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    Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

    My Favorite Tapas of Spain

    Eating My Way Through Spain

    Location: Sevilla Spain

    It’s no secret I love to eat.  Our grand adventure involves a lot of food.  Travel is a conduit to cuisines of the world.  And I couldn’t love that more.

    I’ve been asked often what my favorite cuisine is.  It’s a tough question.  I love the comfort noodles of Asia, the rich stews and meats of the Balkans, the fresh seafood of the Mediterranean.  I adore any

    Anchovies

    cuisine made with the freshest local produce.  And I am also endlessly fascinated with the culture and history behind regional cuisine; pierogi of Poland; khao soi of northern Thailand; peka of Croatia, shopska salad of Bulgaria, tagine of Morocco.  These foods are both storyteller and palate dancer.

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Shrimp

    What could be more fabulous?

    Spanish Cuisine

    We’ve been in Spain now for more than a month.  Last year we spent more than two months in Spain.  I have learned to enjoy what is really a simple cuisine here in this country – locally sourced, simply prepared and not overly seasoned.  Although the many regions of Spain have their individual specialties, the focus of the overall cuisine of Spain is fresh and seasonal.

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Fried sardines

    My only complaint about Spain is how late they eat their meals.  Breakfast is barely a meal – just coffee and a croissant, maybe a tortilla (here in Spain ‘tortilla’ is an egg and potato dish, aka Spanish omelet) around 10am.  Lunch isn’t until 2:00pm and dinner rarely gets started before 9pm.  For this American, that is well past my bedtime.

    One of the reasons Spain eats so late is because they are in a crazy backwards timezone.  Ever since Franco wanted Spain in the same timezone as Germany, Spaniards have lived with a VERY late sunrise and a VERY late sunset.  So, they have adjusted their eating habits to accommodate.  Unfortunately my internal clock is not so easily adjusted.

    So the answer for me, when in Spain, is to live on tapas – the luscious

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Stuffed olives

    little dishes served all day long.  I have become a fan of tapas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    The Tapa Life

    We have enjoyed my favorite tapas of Spain in Madrid, Santiago,Leon and Barcelona.  But Sevilla loves its tapas bars (there are no tapas restaurants only bars – tapas are always served with alcohol) and the abundance of options is both fun and a bit overwhelming.  In fact many will argue Sevilla is the birthplace of the tapa. We studied up a bit on where to go, what to eat and some history, then we set out on our own little “tapear”, the Spanish word for tapas hopping. Time to find my favorite tapas of Spain.

    As we set out on our excursion we were happy to know there really wasn’t anywhere better we could be eating tapas than in Sevilla, and specifically in the historic Triana neighborhood.  Myths and legends abound about tapas. One of the most

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Cold tomato soup

    popular is King Alfonso the 10th, The Wise King of Spain, had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to take in small portions of food with small amounts of wine. After recovering from his illness, the king issued a decree that no wine should be served at inns unless it was served with food. (credit A Brief History of Tapas, Pita Jungle).

    My Favorite Spanish Tapas

    We did not have the opportunity to try every kind of tapa Sevilla is famous for, but we indulged in many and here is a list of some of our favorites both from our tour of Triana and our time throughout Spain (see photos and captions of

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Pork in whiskey with potata

    several throughout this blog); croqueta (very popular bite size fried cheesy nuggets often with jamon but we enjoyed it with duck as well as mint), montadito (tiny bite size jamon and pork sandwich), solomillo al whiskey (pork in whisky sauce), los pajaritos (tiny fried quail), patata (fresh potato chip), tortilla bites (egg and potato omelette), tortillita de camarones (fried shrimp pancake), espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzo beans), salmorejo (cold tomato soup), stuffed olives, thin sliced jamon iberico de bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham), pancetta frita (fried pork belly), grilled shrimp, boiled shrimp, sardinas ala parilla  (grilled sardines), mussels, pulpo (octopus), razor clams, fried calamari, boquerones (anchovies) on toast, sausages and rabo de toros (bull’s tail).  And those are just the ones I can remember.

    Simple, Cheap & Delicious

    It’s a wonderful way to eat.  But the great thing is, even if you are only stopping for a glass of wine with a friend, the bar will always set something to nibble in front of you (because the King said so).  It will

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Grilled sardines and grilled shrimp

    probably be a plate of olives, perhaps nuts or sometimes bread with ham and cheese or tortilla.   It’s said that the original tapas were probably bread with jamon, which was used to cover your drink (the word tapa means ‘cover’).

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Croqueta

    Despite the origin of the word, it now describes a cuisine unto its own.  Though southern Spain and particularly Andalusia claim it, the popularity of tapas has spread, particularly to South and Central America, Mexico and the United States.

     

    The day of our tapear we ate and drank (both beer and wine) for several hours at six locations.  And our total spending for the afternoon? Less

    My favorite Spanish Tapas

    Tiny fried quail

    than $50.

