Eating it up in Portland with Maine Foodie Tours

This summer we spent several days in Portland, Maine to indulge in some of the beautifully fresh fish, lobster* and other delicacies that this region of the Northeastern United States has to offer. Now first of all, let me start by saying that if you haven’t been to New England, you really need to visit. From the bustling nightlife of Boston (or Bawstan as the locals would say), to the rolling hills and snowy mountains of Vermont (if you’re visiting in the winter obvs), all the way up to the gorgeous coast of Maine, this region won’t disappoint even the pickiest of travelers.We decided to go on the Maine Foodie Tour based on all the brilliant reviews we had read online, and the fact that we were guaranteed to try lobster mac and cheese. Also it was a great way to see a lot of Portland in a short time and as we had a baby with us the late night brewery outings weren’t high on the agenda.

First stop – Lobster mac and cheese: The way to a foodie’s soulWe kicked off the three hour walking tour at Vervacious, a shop dedicated to selling incredible salts, spices and balsamic vinaigrettes from all over the world. The story behind the owners of the shop is that the couple gave up their corporate jobs, bought a boat and travelled around the world with it. When they came back to Maine they wanted to share all the amazing spices and flavors they had experience abroad, and this is how Vervacious came to be.

We had the lobster mac and cheese at the very first stop, and tested five different flavoured salts to add to the insanely creamy dish. The combination of pasta, cheese and lobster was like porn in my mouth. We also tried a number of incredible balsamic vinaigrettes, including a chocolate vinaigrette and a really nutty espresso balsamic.

Second stop – Chocolate with mashed potatoes because why not?One of Portland’s claim to fames is the Needham chocolate, which is a traditional fudge like sweet with one added bonus: mashed potatoes. The spuds help give the sweets an extra creamy texture, and to be honest if we hadn’t been told there were mashed potatoes in it we wouldn’t have known. We tried our first Needham ever at Dean’s Sweets

Third stop – An incubator for small foodie businesses with soup as good as lust
Next stop on our tour was to the Portland Public Market House which has become an incubator of sorts for small restaurants, giving young people and those without tons of cash the chance to run a business in one of the stalls in the two story building. First stop was Karmasouptra, which I’m sure you can guess is a food stand dedicated to all things soup.

From tomato and grilled cheese soup (incredible guys!) to the classic New England favorite clam chowder, you can taste as many soups as you want while on the tour. Once you’ve decided on your favorite you choose a bowl and then enjoy the creamy richness of whatever you chose (I was boring and went with the chowder) while sitting with the rest of the group. We also had blueberry sticky rice for dessert, based on the classic Thai dessert sticky mango rice and since the soup wasn’t so pretty I’m posting a pic of the dessert instead 😂

Fourth and fifth stops – Award winning blueberry jam and shepherds pie spring rolls 
Our second to last stop took us to Stonewall Kitchen, a store known for its award winning blueberry jam. Seriously guys, the jam has won like four foodie oscars. To be super honest I didn’t love the jam, but I’m much more of a savory gal in general. The other people on our tour loved the jam though, and we brought a jar home for my parents who also sang high praises for the jam.

The last stop on our tour took us to an English pub (can’t seem to get away from those no matter where I go), where we tried blueberry ale (goddayummmm it’s good), and shepherds pie spring rolls (ok, but as my British fiancée said, perhaps a bit overkill). Either way I always enjoy a good roll (spring roll ;)) and loved the concept. We ended the tour by staying in the pub because what more appropriate way is there to show you’ve really enjoyed your tour than to keep drinking at the last place they took you to?

Thank you for an absolutely awesome day of food adventures @Maine Foodie Tours!

*Fact: Did you know that until the 1880s, lobster was so abundant in New England that it was the main source of protein served to prisoners? After many years, the prisoners rebelled (and lobster started to become a popular food among the elite), and the incarceration centers had to start serving the inmates something other than lobster. And now? We pay a grand price for the sweet and light saltwater delicacy!

