Ten Iconic European Dishes

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Ten Iconic European Dishes

“Who eats will be strong.” Estonian Proverb

If you have fantasized about eating your way through Europe or at the moment even traveling through Europe, I am with you. Each country has their own delicious food but also has one dish that people think of when they think of this country. These traditional foods are not only delectable, but they also tell the story of the country’s history,  I picked ones that I have eaten in no particular order  because I miss traveling and they remind me of countries I have visited, 

Pretzels, Germany

It takes about two hours by train to get to Schwangau from Munich. We are on our way to Neuschwanstein Castle. It was commissioned by Ludwig the Second and is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I buy a thick, salty, hot pretzel for the journey to add to what we have already taken from the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Train rides make me hungry.  I need carbs. I learned in Germany that pretzel (German word is bretzel) is a shape and laugen is the pretzel bread. Laugen comes in other shapes as well. I call them pretzel rolls.They are available in every bakery as sandwiches.

 Fondue, Switzerland

When I was sixteen, I took my first  European ski trip. The Alps, the majestic mountain chain that spans across France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, are a paradise to visit and to  ski. We stayed in Cervinia on the Italian side and one morning we skied to Zermatt, Switzerland. It was very exciting carrying our passports across the mountains. We went to lunch and I ate fondue for the first time. Fondue means melted in French and this one was made with fresh cheese from the mountain cows. i sat with my friends around a hot pot of melted cheese and dipped pieces of bread. The challenge was not to drop the bread in the pot. One of the customs in the Alps is to finish the fondue with an egg. The egg is dropped in the remaining cheese, mixed until cooked, and then you mix in the remaining chunks of bread. The fondue meal is usually served with sides of salad and charcuterie. It’s the perfect rich warm dish to have when you are skiing.

Stroopwaful, Netherlands 

I stopped in Amsterdam on the way to my daughter’s wedding in Africa. Noordemarkt on Saturday is part antiques market and part famers market. i watched as one of the vendors made stroopwafuls. He took a freshly baked, thin waffle, and coated it with a dark, sugary syrup.  Then he took  another thin waffle, and place it on top of the syrup. I had a momentary thought of  not getting one to make sure I fit into my dress. Amsterdam is one giant stair master and it is never just one flight of stairs so I would probably walk it off on the way back to the hotel. Fresh, hot stroopwafuls are delicious.

 Goulash, Hungary

There was something not warm and fuzzy about being in the former Soviet Union in the early 2000’s. The first thing I noticed in Budapest was that people did not smile.  Older people did not speak English so if you needed to ask a question, “ask young” I was told. They were still trying to find their way between the vestiges of communism and the new capitalism. They had missed the sixties, seventies and eighties.  The results were sometimes odd. I’m sure it is much different now.The national Hungarian dish goulash (stew with beef and vegetables)  and the lighter goulash soup were everywhere. My favorite sign was the restaurant that served sushi and goulash. I’m sure it’s not there anymore  Goulash is comfort food- a thick hearty stew. My friend ate it a lot. You have to eat goulash in Hungary at least once but try the other food as well. I personally liked chimney cake, langos (fried flatbread covered with sour cream, cheese and garlic), stuffed cabbage, sausages  and chicken paprikesh better. 

.Pastel De Nata, Portugal

You can have  pastel de nata everywhere in Portugal. Every single pasteleria (pastry shop) offered pastéis de nata (plural). The famous custard tarts made of egg, puff pastry, milk , sugar, lemon and cinnamon are the most popular sweets in the country.  After visiting the the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, in Belem. I went to the famous bakery, Pasteis de Belem. There is always a line.  The person in front of me said that the bakery began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimo in 1837. The recipe is a secret and so only the ones bought here are called Pasteis de Belem. The rest are Pasteis de Nata. IF you are in Lisbon, I think it’s good to try the one that is unique in the world and nothing could be more Lisbon than that. 