    We leave Sevilla and head next to Malaga – about 205 km south, on the Mediterranean.  We expect to continue our tapas exploration and enjoy

    a bounty of fresh goodness from the sea. Fabuloso and delicioso!

    Malaga here we come!

     

    Read my blog about food in Barcelona.

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    Europe Travel

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    My Fab Fifties Island Girl Life

    Location: South Aegean Greece

    What a wonderful decision it was for us to spend three weeks on the tiny island of Antiparos in the south Aegean.  We have truly loved our time here.

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Antiparos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Delos

    Using Antiparos as our home base for island hopping wasn’t really what we set out to do, but it worked out well for us to take short day trips to some of the other islands around the area. However, something to note – because of the unusual weather pattern (around the world) the ferry from Antiparos to Paros was shut down for two days due to wind while we were here.  Something to think about if you plan to stay only a short time.  We had lots of time so it did not affect our plans.

    Santorini

    You can hop to Santorini from here, but the off-season ferry schedule makes that tough.  During the summer more boats run.  But we had already spent three days there so no need to go back.  But if you visit and want to do a day trip to Santorini check out both the ferry schedule as well as the privately operated tour boats.  The private boats run more frequently. When we took the ferry from Santorini to Paros it costs us 58 Euro for both of us (one way) and took three hours, stopping at Ios along the way. We used Minoan ferry line for this trip.

    Mykonos and Delos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Delos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Mykonos

    We used a private tour boat to visit Delos and Mykonos together on one day.  We took the ferry from Antiparos to Paros and we got on a van that transported us to Naousa (the van transfer was included in the tour price).  Here we hopped on a boat that could carry about 200 people.  It wasn’t full, but perhaps 100 people.  It was an hour ride to Delos where we spent three hours touring this amazing island and its significant ancient ruins.  Guided tours were available  but we did the tour on our own and really enjoyed it.

    Back on the boat we motored 15 minutes to Mykonos.  We had three hours to wander here.  We had a fantastic lunch at Salparo, sitting on the rocks overlooking the harbor.  We then enjoyed sauntering around the historic blue and white village, visited historic sites and looked at shops.  Three hours was just enough, since we had been to Mykonos once before eleven years ago.

    That trip to Delos and Mykonos was an all-day adventure and costs us 50 euro each. We booked this through Polo Tours in Paros.

    Paros

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Naousa,Paros

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Naousa, Paros

    We visited the island of Paros twice. The first visit we had a car and we headed to Naousa in the north part of the island.  The weather wasn’t great but we still enjoyed exploring the tiny alleys and hidden shops and homes in the old chora (village).  Naousa also has a charming and picturesque port.  We  drove up into the mountains to visit the teeny village of Lefkes.  This ancient town, far from the water, is unusual in how green it is, unlike most of the brown island landscape, and is home to a small agricultural population.  Lefkes is one of the few remaining chora that retains its authentic roots.

    The next time we visited Paros we spent several hours discovering Paroikia, the port town where the large ferries come and go.  The port area is bustling and noisy, but hidden back behind it is an incredible old chora that many people miss.  It once again had some fascinating buildings, tunnels and passageways, a spectacular old castle and temple of Athena, many lovely shops and of course, cats.

    Naxos

    Naxos

    We traveled on the lovely Blue Star Ferries to the island of Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades Islands, about a 45 minute ferry ride from Pariokia.  We paid 42 Euro total for both of us round-trip. It was a very windy day and I  worried about the boat ride, but the Blue Star line runs large, almost cruise-ship style boats, and I did fine with my motion sickness issue.

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Pariokia, Paros

    It was also very windy in Naxos, and this port town is very exposed, so we spent a lot of time wandering the old chora up to the ancient castle and trying to stay out of the wind.  It’s another beautiful ancient town.  We enjoyed having a drink at the rooftop of 1739, which was out of the wind and offered a spectacular panoramic view.  We had a nice lunch of simple souvlaki at Yasouvlaki.  We then braved the crashing waves to cross the pedestrian manmade causeway to walk out to the famous ancient portara (door), site of an unfinished temple from 530BC.  We got wet.  Like I said, it was very windy. But it was worth it.  The Naxos Portara was worth it.

    Antiparos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Naxos

    At the end of the day in Naxos I told my husband that I have really enjoyed visiting all five of the islands, but in the end, I am so glad we stayed three weeks on Antiparos.  It has everything we want; quiet and peaceful, small village, beautiful secluded beaches, a handful of shops and is still close enough to visit the surrounding islands.

    I do hope to return here someday.

    Where to next?

    But now its time to leave.  Next stop – ten-day tour of Egypt and Jordan.  A definite bucket list destination for me ever since I was a child.  We hope you will continue to follow along on our Fab Fifties Adventures.

