Here, There and Everywhere…

We wrote this post a couple of days ago but have only just got into WIFI good enough to post it…

It’s been a while since we last wrote, our heads have been focused on a new project we will be returning home early to start! We can’t give you too many details just yet!

A brief catch up from where we left off, we’re eating and drinking far too much and we’ve come across some really exquisite places that we’re going to be returning to as soon as possible. Kitzbuhel, a haven of cream topped hot chocolate, apple strudel with vanilla sauce, beers on top of the Austrian alps, a colourful and picturesque main town and views so grand they are forever engraved into your mind.

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Sitting in the clouds!

We stayed on a small dairy farm in the alps, the cows lived in the house too which was exciting, in a barn smelling, authentic experience kind of way. We decided to walk to our accommodation from the train as it was only 1.4km away and I think it took us about 2 hours to reach the house because climbing a mountain in the pouring rain with backpacks and luggage is a special kind of painful. But of course we were both too stubborn to call a taxi.

We made ‘friends’ with an older couple because we walked past their car and noticed they had a really beautiful Bernese Mountain dog inside (I do realize it is creepy to make ‘friends’ with people because of their dog). They took us hiking in the Alps off the usual roads and into the forests which was an incredible experience. I managed to embarrass myself, as usual, by spectacularly falling down the wet grassy hill trying to run after their dog (and then a few times after that in the damp forest too- I stopped counting).

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Hiking in the Austrian forests.

Our trip up to the top of the Horn mountain has been a memory we keep revisiting as the trip goes on, we enjoyed a panoramic view of towering mountains and a cold bottle of champagne to celebrate, nothing in particular, just being alive.

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From Austria we went on to Hungary. Eating our way though Budapest and drinking our way through the world famous wines of the Tokaj region. It was from here we started our 2600km journey up to the Arctic Circle in Finland. Traveling through Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and then Finland we finally reached Giellajohka, a small guesthouse about 60km north of a town called Inari in Northern Finland. Throughout our travels we had come across some incredible places that we absolutely loved, but this one was special.

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The Arctic is such a beautifully natural and wild area that it’s difficult to believe exactly where you are. We were there in Autumn. You would think that the Arctic Circle is just snow and ice and general ‘freezingness’ but it’s not. At this time of year everything is a bright red, yellow or pink. There are massive lakes and dams spotted between these colours with reindeer and moose walking along the road. You are constantly in awe of your surroundings.

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Arctic Autumn!

We were lucky enough to meet and get to know a few of the locals who live such interesting lives. We explored the forests on horseback with a woman who lives with her horses and 90 huskies and went fishing for food on the lake and foraging for berries with the owners of the guesthouse. We thought it couldn’t get any better until we experienced the northern lights.

It is exceptionally difficult to describe what it’s like to watch bright green lights dancing on a backdrop of stars but its impossible to forget. Out of all the places we visited this one felt like it could be home, who knows maybe an Arctic guesthouse one day!?

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The spectacular Northern Lights!

We went on to explore Riga in Latvia. The food scene was one of the most surprising we have seen. It is buzzing with trendy bars and restaurants. We were lucky enough to try out a couple of fantastic places, the highlight being Restorans 3 which pulled out all the stops in terms of clever, tasty and theatrical cooking. Goats cheese made to look exactly like a beetroot with a garlic bread root, horseradish, apple and beetroot textures was a highlight! Mushrooms are like a religion in Latvia and we found ourselves in one of the worlds most famous markets buying bags full of different mushrooms, some that we had never seen or heard about before. Riga is definitely a real up and coming culinary hot-spot.

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Sour cream glazed trout disguised as rocks!

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‘Beetroot’!?

Finally the medieval Old Town of Tallinn is intriguing, different and exceptionally beautiful all at the same time. We were also surprised by the amount of trendy restaurants and bars. Last night, we found our absolute favourite bar of all time. The Sigmund Freud Bar served by far the most interesting and tasty drinks I’ve ever come across. Think vanilla vodka with passion fruit puree, passion fruit, sparkling wine and toasted marshmallow; or passion fruit rum, coconut milk, lemongrass, lime and burning Absinthe! We promised to go in and just have one cocktail and we ended up spending half our live savings, drinking 5 each and having a guess-the-song competition with the barman for free homemade lemoncello shots.   In hindsight this was probably not the best decision to make when we had a 6am bus the next morning. In our defense on our way to the bus station the town was still buzzing with people- seems like the people of Tallinn really know how to have a good party, they would get on well with South Africans.

 

We’re currently sitting in a bus station in Saint Petersburg, Russia. At this stage we’re counting ourselves lucky that we made it here after 1. Last night’s classic Darren and Lisa overdo and 2. Almost being denied entrance at the Russian boarder this morning (this was through no fault of our own but nonetheless a heart palpitation moment with the two now delayed bus drivers waiting for us in passport control staring like we had killed their cat). From what we have experienced so far, Russia is completely different and we’re feeling a little out of our comfort zone. Every sign or information board is in Russian, which as far as I can see uses a whole different alphabet so there’s no point in even trying to make out what it says. Upon our arrival in Saint Petersburg we realized we had come a day early for our departing ticket to Moscow (oops…) and had to sort out that little issue which is much more difficult when the ticket lady doesn’t speak any English. I spent 15 minutes trying to find the toilet in a bus station that was small enough to be a restaurant and it took me about 3 times as long to try buy lunch from the grocery store.

We head through to Moscow tonight, where we will be visiting White Rabbit for dinner, my number 1 bucket list restaurant and one of the best restaurants in the world!

L&D

 

 

Part 2: What You Didn’t Know About Balsamic Vinegar…

Another food adventure on our Italian bucket list was to learn more about balsamic vinegar. Once again, like our Parmigiano Reggiano experience, after leaving our balsamic tasting we realised just how little we knew about it to begin with.

Balsamic making is fascinating and can be considered an art. It has firm traditional roots and the few families that make traditional balsamic vinegar are extremely proud and deeply immersed in the culture that comes with the production. We have a new appreciation for the product, and have realized through the experiences of meeting with suppliers how important it is, as a consumer, to understand where our products are coming from and how they are made.