Learning to cook traditional Tuscan food with a real Italian mamma

For my 30th birthday I was whisked away to Tuscany by my fiancee for a four day Italian adventure which included a full-on, traditional Italian cooking class on the Sunday.

We spent our first full day in the area exploring the Tuscan countryside around Chianti, and in the evening I was delighted to find out we were booked in to eat dinner in the middle of a magnificent wine vineyard. The four course gala dinner is an event held three times each year at the organic winery hotel we were staying at (look out for an upcoming post on the meal, and a hotel review about the fabulous Querceto di Castellina).

After a brilliant evening eating Tuscan food under the stars, we spent our Sunday morning and most of the afternoon learning how to cook traditional Tuscan recipes with the owner of the vineyard, Laura.

Laura is 71 years old, and teaches her Tuscan cooking class with enthusiasm on a daily basis with a profoundly deep knowledge for the ingredients and dishes she cooks up.  By the end of the day you will have whipped up more dishes than your stomach will know what to do with. Laura owns the winery, hotel and cooking school and runs the estate along with her two sons and daughter in-law Mary.

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During our class we made three antipasti dishes, two primi platti pasta dishes, and a main course with a vegetable side and dessert.

Antipasti – Appetizers 

Bruschetta with tomatoes and basil

Crostoni with stracchino cheese and sausage pork with truffle

Crostini with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts

Primi platti – Pasta dishes

Farfalle with zucchini and saffron

Penne with black olives and mushrooms

Secondi platti – Main course 

Filet of pork in shirt (pancetta)

Verdure – Vegetables

Spinach with raisins and pine nuts

Dolce – Dessert

Sheep cheese “alla Caterina del Medici”

The class started at 10 am, and we sat down to eat our feast at around 3 pm which gave us several hours in the kitchen for some hands on experience. We kicked off the day by preparing the sauces for the two primi platti pasta dishes and putting together the most delicious tomato and basil bruschetta topping I’ve ever had. The tomatoes in Tuscany are truly sweet with a bit of a bite to them, and the basil is fresh and smells divine.

The filet of pork in bacon took several hours on the stove (after wrapping it tightly in pancetta), and we drank red L’aura wine (yes it’s named after the chef), and chatted with the other students as we cooked up our lazy Italian feast.

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My top 3 favourite dishes were the crostoni with stracchino cheese and sausage pork with truffle appetizer, the bruschetta with tomatoes and basil, and the farfalle with zucchini and saffron. The pork was also outstanding, but if I had to choose, the three first dishes were my top choice as they were so simple and gorgeous without being overly filling or rich. There was something so beautifully simple about taking the truffle sausage out of its casing and placing it straight on bread which we then literally just popped into the oven for ten to fifteen minutes, and the bruschetta with tomatoes was fresh and light, and not too garlicky. We learned that the trick to a perfect tomato bruschetta is to put in several cloves of garlic (un-chopped but peeled) a few hours before serving, and then remove them when ready to eat. Presto!

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Laura’s Cooking Class was a great way to meet other travelers and spend a day really delving into the history and heritage of traditional Tuscan dishes. The first, but definitely not the last time we will be cooking up these Italian delights, but also not the last time we’ll be visiting Laura and her beautiful family in Chianti.

Grazie mille Laura! 

 

My favourite sweet & savoury baked Parisian delights

Bakeries: Patisseries

It is a global truth that Paris is home to some of the best baked goods this side of heaven. With Parisians marching the streets with their starchy soldiers (baguettes) in hand, a trip to France would not be complete without several trips to the local bakery.

As a curious and almost always hungry globetrotter, I make no attempts at hiding the fact that even though I live in Paris, I still adore visiting several of these carb-laden establishments when I spend my weekend in the city.

