Food · Travel

My First Impressions of Bucharest, Romania

 

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The decor in Origo Cafe was so pleasing to the eye

Bucharest (not to be confused with Budapest!) took me by surprise. With it’s various coffee shops filled with the scent of single origin coffee beans, restaurants serving up dishes using organic and locally-sourced ingredients, and a young population of the most fashionably scruffy individuals, Bucharest screams hipster. I loved it.

Despite it’s capital city’s up-and-coming vibe, Romania still has deep scars from years of repressive and brutal leadership under Nicolae Ceaușescu, which was evident by the countless crumbling and abandoned buildings we saw scattered throughout the city. Yet that didn’t stop us from enjoying plenty of Romanian beer, a fantastic conversion rate, and a delightful abundance of blooming springtime flowers.

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Our first night in Bucharest was a comical affair, to say the least
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Carturesti Carusel is one of the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever visited
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The components of a great meal at Lacrimi si Sfinti
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Moody skies from the Pura Vida Sky Bar
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I was a little too excited over all the tulips and daffodils throughout the city
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The dining room of The Artist was a work of art in itself
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Why choose one dessert when you can have bites of all three?

 

Food · Restaurants · Travel

My Maltese Food Diary

Saturday

Breakfast:

No visit to Valletta is complete without a trip to the famous Caffe Cordina, which first opened its doors over 175 years ago. We went with two traditional Maltese sweets: a kannol  rikotta (basically their less sweet version of an Italian cannoli) and a honey ring (made with treacle, marmalade, orange peel, spices, and honey). Both were delicious and combined with the fact that it was warm enough to eat outside in the sunshine, made this a great start to our day.

Lunch:

Located in the same palazzo as Caffe Cordina is Eddie’s Cafe. I ordered the Maltese dips, which included galletti (traditional Maltese crackers), gbejniet (Maltese cheese), bigilla (mashed beans), fazola, capunata tomatoes, Maltese sausage, olives, tuna, gardiniera (pickled vegetables), and capers. It was fun to taste a bunch of Maltese specialties all at once, especially while listening to the peculiar sound of Maltese as a group of older women chatted a few tables over from us.

Dinner:

Unfortunately, the restaurant I was planning to take us to for dinner was closed for the entire month of January. We ran into this issue quite a few times since Malta is such a seasonal destination. Despite this tiny hiccup, we were seated at Tico Tico, where I enjoyed some fresh, salmon-stuffed tortelloni.

Sunday

Breakfast:

Sunday was the day we went on our (very long) journey to Gozo so we grabbed a quick bite at the cafe right around the corner from our Airbnb. Still very full from the night before, we split a Maltese pastizzi, a pastry filled with ricotta. The cafe was definitely a local spot, with almost everyone speaking Maltese.

Lunch:

Ta’Rikardu, located in Victoria on the island of Gozo, was the perfect spot to get a little afternoon pick-me-up. Rikardu makes his own wine and goat cheese from his farm so everything was super fresh. There is also a little shop downstairs filled with handmade crafts and food items that was fun to check out.

Dinner:

For dinner, we took the bus to the sea-side town of Xlendi and like the previous night, the restaurant I was planning on taking us to was closed for the entire month. Literally the only restaurant open was Mobydick , which was right on the water and offered peaceful sounds of the breaking waves throughout our meal. I also spent much of our meal pointing out the many cats that were hovering around our table looking for scraps. I wasn’t too hungry so I opted for a simple vegetable soup but Evan got the traditional rabbit stew, which was super flavorful and tasty.

Monday

Breakfast:

We took a 5-minute walk from our Airbnb to “downtown” Nadur, which consisted of an atm, coffee shop, and giant church. Another Maltese pastizzi for breakfast, along with a chocolate donut (naturally). For two cappucinos and two pastries, our breakfast bill was €3. Basically, I love Maltese prices.

Lunch:

Back in Valletta for the rest of the afternoon, we popped into Da Pippo Trattoria on a whim. Best. Meal. In. Malta. By. Far. The small restaurant was very busy but we were able to grab the last open table. As soon as we were seated, our waiter placed a plateful of fresh goatcheese, tomatoes, and capers in front of us. After a couple minutes, he came back to our table and asked us what we were in the mood for – meat, seafood, pasta. No menus, he said, they only cook what they could get from the market that morning. Afterwards, he brought us a clam linguine and lobster ravioli, which were two of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had (and I live in Italy). That was followed by chocolate canolis, limoncello, and espresso. After all that food, I basically had to be rolled out of the restaurant but it was one of those meals that we’ll remember for years to come.

Food · Photography · Restaurants · Travel

Stop Number Eight: An Overnight in Nice

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Nice’s Russian Orthodox Church makes you question where you really are for a moment

Nice is the capital of the French Riviera and was the perfect halfway point on our drive back to Bologna. Although we only saw the downtown and coastline at night, that was enough to make me fall in love with Nice.