The industry of traditional balsamic vinegar is family run, completely entrenched in tradition and, like Parmigiano Reggiano, very highly regulated. We were lucky enough to get a tasting at Acetaia Malpighi, a fifth generation, and the biggest, producer of traditional balsamic vinegar in the entire collection of families. There is only a total production of 3000 bottles per year, of which Malpighi produces 1000 bottles.

Many of us have come across balsamic vinegar in the supermarket thinking it is traditional as it is called ‘Balsamic Vinegar of Modena’. This is not traditional balsamic vinegar and usually contains a mix of wine and other additives like caramel, which enhances the viscosity and appearance. Traditional balsamic vinegar is exceptionally hard to find and has absolutely no additive ingredients.

Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from black Labrusca and white Trebbiano grapes. The ratio used of these grapes is dependent on family preferences. The grapes are harvested, pressed and then the liquid is cooked for 2 days turning it into a black juice called grape must. After this, the aging process begins. The aging barrels are arranged in descending size order, in sets of five. Each barrel is a different ‘flavour’. Malpighi’s flavours are cherry, juniper, mulberry, oak and chestnut. The flavours can be used in any order to play with the resulting taste of the vinegar.

 

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The aging barrels, in the attic, covered by muslin cloth.

Each barrel is filled to a set level with the grape must. The barrels are kept open, covered by a muslin cloth, in a warm room (in Malpighi’s case their attic) to allow for fermentation and evaporation. As the liquid in these barrels evaporates a portion is transferred from bigger barrel to smaller barrel down the line ending with the smallest, the ‘queen’ barrel. This barrel will technically have each flavour from the barrels before. The big barrel will then be filled with the grape must from the new harvest and the cycle continues.

Traditional balsamic vinegar must be aged for a minimum of 9 years to qualify and abide by legal regulations. As you can see this is an extremely long process and the blending of flavours by arranging the order of the barrels does become an art. These barrels are never washed so the flavour of the barrel becomes more and more intense, intricate and developed as the years pass. Because of the different infusions present in the old barrels some can be sold for up to €40 000, yes, my jaw dropped too. Malpighi’s oldest barrel is from  the year 1730-287 years old- worth a fortune I’m sure.

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This barrel is 287 years old.

In terms of tradition, the barrels and production techniques are passed down to each new generation. On special occasions, like weddings, barrels are gifts and with the birth of new children a special batch is started. This will be given to the child on his or her 18th birthday.

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A special batch. Started to celebrate the birth of a new grandson.

The production of all traditional balsamic vinegar is bottled and packaged in the same bottle in the same box with only the labels differentiating the families. Once you have seen this packaging, you will never be conned into thinking non-traditional balsamic vinegar is traditional. There are a few other differences:

  1. The bottle is a consortium approved, glass, standardised bottle. The consortium only hands over these bottles after tasting the vinegar and approving of the quality.
  2. The name will state ‘Traditional” rather than “Balsamic of Modena”.
  3. The balsamic vinegar must be produced in the Emilia Romagna region.
  4. The traditional vinegar will have ingredients of only “musto cato” which is the cooked grape must.

When it comes to taste, the traditional balsamic vinegar truly supersedes the rest. They are a dark black colour with beautiful sheen and natural thick viscosity. There is a depth of flavour and intensity that I have never experienced before. The thick and glistening 12 year old traditional is recommended for steaks, pasta or risotto. The beautiful caramel like 25 year old is recommended for ‘the king’: Parmigiano Reggiano and vanilla ice cream (can you get any more indulgence).

Our tasting included other vinegars, all were exquisite, and there were some that I would have liked to ‘taste’ an entire glass. We tried a beautiful 6 year old balsamic vinegar that is recommended for everyday use on items like tomatoes or breads. Two white grape vinegars, a 6 year and an 8 year old which had a beautiful lightness and sweet taste to it, it almost tasted like fresh, light dessert wine- what better to put on your salad- I would eat a whole lot less pizza and more salad if it tasted like dessert wine. There is a beautiful sweetness and complexity of flavour so different from the one before.

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From left: 6 year old and 8 year old white balsamic vinegar, 6 year old balsamic vinegar, 12 year old and 25 year old traditional balsamic vinegar.

I was mortified by the price before I visited the establishment but when I tasted the product and understood the process it made sense. Direct from the supplier, a 12 year old 100ml bottle goes for around €47 (-+ZAR750) and a 25 year old 100ml bottle will see a price of about €75 (-+ ZAR1200). If the balsamic is aged for 25 years, from 100L of grape must the resulting yield is only 0.5L of traditional balsamic vinegar, that’s a total of 5 bottles. So you can understand how rare and exceptional this product truly is.

Along with the 12 year old balsamic vinegar for the collection we also bought white truffle balsamic vinegar because no, you can never have enough truffle products. So far we are bringing home truffle jam, truffle oil, truffle salsa, truffle butter and the truffle vinegar… oops.

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I was mind blown by the entire process, almost speechless (you know how unusual that is). I have the utmost respect and admiration for these people who are producing such wondrously beautiful products. If you are at all interested in food and you ever get the chance to taste traditional balsamic vinegar take it. It may seem dramatic to say it was life changing but as chefs and in general as people who happily allow our lives to revolve around food and these products it was an exceptional life-time experience.

L&D

 

Part 1: What You Didn’t Know About Parmigiano Reggiano…

We are in San Gimignano, a small town just outside of Siena, Italy. Tuscany is very special. At the moment we are lying by the pool being eaten alive by mosquitoes (it has become a competition of who gets the most bites- I’m winning so far with 30-something) but it’s a minuscule price to pay for the exquisite setting and incredible hospitality we have experienced at Agriturisimo il Segreto di Pietrafitta. Also, no we do not want to buy insect repellent because that means one less pizza, or one less glass of wine- neither of which we are willing to trade.

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Italy so far has proven to be, as we expected, a spectacular food affair. One of our Italy bucket list items was to visit a Parmigiano Reggiano ‘factory’. The visit to 4 Madonne has become one of our favourite days in the trip so far, and the fascinating process behind the famous cheese is something we are still thinking about. We thought we would let you know about the ins and outs of the process and hope you find it as fascinating as we did.

