Curious Appetite

travel

Eating Istanbul in 4 days

When traveling, I have a couple rules. One is that I don’t want to plan anything. I need to wonder. To get lost.  Another criteria is that I need to eat really great food. I mean, what good is traveling if you don’t get to know the local food?

Earlier this year I went to Istanbul and I went again because a. it’s a tremendous city that I barely scratched the surface of. b. I have a friend there. Not only that, this is someone who has a similar lens that I do for analyzing society. Thanks to this incredible friend, I was able to observe a little bit better how the social fabric of Istanbul was woven and to see nuances of juxtapositions evident in daily life. Continue Reading

Where to eat in San Niccolò (Florence, Italy)

Walk and drink in San Niccolo’

San Niccolò is a sort of micro-neighborhood on the way to the trek to Piazzale Michelangelo, a popular square where you can get a stellar view of the city. Unfortunately, pop tourism has influenced Piazzale Michelangelo to be a sort of Disneyland attraction with bad food carts, painful cover music belting buskers and plastic souvenir vendors.

In all honesty, I despise how some businesses in major Italian cities like Florence have decided to cater to mass tourism and eroding its authentic character as a result. Tourists aren’t the problem, it is a type of mentality which hides behind the guise of “business as usual” in order to supposedly make establishments more “welcoming” (i.e. tourist menus, crap souvenirs, mushy pasta and frozen pizza for €10, terribly translated menus, crap cover bands, outdated American pop top 40 radio, etc).

I do love loads of things about Florence. I love how easy it is to get around by bike. I really love San Frediano and Santo Spirito (as long as it doesn’t turn into a touristic/cheap crap/corner shop wasteland) and I love how beautiful the city is, I love how there are little wine shops and the Tuscan food culture. I love the Florentine accent and I love (some) Florentines. Really. The point of my blog is to help readers find what authentic soul there is left in Florence.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

So despite Piazzale Michelangelo becoming a obnoxious tourist trap with a view (which you absolutely cannot miss in Florence),  I still have managed to salvage a couple places to eat and drink at the bottom- in a little area called San Niccolò.

Truffled Tagliere smorgasbord

La Beppa Fioraia-  Past the arches of San Niccolò, take a sharp turn into what seems like a dodgy alley and disappear into one of the few green nooks of Florence to La Beppa Fioraia. My favorites here are the tagliere (Tuscan smorgasbord of cheeses, dips, spreads, fried breads, cold cuts, veggies and cured olives) and wild boar pappardelle. The wine list is somewhat decent (good € range) from what I remember and the interior decor is alive with color.

I have heard that in recent years this resto has gone south from what it used to be (surprise , surprise…Florentine restaurants loosing quality after being discovered by the arbitrary rating world of tripadvisor?) However, I still don’t think you can beat the ambiance and abundant gourmet tagliere.

Address: Via dell’Erta Canina, 6r

Gecko Bar & Grill- This is a new burger, sandwich and cocktail spot which is very trendy, contemporary and I may go as far as saying “hipster”. I went recently with my pal Georgette of Girl in Florence who recommends it and I must say it was decent. The service was good, which says a lot. I enjoyed their BBQ pulled pork sandwich (pictured) but then again, if you are visiting Florence for the 1st time or visiting in general, why would you want something not Tuscan such as a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, similar to bar & grill food in the U.S.? In any case, Gecko would definitely be a great spot for craft beers and cocktails on a late night since the bars Zoe and Negroni next door are not exactly the greatest.

Address: Via Dei Renai 11/R

lardo crostoni. cured fat and cheese- that’s Tuscany!

Fuori Porta- One of my favorite wine bars, Fuoriporta is loved by wine enthusiasts all over the city. They have high quality wines by the glasses ranging from caliber to obscure, quarter liter carafes and gourmet wine friendly foods. Their patio is a trap- you can sit out there for hours slightly removed from the chaos of center Florence with a medieval gate as your backdrop which is lined with random greenery. I personally enjoy their gourmet crostini toasts with things like black truffle cream and soft, salty prosciutto to go with their excellent selection of mouth watering white wines.

Address: Via Monte Alle Croci, 10r

Cent’Ori- This is a gourmet trattoria I’ve decided. Burrata with shaved truffle, Savory, juicy sliced pork arista and baked to perfection potatoes, fresh ravioli in a heavenly sage sauce and they have a fixed menu for lunch which is actually a great value for 10 euros, including a glass of wine. The food is pretty delicious but I must warn, the service is pretty horrible unless you are there with a Florentine or you speak Italian enough to know that service in Florence in general is a alien concept. The owner is somewhat temperamental and the food presentation/order if they are busy is extremely inconsistent. The only reason why I am even mentioning them is because most places to eat in San Niccolo actually suck and if you have to eat well, don’t want to spend a fortune and can put up with lame/slow service- then Cent’Ori is worth a go. The wine list is non-existent and you have to go to the wall inside to pick your wines, half of them aren’t even marked for price and your lucky if they remember to bring your wine glasses. All that being said, I would still go back if in a bind and none of the other eateries on this list had a table available.