Here are two of my favourite baked goods that you can get at most Parisian bakeries, and this specific bakery can be found not far from Paris’ most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement. The shop windows greet sweet fanatics with displays made of pure chocolate, cleverly reproducing one of the world’s most well recognized sights, La Dame de Fer, the city’s very own Iron Lady.

Hiding behind the chocolatey masterpieces lies every type of pastry you could imagine, from beautifully coloured macaroons, to freshly baked pain au chocolates and creamy eclairs.

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We like to share a sweet and a savoury option when we are out on our Saturday strolls, with two of the go-to choices being chocolate eclairs and a classic quiche lorraine.  Try starting with the latter so that you can tingle and tease your salivating taste buds with the savoury blend of smoked ham lardons and creamy cheese. The quiche is delicate, extremely crumbly (but not in a falling to bits manner), buttery and rich, and is the perfect base for the creamy, fluffy, and slightly salty (those lardons are essential) and altogether exquisite filling. Every time I take a bite of a good quiche lorraine, I revel in the simplicity of this classic pie, a reminder that complex does not always equate to better.

And then it’s onto dessert.

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The chocolate eclair has a crunchy exterior which gives way to a molten lava like cream centre inviting you to almost gasp at what oozes out in front of you.  You should devour the sweet pastry as if it were your last, and promise yourself that this is only the beginning of many romantic rendezvouses with this particular patisserie.

 Stay tuned for more of my Parisian escapades in upcoming posts. 

Merci beaucoup!

Cooking up a Balinese food storm in Sanur

Last summer we decided it would be fun to try a cooking class while holidaying in Bali and we found Caraway Cooking Class on TripAdvisor and quickly decided it was exactly what we were looking for. My boyfriend, mom and I were picked up at 4 pm by the owner of the school, the lovely Ibu Dewi, who drove us back to the cooking school, which is also her private home a little bit outside of Sanur.

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Cooking up a storm in Ibu Dewi’s kitchen.

When we arrived at the school Dewi’s best friend and young niece were both there to greet us, and we quickly got started on our lesson. We spent around three hours preparing traditional Balinese food, and we also ended up making Indonesian beef rendang (which is not something that is usually on the menu, but we requested it and Dewi was kind enough to go out of her way to show us how to make my favorite dish). Ma kasih ya Dewi! 🙂

We spent the late afternoon and early evening learning how to make homemade vegetable spring rolls, grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce, mi goreng (fried noodles), acar kuning (yellow pickled vegetables) and a coconut dessert. It was a truly spectacular day, and I would recommend anyone in the Sanur area to take the same class.

Our entire experience was very hands on, which we all really loved as we got to learn the intricacies of each and every dish we made, and obvs asked a ton of questions along the way. As I spent my childhood in Indonesia I’ve always been accustomed to (and loved) spicy food, but I really didn’t realize how many chili peppers typical Indonesian and Balinese dishes contain, especially in notoriously hot dishes like rendang.

One of the tricks to making awesome Indonesian food is to prep your herbs and spices before you start cooking, so that you can easily throw them in when their cooking time comes. We spent about an hour preparing all our garlic, chili, ginger and spices, so that once it came down to cooking everything, it all came together in a flash.

The final Caraway Cooking Class feast consisted of beef rendang slow cooked with coconut milk, red rice, grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce, yellow  pickled vegetables, mi goreng (fried noodles) and a beautiful coconut pudding for dessert.

This was the first time any of us had tried a professional cooking class (but certainly not our last), and we not only walked away with extremely happy stomachs and giant smiles on our faces, but also with a rich understanding for the basics of Balinese cooking.

Terima kasih banyak Caraway Cooking Class. Sampai jumpa lagi!

 

The 6 best menu picks at Cafe Central in Paris

Cafe Central is a French bistro located on Rue Cler in the 7th arrondissement in the center of Paris. Right next to the Eiffel Tower, this is a pedestrian street lined with beautiful shops, cafes and grocers, with focus on the best products a foodie could wish for. From one of the best cheese mongers in the city, to an establishment dedicated to selling only the finest wild caught salmon, this is the perfect place to spend a few hours wandering and grazing on a lazy weekend afternoon.