    Farewell Greece and Antiparos.   I love you.

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    Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    It’s Not Greek to Me

    Location: Antiparos Greece

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Skid at Skala Restaurant in Santorini

    I’ve been to Greece before, and one of the things I was most looking forward to about returning here was the cuisine and enjoying my favorite greek foods and recipes.  Fresh, local and fabulous, it’s easy to see how healthy the Mediterranean diet is.  Copious amounts of olive oil, ocean to plate seafood, salty mouth-watering feta, and produce from local growers including gorgeous red and yellow tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, purple eggplant, greens, beets, onions, potatoes. Lemons, limes, pomegranate and other seasonal fruit figure prominently.

    What’s not to like?

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Dolmades so delicious and easy to make

    My favorite greek foods and recipes were enjoyed in restaurants on Antiparos, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini. I have enjoyed squid several times, it’s best I think when simply grilled with lemon and olive oil.  I’ve also had octopus with orzo (tasted very much like a risotto) and lamb souvlaki.  We’ve tried dolmades (I love these lovely little lemony pockets of deliciousness and have made these at home several times), anchovies, sardines and fried cheese called saganaki. We also enjoyed moussaka, pastitsio, rabbit stew and many choices of salads.

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Making Humus

    I usually like to take a cooking class in every country I visit.  But here on tiny Antiparos there is no such thing.  So instead I have set out to cook several Greek recipes I’ve found on  (where else) Pinterest.  Everything from sandwiches to salads to spanakopita has made its way out of our Airbnb kitchen these past three weeks.  So here are my successes (and one fail) from my self-taught Mediterranean Highlights Menu from Antiparos.

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes;

    Salads

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Greek Salad

    In most restaurants you can find many choices of salads.  Most popular are Eggplant Salad, Tomato Salad and of course, Greek Salad.

    Greek Salad is fairly simple and usually includes the following ingredients; feta, olives, tomato, red onion, capers and cucumber.  Sometimes it will have lettuce, but the Greek way is without lettuce.  The dressing is olive oil (of course), lemon, salt and pepper.

    Greek Salad Recipe

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Chickpea Salad and Eggplant Chips

    Chickpea Salad is also very popular.  Chickpeas grow in abundance in the mediterranean region. Chickpeas find their way into many recipes, not the least of all being hummus.  This salad I made included lots of delicious fresh veg as well as the chickpeas.  I had left over chicken from our Greek Chicken (see below) so I shredded that and added it to the salad.  It was delicious served with the fried eggplant chips.

    Chickpea Salad recipe

    Mezes

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Bujurdi

    In Greek small bites or appetizers are known as mezes.  You will often find mezes on menus to be served with a glass of wine.  You can also enjoy mezes before your meal.  We ordered several mezes when we ate out and especially liked saganaki (a fried cheese), octopus in vinegar, and bujurdi an incredible cheesy dip.  So I decided to tackle bujurdi.  It’s amazing.  Try it.

    Bujurdi Recipe

    Light Meals

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    My homemade spanakopita

    Spanokopita has always been one of my favorite Greek dishes.  And it is so easy.  Don’t fear the filo! It is very easy to work with.  Spanakopita has simple ingredients; filo (purchase it ready-made fresh or frozen), spinach, onions, feta and dill.  Bake and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

    Spanakopita Recipe

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Greek Sandwich

    For lunch one day we ate the most delicious, and very filling, Greek Sandwich.  This sandwich could easily be dinner, with a side salad or dolmades which is how I served it.  It’s a very tall sandwich, so be sure to get nice fresh bread that can hold up to the numerous ingredients.  I will definitely make this recipe again.

    Greek Sandwich

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Olives at every meal

    At most of our lunches we ate very simple mezes of canned sardines (so many choices available in the store) or fresh anchovies in oil and lemon along with pita, hummus, feta, olives, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber and fruit. A very simple and easy meal and totally satisfying.  Here in Antiparos we have really fallen in love with lemon hummus.  Bright and nutty and delicious.

    Delicious Dinners

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Greek Roast Chicken

    Most any country you travel to you can find a version of roast chicken, and since we were blessed with an oven in this Airbnb I was well prepared to try this recipe.  We purchased a beautiful plump and organic locally grown chicken and with some simple herbs and lemon, created a fantastic dish. We had left overs for two additional meals. I served the chicken with a warm potato salad with feta.

    Roast Chicken

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Moussaka

    I’ve always been one to experiment boldly in the kitchen, and I tackled a full Greek meal for guests when I was just 23 years old and we were first married. This was my first attempt at moussaka.  It was a smashing success and I have made it many times over the years (35 years since!). So cooking it here in Greece seemed appropriate, even though we had enjoyed it in a restaurant. This recipe gave us lots of left overs.