Parmigiano Reggiano is produced to a very specific set of standards, highly regulated and controlled as well as protected by law. The cheese can only be produced in a specific regions, those being, Parma, Reggio, Emilia, Bologna (only a small area west of the river Reno), Modena and Mantua (again only a small area south of river Po).

The milk has to come from cows in that region that are fed a specific diet. 4 Madonne produces Parmigiano Reggiano from two types of cows, the traditional Italian Friesian and the ‘Red’ cow. The Red cows are left to roam in the field for 10 months only eating grass. The cheese produced is slightly different in flavour and has a much lower yield than the black and white Friesian cows which are on a slightly different diet of extremely high quality food (legally monitored and approved by the consortium) and grass.

The milk has to be extremely fresh. It is usually used around 3-4 hours after milking. If the milk is older than this it cannot be produced. The factory receives this milk first thing in the morning, meaning they can only produce the Parmigiano Reggiano in the morning. Should the factory request a delivery of milk in the afternoon, the farmer is required to report them as it means the milk will be too old for legal use.

Parmigiano Reggiano is an unpasteurized lactose free cheese. The unpasteurized fresh milk contains certain bacteria and enzymes that when aging ‘eat’ the sugar in the cheese, resulting in lactose free product.

A brief summary of the process:

  1. Fresh milk brought in and blended to a set ratio with skim milk. It is then heated to 33° and split into curds and whey in copper vats.

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    Milk is turned to cheese in these copper vats.

  2. When heating the curds to 50° they combines and sinks to the bottom making a ball that is cut into half and then wrapped in muslin cloth, hung on a belt and sent into the next room for ‘Pre Salting Stage 1’.

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    Heavy discs press liquid from the cheese.

  3. Here the cheese is imprinted by wrapping in a ‘belt’ containing supplier name, license, details etc. and placed under a heavy disc to force out any liquid. This process takes 24 hours. The cheese arrives weighing about 50kg and will leave at about 42kg.

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    This belt contains all relevant and legal information of the producer. It is imprinted onto the cheese during the pre-salting stage.

  4. ‘Pre-salting 2’: The cheese is enclosed in stainless steel belt for 2 days in order to give it the typical wheel shape. During both of these phases the cheese is flipped by hand to achieve consistency.
  5. Brining: the cheese is submerged for 20-25 days in a cage in a tank filled with salt-water solution. This creates a hard protective shell around the cheese preserving it and contributing to the salty flavour.

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    The Salting Room: brine baths containing the submerged wheels.

  6. This initial process takes almost a month to complete! The wheels of cheese are then moved to the warehouse where they are stored and further aged.

The warehouse is a sight to behold. 33 000 wheels standing at a value of €5 million of perfectly created Parmigiano Reggiano stacked on shelves right to the roof. If you look at it too much it starts to feel like an optical illusion.

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An astonishing sight- 33 000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano.

The regulations don’t stop there. These wheels are carefully rotated and cleaned by a machine every 10 days in the warehouse to avoid sweating and contamination by the wood. After 12 months of aging they are given their first ‘test’. A specialist will come in and beat the cheese with a small hammer, if the sound is correct it is burned branded with approval. If the sound is not correct it is marked with stripes and the specialist will return in 3 months to conduct another check. They must then sell this cheese within 18 months. If the cheese fails the test for the second time is cannot be given the branding but can still be sold at a lower price. If the cheese has air bubbles or any liquid it is considered waste and fed to the pigs. The earthquake that affected the factory in 2012 resulted in a €1 million loss of produce- they were either sold at a dramatically decreased price for a 3 month period or given to the pigs (at this point I am starting to envy those Italian pigs).

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The burn mark of approval!

Parmigiano Reggiano has no expiry date and can age indefinitely. The cheese just becomes harder, stronger and changes colour. Every part of the wheel can be eaten, including the rind, it is not plastic or wax, just beautiful salty, hard, cheese. According to the staff at 4 Madonne the rind is the best part.

As you can see the process is very serious and closely monitored. The amount of care and attention to detail that goes into producing every single wheel is astonishing. Absolutely nothing is added to this cheese, apart from the salt in the brining process, making the product all the more special. It is not hard to understand why Parmigiano Reggiano is considered the King.

L&D

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Goodbye France!

Today we are heading out of France and into Italy! A bittersweet day as we are feeling rather attached to France having been here for almost 3 weeks. From Spain we made our way to Lyon. The center of Lyon is beautiful, full of cafes, restaurants and bars.  We found a local bar that sold the cheapest Aperol Spritz in Europe (disclaimer: this fact may not be 100% true). We spent almost every night there enjoying the local life. It is much like Paris but set on the side of a hill with narrow cobblestone streets. We made our way out one evening for what was supposed to be a relaxed stroll through the old streets but managed to find the steepest and longest little road in Lyon turning it into a SWEAT1000/Killer Hill workout that we needed a lot of anti-inflammatory medication, and Aperol, to recover from. It was hard not to resent the little dog that run up the entire way in front of us while I puffed like a 90 year-old smoker.

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The Les Halles Paul Bacouse market is one of the biggest indoor food markets in France, home to many a delicacy. We arrived with the idea of ‘just looking’ but we left with bags of produce, more specifically, pastries, petit fours and cakes. That was breakfast. The next resolution we have is to stop lying to ourselves. Throughout Spain we had come across Iberico ham but it was here that we found the most exquisite wine bar that offered three things Jamon Iberico, wine and cheese. It was an experience in itself to sample these products and the level of self-control it took to eventually walk away before we spent our entire life savings on a pig’s leg was extreme.

One of the things we have been missing the most is a proper egg and bacon breakfast. Since we left home, 6 weeks, we have only been able to have an egg breakfast twice in our apartment in Paris. On our trip to Annecy we decided to treat ourselves to a true French breakfast consisting of baguette, croissant, eggs and bacon, fresh orange juice and coffee. The waitress must have thought this was the first time we were seeing eggs as I think we had a slight over-reaction when the food came. Annecy is one of the most picturesque towns I have ever come across, centered around a massive lake looking out towards the mountains you probably can’t get any better. We took a paddle boat around Lake Annecy, to be fair Darren did most of the paddling and I did most of the sitting, but it was an experience of a lifetime.