Pirogi, Poland

I’m not a huge fan of Eastern European food.  But I do feel a country’s food is part of the experience so you have to try it. I walked into a restaurant in Krakow where you can see the food and pointed to something and said in English, “I’ll take that.” The older woman who was waiting on me shook her head no. She did not speak English as most older Eastern Europeans do not. I shrugged and mimed that i was hungry. She laughed and gave me a plate of small dumplings called pierogi.They were filled with meat and were surprisingly tasty. You can get pierogi all over Poland with different fillings like cabbage, mushrooms, cheese, fruit and meat. They are the most affordable dish you can eat in Poland. A teenager came over to me and asked how I liked his grandmother’s pierogi. He said no one makes them as good as she does. I finished the plate and gave her a thumbs up and she laughed. 

 Apfel Strudel, Austria

I think the Viennese coffee house defines Vienna. You can sit for hours with one cup of coffee. In the old city you will find architecturally beautiful coffee houses many originally owned by pre WWll Jews. It is completely normal to sit for hours alone reading the complimentary newspapers or chatting with friends. The word is gemutlichkeit. (coziness, comfortable unhurried).  We went to Café Central home to great philosophers, poets and leaders (such as Leo Trotzky, and Sigmund Freud). We wanted to try the apfel strudel. This is one of Austria’s most popular and traditional desserts. It is thin layers of dough (philo dough-like Baklava), filled with a flavorful apple filling, served warm and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s the perfect dessert in the perfect place to linger for one more coffee and one more story before continuing your city touring.

Paella, Spain

One of my first assignments in my high school Spanish class, was to go to a Spanish restaurant and eat something. My friends and I went to a restaurant in Greenwich Village and ate paella. We learned that traditional paella is rice, beans, rabbit, chicken, sometimes duck, and seasonal green vegetables. Seafood Paella is just seafood and rice. Paella Mixta (mixed paella) combines meat from livestock, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans, with the traditional rice. it was a dish meant for sharing. Every family in Spain has its own paella recipe and because of the time it takes to make, it is served on Sundays but for some some unknown reason, you can always find paella in restaurants  on Thursday.  Paella originated in Valencia but since i was not going there on my first trip to Spain, I ate paella as soon as I arrived in Barcelona. It is a good dish to eat for lunch.  Don’t eat paella near the Sagrada Familia, or where they have a photo of paella outside or where a man is standing outside telling you they have paella. They know it is the only Spanish food Americans have heard of. I was lucky enough to find a family owned restaurant in Barceloneta to try this delicious iconic dish and then I walked on the beach back to my hotel.

Baklava, Greece

The first time I ate baklava, I was in my teens in Greece. I knew then that I could eat baklava every day. I have spent a few summers in Greece and sometimes I did.  It is the best known dessert in Greece, Turkey and rest of the Middle East. It is just as delicious and a bit different in all these countries.  The ingredients in Greece are phylo pastry, walnuts and sugar syrup or honey.  I like to have it with a cup of Greek coffee.  Afterwards a friend, a friend of a friend, the waiter or a relative will tell your fortune from the coffee grounds. Once the coffee is drunk, you turn the cup a few times around, while you’re making a wish. Then cover the cup with a saucer, and turn it upside down. It takes about 10 minutes to settle on the cup walls and form shapes, essential for the coffee reading revealing events of the near future but also secrets of the past.

 Pizza, Italy

My dream is to go to Sicily and eat pizza. I have not been lucky enough to do that but I have eaten pizza in other Italian cities. My daughter was doing a two week ballet program in Florence. It was a few months after 9/11 and  my first time entertaining myself in a foreign city. There was a bomb threat at the Duomo set for Easter Sunday. (There are no holidays for dancers.)  I decided to avoid the main streets and headed to Dante’s house which is a museum. Florence with its medieval buildings doesn’t look very different  from the time of Dante. Police were everywhere. To calm my nerves, I needed pizza. I walked into a pizza restaurant and heard a lot of Italian which is always a good sign in a tourist area. The availability of good pizza in Italy is impressive. I always feel that to try a pizza you need to order the Margherita. Florence doesn’t disappoint. The pizza was really good and no one set off a bomb that day. 

Fly safe,

JAZ

Eating In Jerusalem With Dvir

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Eating In Jerusalem With Dvir

“Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer “Unknown

I am a foodie. Foodie is a cutesy word to describe the passion I feel when eating something wonderful. I particularly love the street food in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem.