Address: Via di S. Niccolò, 48, 50124 Florence, Italy

In your quest for soul in Florence,

Curious Appetite

Are you curious about food tours in Florence? Take a progressive dinner crawl (with me!) for a curated, delicious evening while discovering the best food and drink spots with soul. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for live travel tips and subscribe by e-mail to this blog for future updates. Happy travels!

Vacation on Elba Island, Tuscany

I love that in Italy, August is the national month of vacation. Towards the end of July, people go around saying “I’ll see you in September!” and this appreciation for leisure is partly why the Italian life is so hard to give up.

I went to Elba for a week. I’m not going to bore you with cultural facts and history (boring!).

My idea of a vacation is eating, working out (on getting a wicked sweet tan aka lying on the beach), drinking and lounging. And not feeling guilty for having brioche everyday at breakfast overlooking the sea. Fresh fruit and sweet island baby tomatoes. Crisp minerally wine. FISH. Oh man, I learned how to make octopus! I’ll make that adventure in a new post.

Elba island is off the Tuscan coast and can be reached easily by ferry from Piombino. It is one of the most authentic vacation spots with thriving fishing villages. Their wine and agriculture sector is exploding and bursting with deliciousness. The weather is perfect for ripe wine grapes and catches the perfect amount of breeze from the sea. The summer fruit like peaches and susine are simply incredible and juicy. However, this is not historic. In the sense that, Elba was originally a mining center and agriculture is just now starting to take root. If you are an Italophile like me, I highly recommend a stay in Portoferraiofor a real taste of Italian island life off the typical tourist path. If you do, do not miss a visit to one of the most beautiful wine bars I have ever been to in my life: Enoteca della Fortezza. They showcase Slow Food Italy wines from Elba and it is so not expensive! And you can get small platters and purchase bottles of wine on-site. Of course, you can sit outside with a view of the sea…che bellezza!

Enjoy the slide show!

Island cherry sweet tomatoes! Like candy!
Fishing man at the beach!
Gnocchi with clams and porcini
Fish antipasto platter- this Island got me hooked on octopus (literally!)
Pistachio semifreddo! It’s like a creamy pistachio ice-cream cake!
olive tree?…probably not. Still pretty, though!
Elba Rosso, Elba White and Rosato- at Slow Food Italy Enoteca Fortezza dei Medici. Best Cantina of the Year! (in my book;)
Bubbly and oysters- made me think of home:) These slippery umami pearls of gold were pretty damn good!
Rocky beaches! Off the beaten path!
Beautiful views from the shore! Not for the faint of vertigo!
Seriously one of the coolest vespas I have ever seen…

Food and Drink in Venice

For the longest time, I refused to visit Venice. Once I learned that there is only one Venetian for every hundred tourists, I had no desire to be apart of that statistic. Tourists are a necessary good in the world, but in cities like Venice and Florence, we become exhausting to the locals. Can you imagine living in a city that is a disneyland with people blocking your commute with their wanderlost stuck in a map or drooling with their heads cocked up at some random monument? Blocking the paths while posing for their obsession with documenting every single detail (um, has anyone ever tried to guess how many millions of other people have that same token shot off the Rialto bridge?) GOSH! C’mon!

Anyways….

I decided to break my boycott.

Stuffed octopus, olives, baccalà mantecato and calamari salad. A typical plate of Venetian cicheti. Must have been all the Spritz that caused this dizzy pic 😉 

What I took away: Spritz and cichèti! YUMMM!!!! I discovered the glorious world of cichèti! Cichèti is Venetian finger food (like tapas!). It’s the revolution of the tavola calda, the mecca of the happy hour, the game changer of the aperitivo and paradise for seafood lovers and the hell for anyone with shellfish allergies. I feel so sorry for those people.

Drink: Spritz is a Venetian cocktail comprised of a bitter liqueur (campari, aperol, cynar, etc) prosecco and soda water.

Street bar food and drink: 3 euro Cynar Spritz and Potato Chips

Cost? In Florence, a spritz can be like 6€ (screw that!!!) in Venice, if you get out of the crap tourist traps, you’ll pay no more than 3€ and they are the best in Venice. My favorite was the Cynar variety (a bitter amaro liqueur made from artichoke, so good for your liver?).

A cynar spritz is served with one of those delicious fatty green olives and a slice of lemon. Perfect for potato chips and general sipping. Or, for many Venetians, perfect for that 11am pick-me-up. 😉

What I found most odd was the Venetian style of gazzosa, which is usually a soft drink like a lemon soda, etc. But what I drank in Venice included a light local red wine with sprite. EWWW you might think (as did I) but on a warm day on the lagoon, it’s not so bad.

Basically, cicheterie have a drool worthy spread of various first courses and fishy dishes like stuffed octopus, calamari salad, baccalà and polenta, baccalà mantecato (a puree of cod), baked mussels, scallops, pine nut and raisin laced sardines…the list is making me hungry just re-hashing it.