    Moussaka

    Dessert

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Baklava

    I didn’t make any desserts but I must mention how much the Greeks like their sweets.  Fortunately (or unfortunately I’m not sure) the little village here in Antiparos has an amazing bakery…which we visited several times.  Of course you know baklava, but there are many other cookies, pastries, custards, pies and amazing bread available fresh every day.  We made a point to partake – of course all in the name of research!

    The Big Fail

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Seabream fail

    I love seafood, but I admit, it can be difficult to cook.  I wanted to grill a whole fish on our BBQ, but the wind has been so high we couldn’t use the grill.  We bought a whole fish, frozen, because the fishmonger has closed for the season.  I think that was our biggest mistake.  It just didn’t smell or taste fresh.  Despite the deliciously fresh herbs (dill and parsley) and lemon and garlic we stuffed the fish with – we hated it.  I didn’t even eat mine. I think the recipe isn’t at fault here – or the cook for that matter.  The fish wasn’t fresh and so it was a fail.

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Saganaki fried cheese

    We haven’t eaten out much during our time in Antiparos, and now many of the local restaurants have closed for the season.  But we enjoy creating in the kitchen, and we have learned a lot about the local cuisine in doing so.

    So there you have it! My favorite Greek foods and recipes. Fabulous Greece.  Fabulous Food.  Fabulous Life. Opa!

    Check out some of our other blogs about Fabulous Food Here!

     

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    Europe Travel

    Exploring Hidden Antiparos Greece

    The Tiny Island of the Cyclades

    Location: Antiparos Greece

    Exploring Hidden Antiparos – The Tiny Island of the Cyclades

    Exploring Hidden Antiparos

    Fishing boats in the harbor

    Greece (official name Hellenic Republic) is a diverse country geographically.  It consists of the mainland which  borders Albania, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as a vast number of islands (between 1200 and 6000 depending on the definition you are using for island).  Only 227 of those islands have inhabitants.  Some of the inhabited islands, like Antiparos (pronounced Anti- Pear-osh) are quite small, but still have a village that thrives.  Today Antiparos, like most of Greece, thrives from tourists.  I wish I could have visited here two decades ago, when the village had no shops with trinkets or cafes for coffee.  Just locals, fishermen and families.

    Greek Islands

    The islands of Greece are categorized in regional clusters; Argo-Saronic near Athens, the Cyclades in the South Aegean, the North Aegean cluster off the coast of Turkey, the Dodecanese between Crete and Turkey, the Sporades off the coast of the large island of Euboea and the Ionian Islands west of the mainland in the Ionian Sea.  Antiparos is in the Cyclades.  Other prominent islands in the Cyclades include Santorini and Mykonos.  

    Exploring Hidden Antiparos

    Streets of Antiparos

    But, if you are looking to find a place in Greece where fewer tourists go, exploring Antiparos is a great option.  It is so diametrically opposed to somewhere like Santorini, it doesn’t even seem like the same country. (Want to learn about other Greek Islands that aren’t overrun with tourists? Read this.)

    Arriving in Antiparos

    Exploring Hidden Anitparos

    The ancient castle

    We arrived by ferry to Paros from Santorini.  At the port in Paros the rental car agency we had booked in advance met us with a car and driver.  He drove us to another part of Paros where we walked on to the smaller ferry that crosses throughout the day between the larger island of Paros (196 square kilometers) and the tiny island of Antiparos (35 square kilometers).  This half mile crossing takes ten minutes and costs 1.60 Euro for walk on and 6 Euro to take a car.  We made the crossing and found on the other side an agent from the rental car agency waiting with our little car.

    Exploring Hidden Anitparos

    The caves

    Exploring Hidden Anitparos

    Antiparos Time

    This is also where we met our wonderful Airbnb host Xanthippy.  Xanthippy lives in Athens, and owns a beautiful home on Antiparos that she rents as an Airbnb.  She is not always able to come from Athens and meet her guests (a four and half hour ferry ride), but she was able to on the day we arrived.  Luckily for us, because we learned on arrival that there are no addresses on either Paros or Antiparos.  Crazy.  Apparently this is true on many of the small Greek islands.  So Xanthippy led us to the grocery store for supplies, before leading us to our spacious Airbnb with a spectacular view.  We found our accommodations even better than the photos. It’s a beautiful villa.

    Xanthippy gave us some important instructions; don’t drink the water, don’t flush anything that doesn’t come out of your body, take the trash and recycling to the conveniently placed bins around the island, don’t use the grill if its windy.  She also showed us how to use the little combination stove and oven, a style of appliance we have not encountered until arriving in Greece. And it works great.

    Antiparos Time

    We have now been in Antiparos for eleven days.  We have enjoyed the laid back island life and being on “Antiparos time”.  Although we have had sun everyday, some days quit hot, we have also experienced unusually high winds.  In fact so high we had to cancel our planned boat trip to the deserted island of Despotiko (an archeology site of immense historical significance, second only to Delos in the Greek islands, just across the bay from our Airbnb) and a day on the island of Paros to visit the colorful city of Naousa.  We plan to reschedule both of those when the wind dies down and continue exploring hidden Antiparos.

