clear to us what tapas should be. Dishes include mouth-watering creations such as Continue…

Istanbul’s Turkish Delights

When I think of Istanbul, I immediately visualize huge bins of rose-flavored Turkish delight. I see winding cobbled streets with delicate minarets rising in the background and corner cafes with baklava and cups of thick, aromatic Turkish coffee. The call to prayer echoes in the background and tourists and touts collide in a strange dance of humorous, ritualized negotiation. But there’s more.

If you look at most conventional world maps, Istanbul – said to have a population of between 13 and 17 million – is literally the center of the world. To call it a crossroads is a laughable understatement. This is a city of sweet contradictions where women in chains and punk dos stomp past flowing figures in full-body hijabs. You can down a beer to acid rock or sip tea to traditional tanbur music, dance all night in a pulsating Continue…

Erfurt Christmas Market

We officially declare Erfurt’s Christmas market our favorite Christmas market in Germany – and we’ve seen a lot of them. With its twin cathedrals, well preserved half-timbered houses, and the amazing Krämerbrücke, a monumental market bridge which just might outshine Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, Erfurt qualifies as one of Germany’s most attractive cities.

Strangely, despite the fairy tale atmosphere and some of the friendliest people in Germany, the Erfurt Christmas experience remains untouristy and very good value. The market is an enormous event overflowing with all the traditional goodies. Keep your eyes peeled Continue…

Leipzig Christmas Market

Thomas and I, along with our friend Armin, decided to hop down to Leipzig to take in the city’s Christmas market, one of Germany’s up-and-coming alternatives to the manic super-markets in Dresden and Nuremburg.

Leipzig has made the VERY WISE choice to allow the market to sprawl throughout the entire old town rather than confining it to one location, which means that visitors can actually manage to move. Yay.

As you can see, there are treats galore: gingerbread, chocolate, Christstollen, candied fruits, glühwein, potato pancakes, eierpunch, fruit bread… and check out my half-meter bratwurst!!!! (No that’s not some kind of euphemism.)

Belgian Desserts

If there’s one thing that brings Flemish and Walloons together, it’s dessert. Belgium marks the glorious border between Dutch and French inspired desserts making it a dream destination for the traveler with a serious sweet tooth (like me).

Of course, the country is synonymous with awesome waffles. Even bad waffles here are good by non-Belgian standards. There are as many topping options as there are recipes, so you will have to eat MANY, MANY waffles just to be sure that you don’t miss anything important. Bruges is great for waffle hunting. Interestingly, I walked by an endless supply of fancy restaurants with stunning waffles, but the waffle above at a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant topped with sour cherries and mounds of ice cream stopped me in my tracks. Resistance was futile Continue…

Belgian Beer

If you’re a fan of great beer, Belgium needs to be at the top of your foodie-and-drinkie list along with Germany and the Czech Republic. This tiny country has an impressively diverse selection of great beers which range from the strictly defined (and certified) Trappist brews, including famous names such as Orval, to the more loosely defined Abbey beers, such as one of my personal favorites, the Grimbergen Optimo Bruno.

Do your homework before you visit Belgium because, for the non-beer connoisseur such as myself, the array of options can be overwhelming. Menus start easy with amber, blond and brown ales and quickly shift into high gear with options such as champagne beers, Flemish Reds, Dubbels, Tripels, Oud Brins, Saisons, and more.

One of the more interesting discoveries was the Lambics Continue…

Mussels from Brussels…

Or Ghent…. or Bruges… or Leuven… or, in my case, Antwerp.

Like stoofvlees, the dish known as moules-frites, mussels and fries, appears on restaurant menus across Belgium. So when Tourism Antwerp treated me to an amazing meal at Grand Café Horta (Hopland 2), I decided to forgo the lobster and try the mussels instead.

Grand Café Horta didn’t list any sides with the mussels. When I asked the waiter what Belgians ate with mussels, he laughed and answered, “Fries! This is Belgium, we eat fries with everything.” Clearly, I did not need to worry myself over such details. Instead, my choice revolved more around what style to order.

I chose wisely.

The waiter brought a huge pot of perfectly prepared mussels coated in a spectacular beer sauce. (Does it get more Belgian than that?) In addition, the chef added a delicious mustard-based dip on the side just in case the beer sauce wasn’t enough. YUM! If beer sauce is not your thing – which would be pure insanity Continue…

Stoofvlees and Frites

So what is typical Flemish food? I have to be honest, I had no idea. So Tourism Antwerp arranged a little lunchtime food-venture for me at Brasserie Appelmans, a great little cafe perfectly situated in the shade of the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal.

When the very friendly waiter came to take my order, I tore my eyes away from the towering wall of buttresses and stained glass and ordered in the only way I could, “Make it as Flemish as possible.”

“OK,” he smiled, “one order of…” And then I heard a series of syllables which took me a few minutes to decipher.

It turns out I was getting stoofvlees and frites. It looks easy enough when you see it in print, but in spoken form, it’s a bit difficult to wrap your ears around this dish.

Stoofvlees is sometimes translated as Continue…

The Shock-o-latier

If Marie Antoinette and Willy Wonka had a love child, that would be Dominique Persoone. In the land of chocolate, the so-called “Shock-o-latier” is half rock star and half master chef. And his mouth-watering works of art are literally sold in what looks like a museum.

As soon as you enter The Chocolate Line in Antwerp, it’s clear this is no ordinary chocolatier. Looks a little like Napoleon’s kitchen? That’s because it actually was. Apparently, if it’s good enough for Napoleon, the Princess of Orange, and King Leopold II, it’s just about good enough for Persoone’s chocolate creations Continue…