As a California native, I am a sucker for beach towns and while Nice is probably a little (a lot) more luxurious than most Californian beach towns, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to the city as soon as we exited the freeway. That isn’t to say that there weren’t a few hiccups during our stay, though.

We stayed in one of the more questionable Airbnbs which involved a bed with a broken leg, a front door that didn’t lock, and a very creepy basement that only consisted of a bed frame and a giant Winnie the Pooh teddy bear. A little creepy! Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us from enjoying the city and exploring the downtown, which was still beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.

We stopped in at Chez Pipo for some tapenade and socca – a flatbread-like thing that is a specialty of the region (so good!). Then, we spent the rest of the evening walking through the old town and along the harbor, gazing at the beautiful architecture all around us.

In the morning, we discovered that our Airbnb was very close to the Russian Orthodox Church so grabbed a quick snapshot of it before heading towards Cinque Terre.

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The Basilique Notre-Dame – the largest church in Nice
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Socca – made from chickpea batter poured over a searing hot griddle
Food · Restaurants · Travel

Stop Number Five: A Tapas-Filled Day in San Sebastian

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San Sebastian (or Donostia in Basque) is one of my favorite cities in Basque Country. With its warmer weather, streets upon streets of shopping, great beaches filled with surfers year-round, and endless tapas bars, it’s hard to not fall in love with the city.

When I was a little girl, I visited San Sebastian many times with my parents. I remember my dad took us to this one tapas bar that he said his grandfather took him to all the time when he was a kid. While I didn’t know the name of the bar, I was determined to find it and continue this little tradition.

Who knew how quickly we would just stumble upon it! We weren’t in San Sebastian for even a full hour (and I hadn’t even really started searching for it) when we just walked right by it and I immediately knew that it was the right one.

Bar Gorriti serves up an impressive number of traditional tapas for such a tiny space (although it seemed so much larger when I was younger). A few tapas here was such a perfect way to kick-off our time in San Sebastian – a way to honor the great memories I have from all those summer vacations as a kid while creating new memories as an adult.

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Food · Photography · Restaurants · Travel

Stop Number Two: An Overnight in Marseille

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Morning down by the harbor

Our arrival into Marseille was a bit stressful. Our only phone that had cell service and that was directing us into the city ran out of battery so we took the first exit and ended up in not the best neighborhood.

We ended up pulling over in order to locate the phone charger and ended up scratching the side bumper (that turned out to be an expensive mistake) but luckily Evan found the charger, we filled up on gas from a sketchy gas station, and we were on our way to our Airbnb.

I’m not gonna lie, I was a little concerned about the looks of our apartment from the outside but it turned out to be a super modern, clean space and was just right for one night (there was no wifi, so I don’t think I could handle more than one night). After unloading our bags, we headed downtown and had amazing seafood at

After unloading our bags, we headed downtown and had amazing seafood at Toinou. We then walked along the harbor, which was eerily empty, and continued to enjoy warmer weather than we’ve been used to.

The next morning, Evan had to work on a final paper so I took off on my own to see Marseille in the daylight before we hopped back into the car and continued our journey. In just a couple hours, I was quite proud of how much I was able to see and managed to walk almost eight miles!

Some of the highlights included going back to the harbor and seeing all the fishermen selling their catch, a walk through Le Panier – the oldest neighborhood in the city which is filled with cute boutiques and restaurants, and checking out Cure Gourmande – the most amazing sweets shop with some seriously incredible apple cinnamon cookies.

After spending more time than expected at Cure Gourmande (I was eating all the free samples trying to figure out how I’d possibly decide which ones to buy) I realized I was going to be late to drop off the keys with our Airbnb host. So, with a bag of cookies in one hand and a half-eaten beignet in the other, I hustled up the hill to our apartment.

I arrived at the front door short of breath, with sugar all over my face from taking bites of the beignet and our host probably thought I was insane. The beignet and cookies were definitely worth it, though. After dropping off our keys, we loaded back into the car and headed to Basque Country.

I have mixed feelings about Marseille. Despite my love of those apple cinnamon cookies, I was pretty decided that I had no desire to return to the city at first (the number of abandoned buildings that were completely falling apart and the large amounts of trash everywhere was alarming).

But looking back now, I would like to spend more time exploring Le Panier and would love to hike up to Notre Dame de la Gard. When it comes down to it, I simply don’t think that we visited at the right time and a visit in the summertime may just change my mind about France’s second largest city.