    Exploring Hidden Anitparos

    Agios Georgios Beach

    The wind has not stopped us from visiting several of the islands local beaches (there are at least a dozen public beaches on this small island that boasts 57 km of coastline), hiking to the local stalactite cave, visiting the tiny village (also called Antiparos but usually referred to as the village; it’s the only one on the island) and the ancient Kastro (castle) from the 15th century and just walking, walking, walking as we train for the upcoming Camino de Santiago.

    Exploring Hidden Anitparos

    Sunset at Capt Pipinos

    Because we are trying to stay on budget, we have only eaten dinner out one time.  We ate a wonderful seafood meal at Captain Pipinos, a seaside seafood joint within walking distance of our house.  It was delicious, and watching the sunset from there was really special.  However, if we want to dine out anymore, we better do it soon.  Many of the islands restaurants and shops close down at the end of September, what is considered the “end of the season”.

    We didn’t realize when deciding to come here that Antiparos, unlike the larger more well-known islands, has a tourist season.  Basically from May – September.  The rest of the year there just aren’t enough visitors to make it viable for most businesses to remain open. When we picked up our rental car the agent told us when we return the car October 8th they will close down for the season.  We are their final customer. Fingers crossed the grocery store will stay open.  We don’t mind cooking.

    In fact, since I haven’t been able to find a cooking class on this small island, I’ve been teaching myself and trying out several Greek dishes.  Watch for a blog coming on this soon.

    Antiparos day eleven. Heaven on earth. Fabulous. υπέροχο 

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    Europe Travel

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages

    Location: Transylvania, Romania

    We could have easily spent a month in Romania.  But we only had ten days, and so we decided to focus this time on a Transylvania Highlights Tour – Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the three regions from 1648

    We will come back again, because there is a lot more to see in this sleepy little country that tourist are just beginning to discover.

    History

    In the Middle Ages, what we know as Romania today, was split into three distinct regions; Wallachia in the south where today Bucharest is, Moldavia to the east, now split into Moldova and Romania and Transylvania in the west.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the Kingdom of Romania

    Today these regions are often referred to as Greater Romania, the Kingdom of Romania.  A growing interest is to reunite the region and bring Moldova back into the Romanian speaking states.

    “Romanian is an Eastern Romance language, descended from Latin with some German, French, English, Greek, Slavic, and Hungarian borrowings. Romanians are by far the most numerous group of speakers of an Eastern Romance language today. It has been said that they constitute “an island of Latinity”[5] in Eastern Europe, surrounded on all sides either by Slavic peoples or by the Hungarians.” (source Wikipedia)

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    View of Brasov from top of Mount Tampa

    Our time in Transylvania was wonderful.  We had good weather and enjoyed visiting four of the region’s main medieval towns; Brasov, Bran, Sighisoara and Sibiu.

    Romania sustained minimal damage during World War II, relative to how much the rest of Europe sustained.  Romania’s capital Bucharest was bombed as was the oil industry in the town of Ploiesti.  Which means, luckily for us, the fairytale castles, medieval villages and citadels survived and are intact today.

    If you had come here 25 years ago, just after the fall of communism, you would have found these villages much as they had been for centuries.  A square in the center surrounded by tiny streets that spoke out to the high wall surrounding the fortification.  The center square would likely have a church and a clock tower and the townspeople going about their daily business. Village folk would be selling the produce from the garden, the freshly made bread and cheese.  There would still have been horses and carriages and local artisans. Think  “Beauty and the Beast”.  But today, these towns function primarily for the tourists, just like so many other places in Europe.

    But despite that, we found the places we visited enjoyable, beautiful, friendly and full of wonderful history, architecture and food. Well worth a visit.

    Architecture

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Peles Castle, in Sinai, home to several generations of Romanian royals and still occupied today by Michael I of Romania

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Bran Castle in Bran, occupied for generations by Romanian Royalty and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula castle

    Much of this area’s habitation is traced back to the Saxons arriving in the 12th century.  They are responsible for developing many of the villages during the middle ages in Transylvania, including the towns we spent time in.  The fortified towns, amazing castles and fortresses and churches and houses still standing hundreds of years later are a result of the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Saxons.

    The Gothic style is prevalent in parts of Transylvania and seen distinctly in the 14th century Bran’s Castle in Bran (the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula), and the 14th century Black Church in Brasov.

    The middle ages also brought the fortified towns to Transylvania, with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov being exceptional examples of how the design focused on functionality and protection.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Brasov’s only remaining fortress gate

    The city of Brasov today is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture representing the centuries of development in this mountain town.