The flavors are strong and the ingredients are the freshest.Eating on the streets of Jerusalem involves all your senses. You see, hear and smell the food being made.

Fate and the Internet connected me with Dvir Hollander as our guide in Jerusalem. It turned out that Dvir was also passionate about street food and knew exactly where to go and when. (hollander2000@gmail.com)

We met at lunchtime and we were hungry. When Dvir recognized that we were kindred spirits about food, he described himself as a “ friendly dictator” when it came to where we should eat. We walked through the New Gate and entered the Old City in the Christian Quarter. Immediately we were on the Via Dolorosa listening to the Muslim call to prayer. Our lunch was vegetarian at Lina restaurant. In Israel, the chick pea is clearly the most important legume and the main ingredient of hummus. Everyone has their favorite hummus place in Israel but to me, eating it in the old city is always the best. There is freshly baked pita. It smelled like it came right out of an oven nearby.

Everything we ate at Lina was amazing and we followed Dvir like sheep when it came to food from that point on.

We stop for some halvah near the seventh station of the cross. Halvah means sweet in Arabic. It is a tahini based candy made from sesame butter. I have to admit that I had grown up on packaged halvah and hated it. One trip to Turkey changed my mind about halvah and I loved this fresh one from Al-Amad with its dense, flaky texture and nutty sweetness.

We needed caffeine and Dvir took us to Abu Mussa in the textile market for some thick grainy sweet Turkish style coffee with cardamom. I forgot how much I love that coffee. The taste brings back the memories of being here for the first time with my college friends Susie and Kiki.

At Dvir’s recommendation we have dinner at Chakra. Chakra is a trendy seafood inspired restaurant with fresh-baked focaccia off King George street.

It is delicious. I was hoping to go to Machneyuda the celebrity chef restaurant in the Machane Yehuda Market but even the best concierge and tour guide can not get you in that week so make reservations before you go.

Our second eating day started at Jaffar Sweets for freshly made Knafeh. It is neon orange shreds of phyllo dough drenched in syrupy sugar rose-water and filled with gooey, salty. warm goat cheese.

Knafeh is a favorite at Ramadan and now also a favorite of mine. It’s a must eat in the old city.

I had a blood sugar drop so we stopped for quick, incredibly delicious lamb kabobs from A Shaab.

Kabob is taken seriously in the Arab Quarter and each restaurant has their family recipe for preparing it.

I was not leaving the old city for Yad Vashem and the Israeli Museum without falafel. Israelis feel as strongly about their falafel as they do about their politics. We get falafel and hummus from Abu Achmed. The falafel which is made of chick peas is right out of the fryer – hot and crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. Of all the falafel I have eaten in Israel, these are the most special.

The hummus (because you need chick pea sauce to put on the chickpeas) is outstanding. It comes with a lemon tahini sauce that would be great with anything. The taste of the freshly baked pita bread makes everything even better.

We drink fresh pomegranate juice and more cardamom Turkish coffee from Haj Faraj. We relax for a few minutes and enjoy the coffee and his hospitality and more sight-seeing.

It’s clear that in a few days I have become addicted to roasted Arabic coffee with cardamom.The scent of coffee from the Sandouka  brothers shop is overwhelming. I buy some to take home.

The fragrant smell of spices wafts through the air as Dvir takes us to Sea of Herbs. Sea of Herbs is run by two Palestinian brothers Isaac and Jacob. They sell spices, herbal teas, health and wellness products and natural remedies. As we watch Jacob expertly mix the spices, we are brought into his world of remedies and flavors and buy many things to try at home.

Today’s lunch is at Arafat. Everyday this tiny restaurant serves up a surprise meal. It is a no choice, simple, delicious menu. When the lunch is ready, queues appear out nowhere. When they run out of food, lunch is over.Today’s meal was lamb meatballs in a tomato broth (kefta in Greek) vegetables, rice and hummus. It was filled with local people and in the know tourists.