Our last few days in France have been filled with highs and lows, well one low (Chicken Chicken, but I’ll get to that). Time on the French Riviera is always well spent! There is constantly a vibe running through the town and being able to explore the Old Town market was a stand out for us.

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Sea Salt at the Nice Market.

We were lucky enough to eat at Restaurant JAN, the only South African chef to hold a Michelin star. We were spoiled beyond our expectations and appreciated the individual effort from the kitchen team and the front of house staff to make our meal enjoyable. The food was fantastic, with the kitchen being run by head chef, South African, Kevin Grobler, we welcomed the familiarity of tastes like bobotie, which was a component in the lamb main course as well as melon, and rooibos in the scallop amuse bouche. My personal favourite dish was the cauliflower, lemon and fennel dessert. The taste combinations were unusual and exquisite. It was perfectly fresh for the blazing heat we experienced in Nice. Darren’s favourite was the tuna with cauliflower panacotta, onions and a caponata-like dressing. It is safe to say that JAN was our culinary highlight in France.

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Cauliflower, Lemon and Fennel.

 

Unfortunately we have encountered one low light, and at this point it’s the culinary low light of the trip: Chicken Chicken. After arriving in Nice feeling like I could eat my left arm I had a craving for fresh roast chicken. We made our way down the side streets in search for food (we have noted that sometimes we act like we haven’t eaten in days, this is not the case, do not worry mom). Like a beacon of light the rotisserie chicken shop was almost enough to get us to salivate. Refusing to be demotivated when told the chickens were not ready we continued. We came across a place called Chicken Chicken, I was desperate so I told Darren with far too much confidence that it must be so nice they named it twice. I do take full responsibility for this decision. In hindsight, I think it is named twice because they were trying to convince people that it was indeed chicken being served and not little crumbed and deep- fried pebbles pulled out of the ocean. With that being said, we are still alive but I doubt I’ll be back there any time soon.

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Colours of the Sea in Nice.

We have already admitted to ourselves that the next three weeks will consist of eating our weights worth in carbs, tiramisu and drinking too much. Darren would like to visit “Leaning Tower of Pizza” (Pisa…).

Because we’re going to be Italy we thought it would be appropriate to leave you all with a fresh pasta recipe to enjoy. We know it has been really cold there lately so we recommend making it into oxtail lasagna. Let us know if you make it and what you think we would love to hear your opinion.

L&D

Simple Fresh Pasta Recipe

450g flour

5 eggs

15ml olive oil

Method:

  1. Make a well with the flour, inside the well put the beaten eggs and oil.
  2. Work with a fork until dough-like consistency forms.
  3. Knead the dough for roughly 5 minutes. It should be well combined but not too firm. Be careful not to overwork it as it will result in tough pasta.
  4. Leave in the fridge to rest for a minimum of 3 hours- overnight is best. This relaxes the gluten giving the pasta better texture.
  5. You can roll it out according to the type of pasta desired. In this case we recommend rolling out and cutting into lasagna sheets.

Oxtail- if you can’t get oxtail you can substitute beef shin or beef short rib instead.

2kg oxtail

1x packet tomato paste

3x large sticks of celery

1x onion

3x large carrots

3x large garlic cloves

500ml red wine

2x dissolved stock cubes

2x bay leaves

3x whole peppercorns

Fresh rosemary and thyme

Method:

  1. Dust meat in flour and sear in hot pan until caramelized
  2. Place meat in roasting tray
  3. De-glaze pan with dissolved stock, wine and tomato paste add to roasting tray
  4. Chop vegetables, neatly if you want to leave it in the lasagna, and add to roasting tray with fresh herbs.
  5. Braise for +-5 hours
  6. Strain the meat from the liquid and pull off the bone, making sure to get all small bones and gristle out.
  7. On the side reduce the sauce to thicken, add the meat back into it once thick.
  8. Season to taste.

Simple Béchamel Sauce

100g butter

100g flour

1L milk

Method:

  1. Melt butter, add flour making a roux
  2. Cook the roux for about 3 minutes
  3. Add milk in stages, whisking to make sure there are no lumps, until desired consistency.
  4. Season to taste.

Finally layer the lasagna in an appropriate tray/dish and top with grated Parmesan. Cook the lasagna until hot the whole way through. Make sure to get the parmesan on top nice and crisp!

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The ins and outs

KICKING off from where we last ended, and what a match we witnessed! Goals galore (3-1), red cards, penalties, own goals, you name it, we got it! To top it off, we sat in a stadium with 89514 other spectators so the vibe and atmosphere was electric! We were in a debacle with who to support, as we secretly wanted Real Madrid to win (having bought a scarf in support even), but being at Camp Nou, Barcelona’s home stadium, we were out numbered and decided to keep the scarf deep down at the bottom of the bag. And thankfully so, considering the terrible result the home fans got to witness. We did have a good few laughs between ourselves though, as on approaching the stadium one of us asked the rather entertaining question of “will the commentary be in English”. No need for me to clarify whom. Haha

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But anyways, I thought I’d give everyone an update of the behind the scene’s that the numerous photographs or blogs prior to this haven’t covered. As well as maybe provide some tips or pointers if any one else has the opportunity to travel for as long as this!

As I write this, we are on our way to the 18th city, this including a few day trips to the small towns. Along the way we’ve both realized, and I’m sure wont stop us, that our pronunciation of the towns names, places, streets etc. are so wrong! We look back now and laugh at ourselves after wondering why we keep receiving funny looks when telling people where we were off to! I’m quite surprised we haven’t been sent in the wrong direction when asking for directions yet!

Thankfully we stick to what we know in terms of the underground metro systems or walking! And when I say walking, there hasn’t been a day yet that we haven’t walked over 10km’s, our best so far being 19km’s! The fitness levels have certainly increased and we both agree that we are getting stronger by the day! (We had several recommendations of maps to download and use and one that we use on the daily is Maps.ME, as this works offline, so long as you have downloaded the town’s map before heading out. Ryan and Kelly gave us this tip, which we are so thankful for as it’s avoided us getting lost on several occasions. We have also come to the agreement that I’ll do the directing and Lisa will ask the questions once we’re lost! Great team work!)

