Hungarian Delights

“It’s a mystery why Hungarian food at its finest is not more popular in the West …’The Hungarians are born eaters, born waiters, born restauranteurs,’ wrote RW Apple, the late, great New York Times food critic …” Conde Nast Traveller, May 2012.

I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, and I think John and Phil, both of whom joined me in Budapest for the weekend would say the same. The prospect of having dinner table companions inspired some serious research into the Budapest restaurant world, and I highly recommend the following places — in fact, I’d say there are all must-dos if you have the chance to visit this beautiful city. You can read a review of each of them on Taste Hungary’s blog.

Friday, May 18, Dinner: Pesti Disznó (Hungarian tapas)

20120520-202519.jpg
Wild garlic cottage cheese spread and homemade pork appetizers

20120520-202717.jpg
Duck stew with sweet potatoes and udon noodles

20120520-202902.jpg
Basil chicken with turnip cabbage and old cheese risotto (we had a prefix and the other two had the chicken but I swapped it for some goat cheese dumplings, however they photographed terribly so I haven’t included photos)

Saturday, May 19, Lunch: Kádár Étkezde (traditional Hungarian lunch spot with a Jewish twist) (disclaimer: this food was impossible to photograph; it was truly delicious but not beautiful to observe)

20120520-203600.jpg
Matzoh ball soup

20120520-203633.jpg
Sólet (cholent) with goose leg

20120520-203803.jpg
Boiled beef with mashed potatoes and apple sauce (I realize this looks disgusting, but it was definitely not; however, Phil didn’t like the apple sauce)

20120520-203938.jpg
Stuffed pepper (with beef) and a slightly sweet tomato sauce (this was the favorite)

Saturday, May 19, Dinner: Borkonyha (modern Hungarian cuisine and one of the best meals of the year)

20120520-204936.jpg

20120520-204948.jpg
Pistachio crusted ricotta dumpling

20120520-205027.jpg
Foie gras; John ate this, not me

20120520-205300.jpg
Lamb chop with onion cake (frittata), buckwheat, and eggplant

20120520-205438.jpg
Bitter chocolate cake with caramel ice cream and garnished with a mini macaron

Sunday, May 20, Lunch: Fülemüle (traditional Hungarian and Jewish dishes)

20120520-205653.jpg
Smoked brisket with chips, cholet, etc.

Needless to say, I haven’t been hungry in Hungary. The boys have left and tonight I am staying in, skipping dinner, and fearing the calories I will consume during the food tour I am taking tomorrow. After that, I’m going on a diet.

Dutch Masterpieces Part Twee

Again relying on Cushla’s ace recommendations, I sampled a couple more local specialties on my second and final day in Amsterdam. For lunch, I had a goat cheese (Dutch goat cheese is very good), honey, thyme, and pine nut sandwich on brown bread at one of Amsterdam’s best broodje (sandwich) shops — Singel 404. I highly recommend this if you visit.

20120510-171156.jpg

Later, I met Cushla for an afternoon snack at Winkel (at the Noordermarkt), home of the most famous apple pie in Amsterdam. Not to be missed.

20120510-171423.jpg

And finally, one last masterpiece to display before I wind up here:

20120510-171523.jpg

Art or accident?

The Dutch Masterpieces

I knew I had finally reached the Continent when I started my day with this breakfast:

20120509-205242.jpg

20120509-205321.jpg

Amsterdam is a beautiful city and this is my first visit, but surprisingly, I hadn’t really thought about the cuisine in advance of my arrival, nor did I have much knowledge of the local delicacies. Fortunately, I have a friend who lives here (a certified Melbourne foodie and coffee expert to boot) who gave me a solid list of things to do, that certainly does not neglect food or coffee. As of now, these are a few Dutch specialties I have discovered and may or may not yet have tried (I have only been here for 24 hours): pancakes, apple pie, pancakes, brown bread, herring, oude kaas (a type of cheese).

Although I was still a bit full from breakfast, I wanted to try a Dutch pancake. To do this, I visited Pancakes! in the 9 Streets neighborhood. I ordered a pancake with speck (ham) and kaas (cheese) and then topped it off with some stroop (syrup) — a combo that had been recommended by my friend. This was one seriously heavy pancake. Even I couldn’t finish it all. It was good, but a little on the salty side.

20120509-211115.jpg

20120509-211219.jpg

I was also still full from lunch when I ventured out for dinner (this has become somewhat of a theme). A mini herring burger did the trick anyhow.

20120509-213044.jpg

Back to Black

After a lengthy hiatus that included a pit stop in the U.S. followed by a couple weeks stationary in London, I am hitting the road, this time traveling throughout continental Europe. More to come…

Eel and Eggs

For a non-Japanese speaking Westerner, dining out in Japan is an interesting experience. Many restaurants do not have English menus, and when they do, the English can be very unclear. It is common to have plastic models of food on display, but if you don’t know what something is in the first place, the helpfulness of the models can be underwhelming. I’ve taken to just guessing and / or pointing.