Summers in Greece when I was young have made me a bit of baklava snob but I am alway hopeful. it is the world’s most famous middle Eastern/Mediterranean dessert. Many countries take credit for baklava. It is filo dough drenched in sugar syrup or honey. We stop at Alaseel Sweets for a bite of the delicious pastry on our way out of the old city.

There is much conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis. The links between food and peace are easy to see with people living in conflict areas. Traveling, eating fresh, local food in the Arab market and looking in the eyes of people who prepare the food makes you believe that human beings do have the capacity for peace. Thank you Dvir for including all this delicious food in our visit to Jerusalem.

Fly safe,
JAZ

My Top Ten Desserts In The World So Far

My Top Ten Desserts In The World So Far

“I am starting to think that maybe memories are like this dessert. I eat it, and it becomes a part of me, whether I remember it later or not.” Erica Bauermeister

When the mood for dessert strikes, I am there. I consider it a necessity not a choice to try desserts when I am traveling.  There isn’t a problem in the world that a good dessert can’t make feel a little better. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

Pastel de Nata – Portugal

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Baklava – Greece

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Red Velvet Cupcakes – USA

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 Semolina Halva –  Turkey (nice with fresh fruit)

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Black Sesame Ice Cream – Japan

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 Malva Pudding  (poeding) – South Africa

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Sweet Sticky Rice With Coconut Cream and Mango – Thailand

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Dulce de Leche –  Argentina ( on ice cream, cookies, cake, bread)

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 Fresh Acai  and Tapioca Ice Cream – Belem, Brazil

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Mango Pudding – Hong Kong

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Fly safe, JAZ

Memories of Greece

“When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure and full of knowledge.” — Constantine

Memories of Greece

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Greece is the most special place for me. When I was eighteen, I did the Europe tour with my friends  and Greece was the country I connected with.  I went back any summer that I could afford to after that until I was married. I never carried a camera when I was I young. I thought it made me look like a tourist. I  was there again recently as well.   I’ve never written anything about it. I thought I would start off by listing a jumble of memories old and new and see what happens. Maybe it will jog your memory of your travels.

Athens Landing in Athens first time at three in the morning with nowhere to go , meeting some new friends and sleeping at their apt in Kolonaki,  Acropolis –  when you could still walk around everywhere.,  Olympic Airlines,  baklava ,   private cars with handmade  taxi  signs,  something is always on strike in Athens,  cats,  Thodorakis  concert  at the outdoor amphitheatre on Mt Lycabettus,  getting lost on the way down,   Delphi on the hottest day ever, amazing feta cheese, drachmas, Nine Muses in Glifada,  the Archaological Museum,  trying to get the soldiers  guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier to talk to us or laugh (you have no idea how many years I did this), sleeping every afternoon because everything closes from 12-5,  watching the tourists throw plates in the restaurants in the  Plaka,  lamburgers,   Cat Stevens, bouzouki places ,   more cats,  worry beads, Voulagmeni,  Monastiraki Flea Market,  Parko restaurant ,  best hair dry ever,  Port of Piraeus – no better feeling than taking the hydrofoil (flying dolphin) or ferry to any Greek Island.  Happy.

Santorini – sunset over a volcano, black sand beaches,  red sand beach,   tavernas  on the beach, How many bikinis can I wear in a summer? Walking up and down a mountain every day and night from the house we were staying at in heels,   fresh bread with butter and honey and kafe megalo ,  a few hours later having  fresh-baked  tiropita (fried buttered phylo dough stuffed with cheese and egg) ,   Akrotiri   ( famous Minoan ruins)  , throwing up in front of the tour buses (all my drinking stories end up like this),  dancing all night at the two discos on the island, eating fried sardines  with bones in them for lunch in Megalohori after wine tasting at the vineyards , motorbiking  everywhere,  fishing early in the morning and bringing the fish to a restaurant to cook for us in Oia,   coffee in town watching the tourists come up  to Thira from the cruise boats on the donkeys, tired of eating lamb every day, ( Greek islands had  only Greek food back then. It was pre cell phones.) Amazing.