The initial excitement of ‘new’ food has also started to slow, so we haven’t been buying everything we see! Which has in turn, started helping with our weight. (Watch out Tom, I’m going to come back a Large and leave the XL’s here in Europe!)

Making a remark on clothing, a reality one doesn’t think about is having to do washing on a frequent bases in the best way possible. Luckily there are Laundromats all over the big towns, and fairly simple to use, so off we go, down the street, black bags filled with dirty washing, only to return and hour and a half later with clean washing, hopefully to last at least 2 weeks! If there’s a shortage of socks or underwear, basin washing comes in to play, and thankfully Sandy comes to the rescue with her fold up wash line (a woven string that stretches out, something that Bear Grylls would have on his missions to mars) that gets strung across the room and everything gets hung out to dry. Let me just add, the room at this stage now looks like Trump has something against us and has dropped an Atom bomb.

When traveling for as long as this, one needs to be very careful with money and how they spend it. Put a budget into simple terms: Daily meals, transport and activities. From there, prioritize on what you would like to spend your money on. The obvious one for us is food. And magnets? We have bought a magnet from every place we’ve been so far, to put on our fridge when we return, so that we are constantly reminded of this amazing trip we’ve been on. (I mean where better a place to constantly remind us right?)

In terms of food spend one start’s to get clever. We buy one item that lasts a few meals, just utilized in different techniques. Unfortunately things like coffee become a treat (so if you’re staying somewhere that offers coffee, take advantage haha!). I walked around for the first month with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar in my bag, and still have the original salt we bought back on day 1). If you have the luxury of space, buy the every day items and carry them around with you, it all helps, but don’t over commit and be left walking around with the whole shop and its kitchen sink (like we did at first). As for the spoils of a drink, we’ve gotten into a good routine of once a week spoils of having A, (Yes only one) drink out. And invariably it’s always during happy hour so we get it at half price haha!

We’ve found the best way to watch the budget is draw yourself up a daily budget of what you can afford to spend, and limit that to what you can buy and do! It really makes you practice self control and restraint. Something both of us struggled with at first, especially when it comes to food.

It really doesn’t help with the currency that we travel on, but there’s no point in complaining. We’re still here, and loving life! Talking about home, and we’ve both hit a few days of missing certain things back home, I’m not going to call it home sick, but rather a longing for certain things! We’ve both been craving a really good rump steak straight off the braai, a crispy pork belly fresh out the oven or even a roast chicken with all the traditional roast condiments. We picture having these meals in the places we love most: Dullstroom or Hoedspruit with friends or family!

We ventured off to Restaurant Jan (first South African chef to receive a Michelin star) for lunch today, so got to get a little taste of home! (I’ll let Lisa do the elaborating) .But it hasn’t only been about the food! It’s also about the small things, like the attention from our pets. We both miss the cuddles from our cats, or taking Gunner the Dalmatian to the park for walks, even though he walks us most of the time! Thankfully we receive countless videos from Sasha keeping us updated on the “the days of their lives”, and let me tell you, its bound to turn a bad day or situation around, leaving both of us looking like freaks smiling away at a cellphone screen.

I think as this trip progresses and time moves on, we are both realizing a lot about ourselves, our directions and where we are headed with life. We chat about the future a lot, and the more we do so, the more the excitement builds! As time progresses we’ll start sharing the ideas that we’ve been working on and hopefully get a lot of you excited as well. All I can say on a ending note, is that we count our lucky stars every day that we’ve been given this opportunity to do what we are doing, we are taking in every last bit of information and experiences that we can, and hope to share these memories and experiences with you back home someday, be it through food, writing or even stories.

Happy reading

L&D

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A quick congratulations to two couples close to our hearts! Cherri-lee and Chad, Congrats on tying the knot. We wish you both many happy years together and the best for the future to come. Sorry we weren’t there to spend the special day with you guys.

Paulo and Lee-At, new to the parenting world. Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful daughter Luna. You guys will make wonderful parents, but Paulo, whatever you do, keep her out the kitchen!

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Beautiful sun set of San Sebastian

 

 

A little bit of everything…

A hellishly long journey to Barcelona from San Sebastian (via a few other places in the opposite direction) gave us the opportunity to have some down time to write. It has been a busy last couple of weeks.

We arrived in Prague on a Friday night because we were only in Prague for 2 nights we decided to focus on the street food offering as well as sampling the very traditional Czech food. This was no small task as the more we walked Prague the more we realized the street food was everywhere and exceptionally good. Multiple places had big joints or whole pigs glazed and crackled turning over coals, gourmet hot dogs galore and every sort of sweet treat. Our favourites were the Trdelniks which are a Czech specialty a type of yeasty bread dough cooked by turning over extremely hot coals and dusted in cinnamon and sugar or rolled and filled with ice cream.

The offering didn’t stop at food and we came across multiple trendy street drinks offerings, the favourite was the “South African rooibos iced tea” stand, we almost shed a tear at the familiar taste and thank whichever Czech angel brought it into the country. The traditional cuisine in Prague is very stew/goulash orientated which is not normally the first food of choice in 35-38° weather but we went ahead anyway.

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Traditional Czech Goulash

From the traveling experience as a whole we have realized that South Africans love and ‘do’ meat better than anyone else. We have been missing a good pork belly or a rump steak and this was probably evident to the man selling his glazed pork hock. We arrived just as the clouds burst (we seem to have this effect on the European weather). Poor man probably thought we were in Prague with pounds as he told us he only sells 500g portions which was way more than our budget could handle and two very shady as all portions were advertised in 100g portions but we were desperate and agreed. This was a major counting coins as well as a too-lazy-to-walk-to-an-ATM in the rain moment. The look on our faces when we realized we were short obviously conjured up some kindness in him allowing us to pay the difference in South African Rands so that he had a ‘souvenir’ from South Africa. We left out the part about our currency being worth less and less these days (thanks Zuma) and left with our seriously big chunk of glazed pork guarding it from the rain with our lives.