    Sighisoara is a nearly completely intact 15th century fortified citadel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This tiny village is where Vlad the Impaler Dracul was born, the character that Bram Stoker turned into a fictional vampire.  For the tourists, you’ll see some Dracula kitsch here, but luckily it is not overdone.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    One of several fortified towers in the amazingly preserved town of Sighisoara

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Houses in Sibiu

    Sibiu is the grandest of the three towns, with a main square boasting a fabulous variety of Baroque and Renaissance as well as Gothic buildings and churches surrounded by parts of the remaining fortress and towers.  Sibui was an important trade center with powerful guilds dominating the regional trade.  Houses remain along the cobbled street and are brightly painted.  The historic Journeyman house, where the wood carver guild once reigned, maintains the pole full of sharp objects often left for luck.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Beautiful mix of architecture in Sibiu

    Food

    Transylvania enjoys many of the same foods you can find throughout Romania, but it also has it’s regional specialities.  While in Transylvania we enjoyed;

    Mititei – small rolled sausages without casing grilled and served with mustard

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Eggplant Salad

    Eggplant Salad – we had this two ways, the first mixed with Mayonnaise, the second mixed with red peppers.  Both were the consistence of dip like humus.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Pork Ciorba (soup)

    Ciorba – means soup and the Romanians love soup.  So filling, warm and delicious you can find many delicious soups including a bean soup often served in a bread bowl, chicken noodle soup ( a favorite of the locals), goulash soup, lamb stew, pork sour soup, cabbage soup and many, many more.

    Sarmele is cabbage rolls, similar to cabbage rolls we have enjoyed in other Eastern European countries but slightly different with a sour rye taste and dill.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Cabbage rolls with polenta and pork

    Jumari – deep-fried smoked pork belly or bacon.  I couldn’t stop eating this.

    Placinta – means pie and the word is used for a pastry filled cheese item, but also used for other kinds of pies including savory pies similar to Sheperds Pie.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Papanasi with sour cream and berries

    Papanasi – possibly my favorite of all the foods we tried is this lovely little dessert.  I’m actually not much of a dessert person but this one is so delicious.  Translated as Romanian Donut, the cheese filled dough is deep-fried, crispy on the outside and very moist and delicious on the inside.  Served hot and then covered with yogurt or sour cream and berries. We had it once with blackberries and once with blueberries and both times so yummy good.

    We have learned so much during our short visit to this beautiful, interesting and delicious country.  We will return again someday to explore more.  But until that day, we thank Romania and its wonderful people for such a pleasant visit.

    Thank you! Multumesc! Fabulos!

     

    Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

    The Food of Poland – Pierogi and So Much More

    Location: Poland

    We have spent the past two weeks eating our way through Poland.  If you had asked me about Polish food before arriving, I would have said “well they eat pierogi and drink vodka!”  I think many Americans know only this as well.  But as much as I love the pierogi, I have learned all about the food of Poland – pierogi and so much more.

    Poland’s tumultuous history is identifiable in their foods (history blog coming soon).  Over the millennia the region we know as Poland was controlled by Prussia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hapsburg Dynasty, Russia, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Soviet Union and others.  Watch this short video to understand how fluid the borders of this area have been. It’s fascinating.

    Poland’s Changing Borders

    So, of course that means for more than two thousand years the region has been influenced by the surrounding kingdoms and countries.  But also, and perhaps more importantly, Poland has endured a great deal of economic hardship, which means developing simple foods with simple ingredients seasonally available or what ever is on hand.

    And you will see that in the comfort foods of Poland.

    Soups and Meats

    The Foods of Poland

    Zurek Sour Soup. My favorite

    In Poznan I had one of my favorite traditionally Polish foods, a soup called zurek.  I really need to learn to make this delicious, bright, flavorful soup.  Often called Sour Soup because of the fermented rye used, it’s very difficult to describe but definitely not difficult to eat.  Want to try it?  Check out this recipe.

    The Foods of Poland

    Duck with beets and dumplings

    Soups are very popular in Poland, particularly in the long dark winter, and in addition to zurek we had tomato soup, seafood soup, beet soup (borscht) and another sour soup with fermented rye and dill called zalewajka. I loved that one too.  Want to try it? Check out this recipe.

    In Poznan and in Wroclaw we also enjoyed wonderfully prepared duck, traditionally served with beets and yeast dumplings.  We also had deliciously hand-made sausages and pickles served with mustard.  Another favorite was a beetroot and strawberry salad served with warm goat cheese.  A remarkable combination of simple ingredients.

    Pierogi and Cooking Class

    The Foods of Poland

    Fresh cured meats with pickles and mustard

    We stayed the longest in the remarkable city of Krakow, where we had time to really dive into the culture and food scene.  Here is where we ate the most pierogi, taste testing traditional favorites as well as a few new creations.  The Pierogi Ruskie is the favorite amongst the Poles, and I have to say that is my favorite too.  Simple ingredients of potato, cheese, and onion burst in your mouth, full of home cooked goodness.  Another favorite we enjoyed was duck pierogi – a more modern take on

    The Foods of Poland

    Duck pierogi

    the traditional food.  We also had mushroom and cabbage, spinach and cheese, blueberry, and raspberry.