 Mykonos –  Every  day in Mykonos with Eva and  George,  Nine Muses,  Remezzo,  , Pierros,  more  friends  from Athens ,  staying out all night , Paradise Beach ,  Super Paradise Beach, sitting in the town with our new  drag queen friends and entertaining the cruise boats,  shopping in the cool boutiques, (I needed new clothes by then) ,  tube tops, retsina and ouzo –yasas,  2am (the summer of the curfew), Mykonos Harbor, Beatles  “Don’t say goodnight”, Love.

Paros –  White rocky beaches , peace after the craziness of Mykonos,  fresh fish, Greek salad and tzaziki, planning our future., swimming in the clear blue sea, movie theatre (outside), how tan can I actually get?  Romantic.

Thessaloniki – Riding horses on the beach at George’s beach  house outside of Salonika,   walking on the beach to get anywhere, (town, clubs restaurants), going to market and getting fresh food  every day,  playing house,  Greek music festival  (Opa!), sailing every day, boats are a lot of work,  more new friends,   Greek coffee  or Nescafe,  drinking retsina on the beach,(tastes like turpentine)  ouzo shots, more Greek words, promises.  Spectacular.

Helkidiki  –  Jewish holidays at temple with Mendy’s family,  the women sit upstairs,  the service is in Greek and Hebrew –I am completely lost, picking lemons off a tree and smelling them when I fainted from fasting, , watching a Greek funeral as they marched through the streets to transport the casket from the home to the church and then to the grave site. I see a friend and join  wearing short shorts and wedges. One of the old women ( always in black)  gives me her shawl to wrap around me..  She alternates between crying and pointing out where everyone in the procession lives.  I am strangely moved by this old woman and this whole experience.  My friends are  stunned to see me walk by in a funeral procession. They join.  Surprising.

Spetses – mosquitos –It is the green island, we kill them with perfume, Reading Nikos Kazantzakis on a beach ,  Avgolemono soup for a cold( egg lemon chicken soup),  horse and carriages, boat races,  , Greek and British tourists,   Peaceful both times.

Hydra – First time in Hydra  – no cars only donkeys, rocks instead of beaches, second time in Hydra –  many bars and clubbing, third time in Hydra – I finally have the money to shop –cute stores!.   Very Different.

 Aegina –  We fall asleep and  our bicycle boat  ends up in the open sea . We are rescued  by a yacht. We dont attach the rope well (we are city girls)  and we turn over. My friends lose  all their money. I don’t because  my sportsac bag turns out to  be waterproof and  floats and I hang on. (why do we have all our money on the beach? There are no atms then and we are young and apparently stupid) I  drift close enough to the yacht to get on. My friends end up in a small fishing boat with several octopi. They look really angry at me –  I am drinking water and they don’t have any.  I am in shock. I almost drowned, For the rest of the summer Mendy tells the story in broken Greek and English to someone every day.  ‘We did not know the sea,” she  begins.   second time in Aegina –I don’t go in the water. I know that sea.   Scary.

Samos –  Having  fresh caught Calamari, that had hung on a clothes line, waking up to drunk Germans throwing up every night outside, playing with  Eva’s family on the beach,    ferry to Kusadasi Turkey ,   taken away by the police upon re-entering Samos because they thought I was smuggling drugs ( I was really seasick and nauseous and I needed a coke, I forgot to go through customs first  and walked into the store which was before customs.  –.  Eva spends a long time telling them I am another stupid American and they let me go.  Dumb.

Naxos –  taking a ferry in Greece after not being there for so long, Walking on the most beautiful soft sand beach in Naxos, grilled  fresh caught calamari as much as possible., beautiful villas, beautiful sunsets, old friends.  Wonderful.

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Poros – Walking down to the town, back on a hydrofoil in Piraeus,  No Americans,  Having an amazing Greek salad with Eva on Poros 25 years later and realizing that it never tasted as good in the US,  watching Greek families  on the beach ( It was a Greek vacation area) Greek yogurt,  boat to concert in outdoor theatre.,  dinners with Eva’s family, rocky beaches, clean water,  gold bracelets,  kids running all over, another summer  and I am in Greece. Lesson learned.

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Memories last longer than photographs.

Calo taxiti and fly safe,

JAZ

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