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A heavenly meal at Toinou
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Eerily empty streets of Le Panier
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A glimpse of Fort Saint-Jean
Bologna · Culture · Food · Italian Culture · Restaurants · Uncategorized

Behind the Scenes of a Gelateria

img_9503After dinner and drinks with a few friends a couple weeks ago, one of my friends suggested that we get some gelato for dessert. We ended up at Gelateria delle Moline – a business that has been in the same family for three generations.  After a couple of us began gobbling up orders of the Italian version of an ice cream sandwich (you get to choose two gelato flavors to place inside this deliciously deadly, homemade brioche bun – SO GOOD), we began talking with one of the owners, Marco.

After a couple minutes of polite chit-chat, he asked us if we wanted to see what it’s like behind the scenes of a gelateria. Of course, we gave an enthusiastic yes. Marco explained that they make all their gelatos fresh every day, which was quite incredible considering how tiny the kitchen was.

He said that the process was actually very simple and involved making a large amount of base (which consists of only milk, eggs, and sugar) then adding flavor into some of the base, which varies depending on what type of gelato he’s making. The flavors can be any combination of various chocolates, fruits, nuts, and cremas. And that’s it – simple and authentic Italian gelato.

Marco told us that the most popular flavor at the shop is the caffe (coffee) but he said he doesn’t like coffee much so he prefers the crema, a super creamy gelato that tastes like custard. He may be the first Italian I’ve met that doesn’t like coffee! Nevertheless, Marco was a part of the most memorable gelato experience I’ve had since moving here and I’ll definitely be going back once the weather gets warmer.

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The base is whipped up every morning in this giant mixer
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This is where they store the base before adding in different favors
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Melted chocolate that is cooling down so it can be added to the base
Bologna · Food · Restaurants

Buon Appetito – Tamburini

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There are many restaurants in Bologna that offer boards filled with meats and cheeses, a go-to choice for people like me, who consider sliced meats and cheeses a couple of my major food groups. Tamburini is right around the corner from Mercato di Mezzo, my favorite market in Bologna that offers only the freshest products, and it easily upholds the high food quality of the neighborhood.

Sandwiched between two storefronts displaying ham legs and giant parmesan cheese wheels, Tamburini is a deli that has casually been serving up slices of proscuitto, salami, and Bologna’s famous mortadella since 1932. Plus, they have over 200 wines avaible by the glass.

We stumbled into Tamburini one stormy night to escape the rain and were able to snag one of the last avaible tables. We snacked on their traditional meat and cheese board in their cozy bar area and I think it was just what we needed to recharge before heading back into the rain (an umbrella would also be nice for next time, though).

Food

Italian Coffee Culture

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Since the internet in our apartment has been less than ideal, I’ve spent many mornings in various cafes, trying to get some work done. Now, most cafes in Italy are not like most cafes in the U.S. where you find people camped out in corners and mooching off free wifi for hours on end.

Lots of cafes in Italy don’t even offer free wifi and some of the cafes that do certainly don’t want you taking up valuable table space with a laptop. Luckily for me, Bologna is a student town so there are a few places that break the mold and I’ve learned a lot about Italian coffee culture while sipping my cappuccino in the mornings.

  1. Cappuccinos are for mornings only. Another one of those unspoken Italian food rules is that cappuccinos (and all other forms of milk-based coffee drinks) are only to be had before noon and never, ever after a full meal.
  2. Espresso? Italian love espresso but don’t try ordering one by calling it that. They call it caffè, they drink it all day long, and it’s real strong.
  3. Say it loud. Some of the best cafes in Bologna can get really busy and one of the things that I’ve quickly learned is that the employees won’t go out of their way to help me. The most important thing is to be confident and to call out your order, even if the barista doesn’t seem to be paying attention.
  4. Don’t forget your ticket. Some places have you wait in line to place your order, you pay, then you wait at the counter to give your ticket to the barista. Other places have you wait in line to place your order, you get a ticket, you then wait at the counter to give your ticket to the barista, you finish your coffee, then you wait in line again to pay. Either way, it’s important to hold on to your ticket and remain patient.
  5. Al banco. If they’re just ordering a quick caffè, Italians will usually just stand at the bar, down their caffè in one slurp, and head out the door. I’ve even seen a couple places that don’t have seating at all.
Food · Travel

My Venetian Food Diary

Thursday

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Dinner: 

Pizzeria Al 128 (Pizza quattro stagioni – split with Evan, prosecco)

For our first meal in Northern Italy, Nancy and John took us to this adorable pizza place just a couple blocks away from our B&B. After a two-hour train ride and another hour drive, we didn’t arrive in Vittorio Veneto until almost 9:00pm and figured that the restaurant would be nearly desolate. Silly us. I guess we forgot the late Italian dinner time so we found the restaurant to be quite crowded. Luckily, a large table was just leaving so we were able to feast before resting up for Venice the next day.