Cafe Central is located about halfway down Rue Cler, and the service is classically Parisian, but more friendly. The waiters will go out of their way to make sure you have an exquisite dining experience, but remember that this is Paris and your meal will take time, as it’s not untypical to sit down for two to three hours to enjoy your Saturday lunch.

Since moving to Paris we have been coming here on a regular basis (monthly really), so I do think it’s fair to say that I’m quite the expert when it comes to the Cafe Central menu. They have specials on a daily basis which vary, and are always a treat, but here are the menu staples that you can enjoy any day at this classic bistro on Rue Cler.

1. Escargot XXL

Escargot XXL are traditional French snails served in garlic butter, but these are about double as big as the ones you’re probably used to. I didn’t used to be a fan of escargot myself, but after living in France for a few years they’ve now grown on me, and the ones served at Cafe Central are the best I’ve had yet.

escargot

2. Smoked salmon blinis with sour cream

Salmon and blinis are a starter many of you may recognize, but what makes Cafe Central’s version stand out is the incredibly fresh salmon which is presented in such a delicate and thoughtful manner. Served with sour cream, fresh lemon and dill, the only reason a person wouldn’t like this is if they don’t like fish or salmon.

In which case, they probably should stay away from this appetizer anyway and order the next thing on my list instead.

3. French onion soup

Everyone knows what French onion soup is, but it’s not always easy to find something worth writing about when it comes to a version of the classic French dish in Paris. Cafe Central, however, not only ensures that the onions in the soup are caramelized beyond recognition, and in turn, sweet to the point of tasting close to a dessert, but the cheese and bread crust is something that even Jamie Oliver would have a hard time competing with.

french onion soup

The cheese crust is so well ingrained in the soup bowl that you can’t see any of the savory liquid below it, and it takes a few heavy swats with the spoon before you break through the wall. And once you do, you’ll find yourself greedily wrestling with the strings of cheesy emulsion that are making their way to your deliriously happy mouth. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – this soup is addictive.

4. Confit de Canard

Duck? Good? Duck fat? Good? Duck roasted in it’s own fat, and then served on top of roasted potatoes? Damn good.

And that’s what this classically French dish is really, a simple marriage of a duck and it’s own worst (or best) body part, which funnily enough, becomes a concoction that could be likened to food heaven. Eat it with gusto, or don’t eat it at all.

5. Parmesan risotto with brown butter scallops and rucola 

This is exactly what it sounds like – a beautifully creamy, cheesy risotto topped with flash fried scallops topped with rucola and balsamic reduction. Served with an extra bowl of Parmesan on the side, this meal is the epitome of all that is beautiful about all carb, protein & cheese combinations.

scallop parmesan risotto

6. The bread – the bread – the bread

The baguette served with your meal at Cafe Central is locally sourced (I believe it comes from the bakery down the street), and it is absolutely out of this world. With the perfect crunch on the outside, and fluffy, light dough on the inside, make sure to save some for the end of your meal, to use to scoop up the soupy remnants of your main dish.

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Stay tuned for more food adventures from #thetastytraveller!

5 savoury bites to nibble on in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown

What happens when you put a traveler who is always hungry, smack-dab in the middle of one of the foodie capitals of the world? Magic.

Before jetting off on a two week holiday to the Philippines, my partner and I spent last Christmas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with my parents and a few friends who live in KL. Because of the sheer number of places we tested in foodie-centric KL, this post is dedicated to the nibbles and bites you can munch your way through in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, including the famous Petaling Street and surrounding area.

Stepping onto Petaling Street is a sensory overload, with vendors selling durian, rambutan, and other beautiful and lush Southeast Asian fruits, while hawkers fry up hot flashes of stir fried flat rice noodles in fiery woks next to groups of relaxed locals munching on roasted Chinese chestnuts and gulping down ice-cold Carlsberg beer.