    So much pierogi so little time!

    In Krakow I had a wonderful pleasure of spending half a day with Olga of Urban Adventures in her tiny communist era apartment, where we created some delicious pierogi, learning the nuances of preparation.  The dough for pierogi is as simple as pasta dough, just flour, egg, water and a little salt.  Hand mixing and hand forming is important to keep it traditional. Pierogi is always boiled, but left over pierogi is often pan-fried the next day for another delicious way to enjoy it.  And since you can’t just make a few pierogi, there are always leftovers. There are many ways to enjoy Pierogi.  Click on this link for a recipes for several of the most traditional ones, including Ruskie. I have also attached a pdf here with the recipe Olga so kindly provide.Pierogi receipe

    The Foods of Poland

    Forming the pierogi

    While spending the day with Olga we also visited the local Polish market where we learned to order the items we needed – in Polish – while the local merchants smiled and indulged our broken mispronunciation.  At the market we also learned not only about fresh meat and produce, but about the many kinds of popular pickles, pastries, cheese and, surprisingly, lard.  We ate bacon lard spread like butter

    The Foods of Poland

    At the market fresh eggs and a polish cheese called Golka

    on delicious fresh bread.  Who knew that could be so good?

    Christmas Traditions

    Our visit to Krakow also included spending four hours one evening with Delicious Poland, walking around the city and tasting so many delicious polish specialties.  Seriously I thought I was going to explode.  If you come to Krakow definitely do a food walking tour – but DO NOT eat lunch before hand.  So much delicious food.  Here is what we ate:

    Pierogi of course, at one of the city’s most loved family owned pierogi restaurants called Przystanek.  We learned that sometimes fruit filled pierogi is served as a main dish, and the mushroom and cabbage pierogi is always served on Christmas

    The Foods of Poland

    Ruskie Pierogi made in cooking class. The most traditional.

    Eve.

    Christmas Eve is a major holiday and the family gathers to make the pierogi together.  A traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal includes 12 courses, symbolizing riches, the 12 apostles and the 12 months of the year.  The feast begins with the breaking of a wafer and is followed by; red borscht, mushroom soup, carp, herring, mushroom and cabbage pierogi, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, kutia (grain and candied fruit mixture), gingerbread, dried fruit compote, poppy seed cake.

    The Foods of Poland

    Poppyseed Cake

    Another wonderful Christmas Eve tradition in Poland is that every table is set with one extra seat.  Traditionally set for anyone who may be alone or needing a meal on Christmas Eve.

    Walking Food Tour Krakow

    Our food tour continued at Zalewajke in the Jewish Quarter, where we enjoyed the zalewajke soup and the borscht (mentioned above).  We continued to the Jewish Market square to try a more recent addition to the polish food scene, zapiekanka.  This open face sandwich is the favorite fast food in Krakow, developed in the communist era when burgers were not allowed because they were too “American”.

    The Foods of Poland

    Zapiekanka open face sandwich

    Trying local vodka at Hevre (a converted Jewish Prayer Hall) I realized I actually like vodka, if it’s the good stuff!  My favorite was the Bison Grass; so subtle and smooth.  Next we visited a very popular local brewery called Ursa Major with a woman brew master!  Here we enjoyed sausage and cheese with two beers – a no hop(!) summer ale (interesting) and a

    The Foods of Poland

    Enjoying the Bison Grass Vodka

    session IPA.  Unlike most places we’ve been, American-style IPAs are very popular here.

    So we are thinking we probably just have dessert left but no!  We continued on to Kuchina u Doroty where we ate more!  Two of my favorites of my time in Poland I had here – a delicious potato pancake covered in goulash called place ziemniaczane z gulaszem (try it) and a cabbage and sausage stew called bigos (try it) .  In addition we had golabki (cabbage rolls), beetroot salad, kompot (juice) and racuchy, a fried dough dessert that tasted a lot like french toast, covered with yogurt and fresh berries.

    The Foods of Poland

    Potato pancake with goulash

    About this time Arne plopped me in a wheelbarrow and wheeled me home.

    The Foods of Poland

    The women in my cooking class.

    Our time in Poland has been incredibly delicious and that has been incredibly surprising.  Poland is an underrated tourism destination, and now I know the Polish cuisine is also misunderstood and underrated.  I will take everything I learned about the food and culture of this incredible country and refer to it often.

    And someday, I will return.  To eat, to enjoy and to savor all this country has to offer.

    The Foods of Poland

    Arne enjoying some of the local microbrews

    Dziekuje Poland! Fantastyczny!