After an extremely uncomfortable 16 hour overnight bus ride from Prague to Paris, thanks to the stubborn teenager in front of me who thought the bus was a business class emirates flight extending her seat to almost flat on my legs, loudly skyping with her mother and playing music out loud at one stage. It felt good that the flight, I mean, bus attendant had a mutual dislike of her, at one stage threatening to kick her out the bus at the next stop and leave her there. At least it provided for some sort of mild entertainment for our long journey. In Paris we were staying in our own apartment so we loved being able to cook for ourselves, at this point we are both itching to get back into the kitchen! So we decided to focus on the pastry side of Paris, which was just pure indulgence for 5 days. When you start adding the Belgian beers and waffles, the ice cream in every city and what we ate in Paris its understandable why we are both growing a ‘boep’.

Before I left Johannesburg I had torn out an article about Paris from the Woolworths TASTE magazine and thrown it in the bottom of my bag, it was a range of recommendations throughout the city. This was pulled out and albeit a bit torn we used it as sort of a food treasure hunt stopping at all the places and putting their recommendations ‘to the test’. We bought something from every store and had a complete feast at the Eiffel tower. Highlights were the passion fruit and chocolate choux a la crèmes (we proceeded to go back and eat these every day while we were there), tomato and basil macaroons and the truffle, onion and Pomerol marmalade (oh.my.gosh) From that moment, we ended up putting this marmalade on everything we ate from scrambled eggs to sandwiches to carrots and tomatoes, cheese- this may seem desperate I realize that now.

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We tried to do a romantic bike ride to the Eiffel tower to see the shimmering lights, this evening probably started at about 8 30pm. Darren jumped on the hired bike and was cruising along gracefully. I was huffing and puffing and losing my balance my legs were on fire. I kept telling him there was something wrong with the bike not me and only when we eventually switched bikes so he could prove the bike was fine did we realize I had been riding with a flat back tyre. Not just a little flat, flat almost falling off the bike kind of flat. I was basically trying to unicycle up the Champs-Elysee dragging my back wheel behind. I shudder to think what the hundreds of people we rode past thought. Then it was Darren’s chance to huff and puff through the streets (HAHA) while I rode ahead. We spend the next couple of hours stopping at the bike rental stations which were either empty or the bikes had problems trying to replace the flat bike (see, other countries have problems too). We managed to get to the last shimmering session at 11pm. All in all so much fun, exquisite food and we probably drank too much- what’s new- it didn’t help that the next stop on our list was wine country!

We had our fair share of ups and ‘downs’ (transport and location related) in Bordeaux. Neither of us having been to Bordeaux before we both expected the entire town to be rolling fields of wineries so we thought it doesn’t really matter if we are not staying right in the centre because our walk will be beautiful and scenic. In hindsight we were probably a bit ignorant. Bordeaux happens to be a beautiful, and rather built up town. Our accommodation even though clean and comfortable was way outside, I still do not really know where it was but there was a McDonalds nearby which shamefully was sometimes helpful for mid-journey ‘padkos’. I am not sure if we can say we stayed in Bordeaux? If you had told me I had crossed the French boarder into another country I probably would have believed you.

Onto bigger and better things… the Sunday market in Bordeaux is every food lovers dream, set along the river it’s a heaven of fresh produce (truffles included) giant paellas and fish skewers and that’s just the beginning.

We had an incredible day out in St Emilion tasting wines and exploring the old medieval town. It has a fascinating lay out as it sits on a network of underground ‘caves’ used these days to store wine! Every shop along the old cobblestone streets was either food or wine orientated to another level it was incredible to see- we definitely needed more than one day and have said next time we will go back for at least two weeks (this may differ for different people- it is most likely a result of our obsessive food and alcohol tendencies).

An equal highlight was our day spent in Cap Ferret, a small coastal town near Bordeaux. We found an oyster ‘shack’ on the beach for lunch. We didn’t need much time to ponder over the menu it was small: oysters, sea snails, prawns, white or rose wine. Naturally, we settled on the entire menu. The seafood was fresh and delicious, the oysters were like non other. I have not seen or tasted oysters that are nearly comparable! Served with just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, no Tabasco no black pepper, no nonsense it was pure class! Our ferry came too quickly and we had to say goodbye to the little piece of heaven Cap Ferret.

We probably should have stayed longer because from here started a string of delayed or missed transport issues. To top it all off I (without knowing) insisted on staying for a minute in the train station to get wifi back in Boredaux to check the results of the no confidence vote which led to us also missing the last tram out to our hotel (again- thanks Zuma). We consulted Google maps for a route and in our, mistaken, opinion Google maps gave us the wrong route back- we thought we knew a shorter way. This meant our journey back to our hotel included a lot more walking, running across highways, trying to jump over fences, thorns, stinging nettles and almost tears in the end.

We managed to make (narrowly) our bus to San Sebastian and despite the severe sun burn and leaving booking our train to Barcelona too late putting us in a pickle with no available transport options we are all in one piece, well fed and loving Spain! San Sebastian was an indulgence marathon of Iberico ham that is not only exquisite in taste is also produced in a very interesting way.

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These last couple of weeks we have learned so much, but here’s a couple of our favourite food/wine related facts:

  1. Along the vineyards in St Emilion we noticed there were always roses planted. Why? Apart from the aesthetic appeal the roses play a vital role in vine safety. Because they are from the same family as vines, but much more fragile, if any disease or pest were to attack the area the roses would be affected first. This allows the farmers to take swift action before their yields are lost.
  2. We’ve always heard about the exceptional quality and taste of Iberico ham, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some in South Africa it can cost an arm and a leg! We always thought it was ham just made in the Iberian region (much like champagne from Champagne). Turns out it has more to do with the breed of pig Iberian pig and the food in which it feeds off. Among other grades, the best quality is black label these pigs are pure bred and are fed acorns! The ham is then cured and can be treated for up to 4 years!
  3. Oysters take up to 3 years to grow and only 5 seconds to throw down your throat!

That’s it for now- we are working on our self-created transport related issues. This evening we head off to Camp Nou to watch Barcelona and Real Madrid in the final- what a life!