Friday

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Breakfast:

Palazzo Galletti B&B (red pepper frittata, Nutella and jam crepes, ham, baked apples, toast with various jams)

I cannot recommend Palazzo Galletti B&B enough. It’s in this old farmhouse that has recently been renovated into a B&B and the amount of detail that has gone into each room is impressive. We were in the “Sunset Room” or the green room since all the little accents from the shower curtain the coffee pot were green. Breakfasts were included and the owner’s mother, Elanora (the sweetest lady who spoke no English), put together quite a spread every morning. The baked apples came from her backyard garden and the eggs came fresh from the chickens she and her sister both own.

Mid-Morning Snack:

Tonolo (various Italian desserts)

Per the recommendation of one of John’s friends, we headed to Tonolo for a mid-morning pick-me-up (although I’m not sure how we were hungry after Elanora’s breakfast). This place had the biggest selection of homemade treats and was absolutely packed with people ordering at the counter and picking up orders made ahead of time. The hardest decision was trying to decide which of their tiny desserts to choose but once I took a bite of one of their canolos, I knew that a bad decision wasn’t possible there.

Lunch:

Trattoria alla Rivetta (crab gnocchi and calamari)

After being completed floored by the beauty of Piazza San Marco, we were somehow hungry again. We wandered away from the crowds of the main piazza, determined to find a  restaurant that wasn’t a tourist trap, and I think we were quite successful. We originally stopped at Trattoria alla Rivetta since they had a nice window display of vegetables and Nancy is adorably obsessed with vegetables. The restaurant turned out to be filled with locals, offered delicious seafood,  and even had a singing waiter.

Evening Snack:

Trattoria alla Cerva  (bacalao and polenta)

I can’t believe I’m typing this but after eating all of the above, Evan and I managed to fit in one last snack at the bar down the street from our B&B. I’d like to think that we burned a lot of calories walking around Venice – we did walk over eight miles that day!

Saturday

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Breakfast:

Palazzo Galletti B&B

Another huge spread from Elanora and this meal included a homemade pecan torte. Think of the best pecan pie you’ve eaten at Thanksgiving, but better. Plus, we were joined that morning by  Pablo, another Palazzo Galletti guest. He is an Italian artist and used to work in Orange County, California when he was in the wine industry. Since I used to live in Orange County for five years, it was fun to talk to him about the area and learn more about his work – it really is a small world.

Lunch: 

Caffe Roma (ham and cheese plate)

After a full day exploring several small Northern Italian towns, it wasn’t until late afternoon that we started hunting for a lunch spot (I think we ever so slightly overdid it the day before). We settled on a place in Cison di Valmarino, which was a very small cafe that somehow managed to have three levels, all playing American soft rock.

Evening Snack:

Sempreque (arancino di riso – fried risotto ball)

Evan and I spent our last night in Vittorio Veneto in front of a roaring fireplace in this quaint wine bar. We talked over wine, shared an arancino, and kept an eye on the biggest grasshopper I’ve ever seen that was warming itself by the fire, too. Ah, small town entertainment.

Food · Travel

My Tuscan Food Diary

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Lunch: 

Il Santo Bevitore (buccatini with tomatoes, parmesan, and bacon)

We met up with my cousins, Suzanne and Robert, at this restaurant in the Santo Spirito neighborhood and it also happens to be a couple blocks away from their apartment. Most of the table ordered one of the daily specials and everything was so fresh and flavorful – just look at that piece of bacon. Plus, our waiter was very helpful and translated the entire menu for us (he even brought Nancy a side of butter for her bread when she asked – another Italian food rule and a big no-no).

Dessert:

Gelateria La Carraia (pear gelato)

Suzanne and Robert also took us to their favorite gelato place just down the street from our lunch spot. I opted for the pear gelato, which was packed full of flavor but I also tasted some of Evan’s white chocolate pistachio gelato and it was pretty extraordinary.

Evening Snack:

Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti (wine, meat and cheese plate)

After our large late lunch and gelato adventure, none of us were overly hungry but a small bite and some wine sounded appetizing. Nancy and John took us to one of their favorite spots, just a town over from their villa in Panzano. This place was really fun since they give you a money card, which you load up with money, then you can walk around the cellar and choose if you want a taste, a small glass, or a larger glass of wine. There were lots of wines to choose from so it was exciting to try different ones.

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Breakfast:

La Villa di Nancy e John (veggie omelet, roasted potatoes, wild boar salami, pecorino cheese, assorted breads)

We had quite the breakfast feast on Nancy and John’s back terrace. I like to joke that I’ve become a better cook since I’ve moved to Italy but really the ingredients are so fresh that it’s hard to not make an amazing meal. This meal was no exception. I think my favorite part was the wild boar salami, which is smaller than the salami I’m used to but had twice the flavor.

Dessert:

(tiramisu gelato)

Our final “meal” in Florence was had at a hurried stop at a small gelateria. We wanted to see the duomo one last time before catching our train back to Bologna and the warm weather brought in more crowds than was expected. The freshly dusted cocoa powder was worth it alone.