    Note – Traveling and eating in Poland is very inexpensive.  Some of our nicest meals with appetizers, main course, dessert, wine and beer only cost around $40.  As of this writing the exchange rate is 4 zloty to one USD.

    This blog contains affiliate links and we may be compensated if you make a purchase.  All money earned goes back to the maintenance of this blog.  Thank you.

     

     

     

     

     

    Europe Travel

    Belgium Fabulous – Beer, Chocolate, Lace and Much More

    There is a lot of fabulous in Belgium

    Location: Belgium

    I’ve been all over Europe, but somehow Belgium and I had never been acquainted.  I really wanted to meet her for a long time, so, Belgium was high on my list of places to visit on the Grand Adventure.  I was looking forward to learning more about Belgium Fabulous – Beer, Chocolate, Lace and Much More.

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Diamonds

    In fact, there is much, MUCH more to Belgium than I ever imagined.  With influences from France and the Netherlands (French-speaking in the south and Dutch-speaking in the North), Belgium has thousands of years of history that includes a prosperous medieval period where the area was a center of commerce and culture.  But given its location bordering  France, Germany and the Netherlands, Belgium also became a battle ground during both WWI and WWII.

    Belgium was one of the founding members of the European Economic Community which later became the European Union.  Today Brussels, Belgium hosts the headquarters of the EU and NATO.

    So our short visit to Belgium included stops in the important city of Brussels, as well as time in the

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Brown beer

    beautiful medieval city of Brugge.  In both places we set out to learn about the things that make Belgium special.  Let’s start with beer.

    Beer- brewing beer in Belgium dates back to the 12th century and Belgium beer is recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

    We really put in a good effort researching this – sampling about a dozen different beer styles and breweries during our stay.  Belgian beer has a stronger alcohol content than beer I’m used to drinking, and I had a headache for a few days.  But all in the name of research of course.  We tested lagers, amber ales, Flemish Red Ales, Brown Ales, Stouts and sour beer.  On average Belgians drinks about 84 liters of beer a year.

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Stout Beer

    But in the 1800’s when the river water was polluted, people drank beer instead of water, consuming about 200 liters a year.

    We only visited a couple of breweries, both in Brugge, but there are approximately 225 breweries in this tiny country.

    Chocolate – During the 1600’s Belgium was occupied by Spain and it was during this time that drinking chocolate became very popular.  Later when Belgium colonized Congo in Africa they began importing the cocoa bean.

    But the story goes that chocolates as we know them today did not become popular until 1857 when pharmacist Jean Neuhaus began

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Chocolate

    covering pills with chocolate to make the medicine more palatable for children (and adults).  And the Belgian chocolate was born.

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Lace

    Lace – dating back centuries to a time when the area was known as Flanders, lace making was an art form here in Belgium.  Both Brugge and Brussels are, still today, known for the beautiful lace made both by hand (bobbin lace) and by machine.  There are shops and demonstrations everywhere.  It’s a dying art, one that can hopefully be preserved.

    Bobbin lace making

    Waffles – surprisingly Belgian waffles are not an ancient thing.  In fact, waffles were only introduced to Americans at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair but called Bel-Gen Waffles.  A favorite was born!  Two kinds of waffles are now popular all over Belgium, particularly with the tourists; the Brussels Waffle is the one created for and introduced in the United States.  It is lighter, more rectangular and has deeper holes.  It can be eaten plain but you will

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Brussels and Leige Waffles

    often see the tourists walking around with one piled with strawberries and whipped cream, or Nutella or a host of other toppings. The second one, and my favorite is the Leige Waffle, named after a town in eastern Belgium.  Darker in color, crispier on the outside, the Leige is filled inside with chunks of gooey sugar.  It’s considered uncouth to put anything like fruit or Nutella on a Leige waffle.  And trust me, it doesn’t need it.  Absolutely delicious, light and sweet on its own.  Popular at 4pm with tea.

    Frites – as early as 1680 there are records showing the Belgians deep-

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Frites

    frying potato batons.  The French will argue the origin of the food, but Belgians firmly disagree – frites are from Belgium.  And they are popular!  Everywhere you look the double-fried golden fingers are available.  Usually served in a paper cone with your choice of dip including ketchup-mayo combos, as well as hollandaise, basil and oil, pepper, curry, spicy, bbq, tartar, mustard and many more.

    So we did our best during our short visit to

    Waffles

    Belgium to dive into the culture, history and food and learn something about this beautiful little country.  Belgium is also one of the worlds largest cut flower exporters, diamond exporters and is the world’s largest exporter of billiard balls .  Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world.  The Tin Tin strip and The Smurfs were created here.

    Betcha didn’t know that did you?  Belgium.  Worth a visit! Fabuleux or Fabelachtig.  Whether French or Dutch, there is a lot of fabulous in Belgium.