Char Kweitau / Char Kuey Teow

These stir-fried flat rice noodles with pork, chicken, prawns and vegetables (or any combination of meat and vegetables really) are a staple across Southeast Asia, but traditional kwetiau is said to stem from Penang, Malaysia’s foodie capital (quite possibly the world’s, if you believe this post).  Having grown up in Indonesia, I have had many varieties of kwetiau throughout my life, but I must say that the one served in Chinatown at 2 am on a random Monday evening in December was one of the best.

Whether this was the deep and almost sensual charcoal flavour from the well-seasoned and overused wok, or the beer and giddiness of sitting by the side of the road at an hour where most people’s minds are in la-la-land (in whichever context you wish to imagine this), the noodles married beautifully with the pork, chicken and prawns, and I slurped up each and every bite.

Cantonese Kwetiau / Chow Fun

So I’m obviously a noodle fan, and this was the first time I tried Cantonese kwetiau, which is a bit like a soupy version of the fried kwetiau. I ate some of it because, well, I take my duties as The Tasty Traveller very seriously, but I simply couldn’t finish the noodle-based concoction as it felt way too slimy and wet for my liking (and not in the good way). The seafood was good, the noodles themselves were good, but when mixed together it just all became a bit strange.

Black Hokkien Mee

Hokkien noodles stir-fried in an open fire work with thick, sweet soy sauce, prawns, pork fat and chilli reminded me a bit of char kwetiau, but a much gooier, sweetly condensed version. I had read a lot about this dish before our first nibble on Petaling Street, and to be honest, my initial reaction was not what I expected. The first bite knocked me back with overwhelming sweetness, but as the pork fat rendered with the chilli, it all started to come together quite nicely and before I knew it I was halfway through the dish.

Perfect with beer (like most of the dishes I had in Chinatown).

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Durian

Anyone who has traveled or lived in Southeast Asia will be very familiar with durian. And whether you are a hater or a lover of this infamous fruit, you will, undoubtedly have formed some kind of opinion in regards to the smelliest fruit in the world. The skin of the fruit is very much like jackfruit (spiky and thick), but as opposed to it’s less volatile cousin, durian has an odour which can be compared to slowly rotting cheese, or volcanic lava.

Due to the nature of this widely celebrated fruit, durian is banned on airplanes, in hotels, at restaurants, and in most public places. But if you can get over the initial stink, and let yourself have a bite of the gooey, mushy insides, you will be rewarded with a sweet, almost vanilla like flavour, which will surprise and delight you, and quickly turn you from a potential durian-hater to lover.

Crispy Roast Pork Belly

It’s common knowledge that the Chinese do pork, and they do it well. Whether it’s ground and mixed inside of beautiful dumplings with chicken broth (like xiao long bao), or simply crisped up over a barbecue, when I eat Chinese food, I always make sure that I order something that oinked in its previous life.

Crispy roast pork belly combines the subtle flavours of pork with  a soft (fat) and crunchy (skin) finish, making your mouth explode in pork-induced fireworks. Served with chilli, soy and rice, this is one of my favourite dishes on earth! Whether it’s served in the Chinese way (as above) or in the Danish way (just the pork meat, fat and crackling with potatoes and gravy), the combination of several parts of pig in your mouth at once is mind-blowing.

Other honourable mentions for eats in KL’s Chinatown (and this list isn’t exhaustive) are:

  • Hainan Chicken Rice
  • Nasi Goreng
  • Nasi Campur
  • Chee Cheong Fun (Rice Noodle Rolls)
  • Satay

We arrived in Malaysia with bellies rumbling in excitement, and after several days of feasting on local delights we left the country with bellies purring in pleasure. Look out for an upcoming post on the other foodie delights we ate our way through in Kuala Lumpur!

Terima kasih Kuala Lumpur, sampai jumpa lagi! #thetastytraveller