L&D

 

Warsaw sets the bar!

En route Prague at the moment…

Warsaw was the biggest surprise of the trip so far, we were relatively unsure what to expect and initially the only reason Warsaw was on our list was because of Atelier Amaro, an experimental ‘science meets nature’ restaurant in one of Warsaw’s parks. I’ll get back to the restaurant experience in a minute but it should be said that if any of you ever get a chance to visit Warsaw, do it. We stayed in the Old Town. The Old Town was exquisite, it was relatively quiet compared to the touristy areas in Brussels and Bruges, it’s difficult to explain but Darren and I just felt there was an air to it, something special (corny I know).

On to the restaurant experience, we both feel that it needs to be written about. We made a reservation before we even had accommodation in Warsaw and pretty much anywhere else in Europe (an example of chef priorities). This was something we were beyond excited for. It was a beautiful evening in The Old Town when we left there were a couple of ominous looking clouds in the sky but nothing too serious. The plan was to Uber to the restaurant but because we had to spend a fair portion of the day recovering from our Polish vodka experiences we thought the evening walk would be good for us. It started pouring with rain very soon after this decision and we decided to just make do with the one small umbrella we had, in hindsight this was not a smart move and we should have just taken the Uber. In our soaking wet power-walk-panic we missed the door of the restaurant, and found ourselves walking around in circles in the outside garden (which can be seen from the inside of the restaurant- not our finest moment) only to do a full loop back to the door which amazingly (said with sarcasm) we managed to see this time.

Part of what we liked about the restaurant was that we didn’t know what to expect, there was no suggested dress code on the website so we opted for smart casual. We came through the door like a bit of a hurricane, furiously trying to wipe our now soaking wet and garden trodden shoes on the entrance mats and apologizing profusely for being wet and a bit disheveled. We lifted our heads to find the two or three tables already there staring at us in their seriously smart suits, fancy dresses and shiny shoes.

Feeling out of place, we sat down and I looked at Darren, his white shirt was now completely see through on the one side, nipple and all (I can’t help but laugh now). An extremely serious looking waiter immediately approached us and said to Darren: “Sir, could you please come with me”. Darren had already expressed his doubt to me regarding his shoe choice for the evening. He got up and whispered to me “it’s my shoes” and followed the waiter to the back of the restaurant. At this point I was left alone at the table and I was convinced our restaurant experience was over before we even got to have a glass of wine. The two scenarios in my head played out as follows: One: They politely informed Darren that his shoes and his technically half naked body was inappropriate for their fine establishment and he agrees that we made a mistake and we leave quietly, Two: they politely inform Darren his shoes and his technically half naked body is inappropriate for their fine establishment and Darren, for lack of a better word, decks the guy, knocking him out and we are escorted out by Polish police and put on a Michelin restaurant blacklist.

I was green when he got back to the table, it’s not an exaggeration to say my legs had gone numb but it turns out they had very generously offered him a dry, pressed beautiful collared shirt (it was in better condition than Darren’s 3 weeks in a backpack shirt to begin with). I think the entire staff body had a good chuckle but the experience began and we quickly relaxed. There was one waiter that took a little longer to warm up to us completely but I think that’s because Darren was now wearing his clean shirt for the next day.

The menu was a ‘9 moments’ menu, it had an extra four amuse bouches to start and an extra sweets course at the end. Every course was exquisite, there was not one course that we thought was a miss, we did have a few favourites.

We began with a beautiful ‘on the beach’ sand box filled with little treats, the stand out being a beetroot cone with beer ice cream. A big favourite was the chicken, lard and boletus presented sticking out of a tree trunk.  Think salty crispy chicken skin, fatty lard with wild mushroom powder (the team forages for mushrooms three times a week) and beautiful bursts of acidity in between- heaven.

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Chicken | Lard | Boletus

When asked if there was anything we did not eat I was so busy checking the menu for herring that I missed the black pudding part, normally not a favourite of mine. They had incorporated black pudding with chocolate and walnuts and made it the filling for two paper thin burnt onion biscuits. Presented on a hand made tapestry, the complexity of flavors and technique was brilliant.

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Black Pudding | Chocolate | Onion

This next dish was the most interesting plate of food Darren and I have ever eaten. Described on the menu as “broad bean/lavender/rabbit” we were surprised when the waiter explained to us that the dish was rabbit kidney with snail and snail eggs which are a Polish delicacy. The kidneys had been disguised as broad beans and were in hiding among some real broad beans. We are both very open to trying anything but I think there was slight panic when we heard the snail eggs part. Once again the dish was beautiful, another surprise.

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Rabbit | Broad Bean | Lavender

The ethos of the restaurant is to bring science and nature together with a focus on fresh, exiting Polish ingredients. This was certainly delivered and we loved hearing that a large amount of the produce is personally foraged for in the woods. It was so evident in the “wild strawberry/tomato/wood sorrel” dish which was finished with a tomato and verbena consommé. The nasturtium ravioli filled with pea and mint hummus served with polish cheese fondant was another example of this ethos. Exceptional.

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Nearing the end we were presented with one of the best lamb dishes I have ever eaten, no words I can use would do it justice so I’m not even going to try, just believe me. I drew hearts on my plate when it was finished and sent it back to the kitchen with compliments.

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Both desserts were innovative, beautiful and fresh (translucent cheesecake- gasp-), a perfect way to end off the meal.

The service throughout the evening was exceptional, completely faultless in every sense of the word. It was a privilege to be invited down to the kitchen to meet the chefs and to chat to them about their work, their foraging and their Polish produce. We hope to one day be back to see the team again!

As for our travels, we’re going to be in Prague for the next couple of days so will keep you posted.

L&D

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Cheers to Poland

Before I start, I’m just going to put it out there, that Lisa is way better then I am at this, so don’t expect this to be a regular thing! If you don’t notice it by the grammar, punctuation and word selection, you’ll certainly notice it by my straightforward writing.