The other night, I chose a restaurant that looked like it might be user friendly — there were a ton of plastic models in the window. When I went inside, I realized I was wrong. The staff spoke no English and the English menu was limited. I chose something I was familiar with, which was accompanied by a few things that were unfamiliar (in Japan, meals out are often a set of dishes rather than a choice of dishes a la carte (though that happens too)). Eel donburi was something I knew I had to try while in Japan. It came with Japanese pickles (check), steamed egg soup (no idea, but it did have some prawn and maybe a mussel?), and “soup” (I guessed miso, but anything was up for grabs…in the end it had strange edible floating but pieces in it).

20120323-114235.jpg

20120323-114342.jpg

20120323-114354.jpg

20120323-114429.jpg

20120323-114437.jpg

20120323-114451.jpg

20120323-114501.jpg

It’s Time To Ride That Sushi Train

I am in Japan! Today I arrived in Kyoto after a weekend of skiing at Shiga Kogen ski resort, which is about four and half hours outside of Tokyo. I will be back in Tokyo next week.

Because I rode my first bullet train today, I though it appropriate to follow up with a sushi train for dinner. I arrived at the restaurant to find a long queue of Japanese people waiting for a seat along the “tracks.”

20120319-213305.jpg

Rather than allow me to sit in the one single seat available, in expected Japanese fashion, I had to wait until all the people in front of me — who all made up parties of two or three — were seated before I could sit. The lone seat remained empty as I waited.

The wait was worth it. The sushi was good. Periodically, all of the chefs, who were situated in the middle of the train track, yelled something out simultaneously. Although I had no idea what they were saying, their chorus gave the place a fun vibe.

20120319-214607.jpg

Along the bar there were hot water taps and green tea bags that you could use to make complimentary green tea. If you’re in Kyoto and feel like sushi, I recommend this place — it is at the bottom of the Kyoto main train station, on the west side, across from McDonalds. I had eight serves (most plates had two pieces, a couple only had one) for only $13.

20120319-214122.jpg

20120319-214133.jpg

20120319-214140.jpg

20120319-214149.jpg

20120319-214159.jpg
(that’s crab paste of some sort)

20120319-214257.jpg

20120319-214304.jpg

20120319-214310.jpg

Cellar Doors

Today we drove down to the Mornington Peninsula (about an hour outside of Melbourne) to visit three wineries — Foxeys Hangout, T’Gallant, and Montalto — for tastings and lunch. We liked Foxeys best, because it is smaller and has greater variety in terms of reasonably priced food, although all three are worth a visit (mid-week would probably be better to avoid the crowds). Here are some snaps.

20120311-175951.jpg

20120311-180004.jpg

20120311-180048.jpg

20120311-180055.jpg

20120311-180110.jpg

20120311-180130.jpg

20120311-180138.jpg

20120311-180215.jpg

20120311-180228.jpg

20120311-180313.jpg

20120311-180324.jpg

20120311-180419.jpg

20120311-180432.jpg

20120311-180444.jpg

20120311-180557.jpg

20120311-180605.jpg

20120311-180613.jpg

The Great Australian Breakfast

I have finally arrived in Melbourne, the place that, along with NYC, I consider home. I come here each year to visit my friends, and being here a nice break from “the road.” I have alluded to it in past posts, but Melbourne is a serious foodie city. Australia generally has amazing produce — fruit and veg, meat, fish, dairy, wine, etc. are some of the best I’ve ever had. Going out for breakfast (not brunch) is a bit of a cultural phenomenon here, and one that I have yet to find to the same extent elsewhere. Needless to say, it is something I really look forward to doing when I visit. Sadly, the cost of living, including the cost of eating out, has become exorbitantly expensive, so I’ve had to reign in my out-for-breakfast habit a little bit — but not enough to miss out.

You might have heard of a full English breakfast, but believe me, it is nothing compared with a full Australian breakfast. Australian full breakfasts usually include fresh, high quality, bakery bread, poached eggs, avocado, roast tomato, mushrooms and Australian style bacon (which tends to be less fatty than its American counterpart). On Sunday I visited one of my favorite breakfast spots called Lawson’s Grove, which is a little cafe and convenient store that is set in an apartment block on an out of the way side street that only locals know about. This was the result:

20120307-110233.jpg

20120307-110645.jpg

Oh, I almost forgot, the coffee in Melbourne is world class (and these days you pay for that standing).

While I love the full breakfast, when in Melbourne, I usually get what is my favorite form of breakfast — bircher muesli. I’ve found it in a few places outside of Australia, but the quality never compares. Bircher muesli is any variation of the following combination: oats soaked overnight in yogurt/milk and a bit of juice (usually apple), grated apple, slivered nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and fresh or poached fruit to top it off. It is very easy to make at home, so if it appeals to you, look up some recipes online and try it.

I’ve had bircher a couple times already, including my first day in Melbourne when Bron took me to a local institution — Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder. I had my first taste of proper bircher muesli in over a year plus the cafe’s delicious cheesy toast.

20120307-112025.jpg

20120307-112045.jpg
(the bircher looks a little washed out in this photo, but I promise, it is delicious; I will try to photograph another one so you can see it in its full glory).