Having said that, lets give this thing a go:

We’ve found the time to do this next post as we’re both lying on our bed in the hotel we are staying in, in the old town of Warsaw, hung-over as ever. We’ve always heard that polish vodka is good, but we may have gotten a little carried away last night! We met up with another South African and one beer led to the next, throw in a few vodka’s, and today, we found ourselves walking to the nearest McDonald’s (I know I know). We did however get to sample some of the local dishes, Pierogi’s which are stuffed and boiled dumplings. We opted for the confit goose and raspberry dumplings, which were nice. We also sampled beef cheeks on pancakes, the pancakes were more like hash browns, but it was delicious! The food is rather hearty and homely which is comforting to have! I can imagine even more so in freezing Polish winter!

 

Sticking to the food chats briefly, we’ve certainly had some highlights (Michelin restaurants) and some low lights (Tupperware cooking) but we’ve both agreed that we are looking forward to staying in one of our booked apartments so that we can cook up a storm! I’m surprised to say it, but after 2 months, I sort of feel home sick, and by home, I mean the kitchen. A big positive is that we are finding inspiration at every corner. Conspiring dishes by standing in the pouring rain staring at a piece of graffiti on the remains of the berlin wall, to tasting some amazing produce that we’ve never seen before, it really creates this urge for us to jump into any strangers kitchen and start cooking!

 

Moving away from food and on to history, I’ve certainly realized how little I know about the history of Europe. It’s a real eye opener to walk around these old cities that have so much history and just soak it all up. We’ve cottoned on to the free walking tours of the cities which require a tip at the end of the walk, but it’s a great way to see all the main attractions and to learn some useful hints from a local. We’ve also met some very interesting characters along the way, be it on the busses, trains or just walking in the street, but its safe to say that the people back home are way more approachable and easier to talk to. I mean, the waiter last night was having a 2way conversation with us and someone on her cellphone while trying to take our order?

 

I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the trip has in store for us, but for now, we are heading off to another Michelin restaurant for Michelin Fridays! I’m sure we’ll inform you of all the thrills and spoils in the next post.

 

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Beers, Bikes and Bratwurst!

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We left off our last post exploring Brussels. Brussels, like Bruges, hails in all things wonderfully Belgian. There is an abundance of chocolates, waffles and frites and most importantly some of the greatest beers in the world. It was however, a massively multicultural and dynamic city especially in terms of food which ranged from traditional to authentic Lebanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Turkish and pretty much anything else under the sun which was incredible to see.  All in all a successful food experience apart from the fact my skin looks like a pre-teen from the copious amounts of chocolate and waffle eating and I have developed a taste for Belgian peach beer which I have a feeling is going to be a seriously expensive habit to keep alive back in South Africa.

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We then arrived in Amsterdam! One of my personal favourite cities, I was beyond excited to be there with Darren and Kimberley. In Amsterdam we had a little splurge at Envy, an experimental restaurant which did not disappoint at all. The food was fresh, beautiful and innovative and it made us miss being in the kitchen. We learned some really important things in Amsterdam:

  1. We both have a severe dislike of herring, which seems to be served everywhere in Europe (I think it can even be classified as a mild phobia for us). Stay away herring.
  2. Stroopwaffels are a godsend. Seriously.
  3. Do not, I repeat, do not ask locals, for their recommendation on good coffee shops. You will find various great delicacies in a ‘coffee shop’ in Amsterdam but probably not any coffee (places to buy coffee are called Cafes).
  4. The locals are all great people until they get on a bike and you’re a confused tourist standing in their way.
  5. Cheese. More specifically truffle gouda. Enough said.
  6. We’ll be back, definitely.

We are currently in Berlin, another city so rich in history, culture and sausages (referred to from now on as wursts to avoid any sort of humourous misinterpretation). We arrived yesterday by taxi, after giving up on how to find the right tram from the station and being shouted at in German by an old man (who proceeded to follow us around the station shouting because we couldn’t understand him in the first place). Since arrival we have eaten various types of wursts for every. single. meal and this is no exaggeration. Curry wurst is ranking top of our list so far. We’re carrying absolutely no kitchen equipment with us so the inner chef (making-a-plan-during-mid-service-catastrophe) mode has come out and we’ve been improvising with a €1 Tupperware and some boiling water when we’re lucky enough to get from the hostel (this goes not just for wursts but pastas and vegetables too). Tomorrow is pretzel tasting day, and then probably more wursts for dinner.

L&D

P.S We’ll soon be including some of the recipes we’ve come across along the way!

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We’re in Brussels!

It’s pouring with rain today in Brussels which has allowed us to catch up on some down time. We’re sitting in a coffee shop with a cappuccino and fresh brioche taking stock of the last week of travel.

We began in Bruges which is completely idyllic to say the least. The grandeur of some of the architecture alongside the small old-town historical bliss is something out of a fairy tale (if that’s not convincing enough there are horses with carriages walking the streets too). Street side and canal side cafes are a big thing, the specialty dish being mussels and chips (moules and frites).

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The beautiful Grand Place, Brussels, at Dusk

We were beyond excited to have our first Michelin star restaurant experience at Sans Cravate. The restaurant was modern and simplistic in terms of decor with exceptional attention to detail in their glassware and cutlery- it was these small details that constantly reminded us of the calibre of establishment.  The food was a hit all round too; lettuce meringues with goats cheese cream, bone marrow with rosemary salt and deer with tarragon were stand outs for the two of us. All in all the experience was unforgettable and we loved the bold flavours but also the restraint and respect shown to subtle flavours.

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Crunchy pillows filled with pea and mint mousse

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Lettuce meringue with goats cheese

 

Because of this splurge many a ‘park meal’ of bread, olive oil, salami and basil was had along the canals in Bruges (which was pretty spectacular too). It may be a chef thing that we both have a weakness for fresh herbs but we now have a fresh basil plant called Basil (I know, original) that has traveled with us in Darren’s backpack since London for these ‘park meals’.

We’re now in Brussels which is a melting pot of cultures. It’s incredible to see these influences on the food which has ranged from French and Italian to Vietnamese, Thai and Lebanese. We’re going to do some more exploring of these in the next few days.

Our experience so far in Belgium has been all about beers, waffles, chocolates and ‘frites’ and it is acceptable to eat these in copious quantities for breakfast lunch and dinner- whats not to love?

L&D

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