Do you have any favorite nibbles and sips from Venice? Share! 🙂

Until next time,

Curious Appetite

Want some restaurant and general travel advice for visiting Venice? Perhaps tips for a culinary tour in Venice? Contact me.

London calling and foodie missions

It was when I moved to London on a whim with nothing more than a temporary work permit at age 19 that my appetite grew for travel and the desire to move to Italy after a summer weekend getaway in Florence. I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in awe surrounded by beautiful architecture, fresh fish and summer salads. I turned to my travel partner and said:

“I want to live here one day. I want to learn Italian.”

…and I did. 7 years later. So I look back on London very fondly. It was my gateway drug to my expat desires.

Recently, I was offered an opportunity to stay in London for a month for a secret food and wine mission. I accepted. But the critic in me unleashed its analytical wrath within just hours of arriving.

To say the least, I was shocked by a lot of things concerning the British lifestyle. After living in Italy for nearly 7 months now, I was quite excited to go back to an Anglo culture for a little bit. Italy can be tiring for a young, foreign American woman. You think I’m joking, but in Italy I am not really taken seriously in certain situations based on my age and gender. Also, people assume I am a rich American tourist. It could be worse if I were in a developing country, but c’mon this is ITALY. It is a country in EUROPE. I shouldn’t have to make such comparative justifications.

Moving on…..

As happy as I was to be surrounded by so many options in the grocery stores (like a whole section of greek yogurt! In Italy it is the same dinky overpriced Fage. One variety: plain.) I was relieved to be able to speak my language and be respected. And, to find such a variety of international foods, sauces, condiments, spices and organic granola hipster culture food. I was quite tickled when I was able to make this delicious shallow fried tofu and veg green coconut milk Thai curry:

But after a few days, I found that I really appreciate Italian food culture. In London (like in Seattle) cuisine is imported. There is a plethora of fusion but nothing quite convincing of its own. Yes, the Brits have a cuisine and it is very modest and humble. Meat pastry pies, scotch duck eggs, fish, stilton, cheddar truckles, oysters, roasted root veggies…they do indeed have delicious fare. But what they lack is culture in comparison to the Italians.

Please note: the following comments are merely gross generalizations.

I noticed a lot of drinking and not a lot of food pairing. In Italy, it is almost a violation to serve an alcoholic drink without some sort of snack- even if it is a small bowl of chips and nuts. “Happy Hour” in London consist of, not full on buffet bars of lasagna, salami, cheeses and radicchio salads like at an Italian aperitivo, but rather 4 beers for 10 quid. People work hard in London. They live in small flats. By the time you come home after a ten-hour day combined of work + riding the grey, crowded and smelly tube all you want to do is relax with a beer, eat something quick or grab dinner at the pub. And smoke a lot of cigarettes. My diet was at its lowest while I was there. Not because there isn’t good food, but because I was so busy and refused to pay a lot of money on food. Food is to me, a basic human right and should be affordable and good. Good food in London (and in Seattle) come at a premium. In Italy, good food is accessible to everyone. I can get a big bag of local organic farmer market produce at 5-10 euros. It’s not trendy, it is just the way they do it. And no wonder rates of diet-related disease are lower and people seem generally healthy and vibrant.

Romanesco Cavolfiore. In Italy, its filling and cheap. Perfect for Tuscan winter soups and bakes. At Selfridges in London, its a tourist attraction for the privileged at 9 quid a kilo.

In London, I noticed an affluent couple taking a picture of perfectly merchandised Romanesco (a simple cruciferous vegetable related to the cauliflower priced at a whopping 9pound x Kilo). The said vegetable celebrity was paparazzi’d at the food hall at Selfridges ( Hellridges: a pretentious food museum) because the couple had never seen it before and I recall laughing to myself and trying really hard not to scold (judge) them silently for this blatant food voyeurism.

Onion bhajee so good, that I didn’t even notice how pathetic the salad was.

I did however manage to eat delicious samosas and Indian food on Brick Lane. Just walking through the colorful street with spices lining the store counters piled up in the shapes of upside down cones and fresh fried samosas sitting innocently in the windows wafting their savory turmeric and chili aromas deep into your nostrils, so deep that you can almost taste the mushy potatoes, curried lamb and fried fennel seed within those little triangular pockets of Indian heaven. As well as decadent spicy onion bhajee with tamarind.

those yellow globs are pillows of brandy butter.

While I was on my food mission, I discovered a couple true English food gems. Such as: Christmas Pudding w/ Brandy Cream (and Brandy Butter) and mince pie. A mince pie is not what you think I thought (a savory pastry pie filled with minced meat). The mince is actually a sweet pastry filled with a winter spiced apple and dried fruit gunk. Christmas pudding is this gooey sticky fruit cake thing that is soaked in brandy or some sort of booze and is set on fire and served warm with the brandy fat/cream products oozing on top.

I was lucky enough to be in a small beach town in East Sussex with a lovely Brit family that left a wonderful taste in my mouth about the English food culture. 

On Christmas Day, you basically eat everything all day long. Not much different from the rest of the Christmas celebrating world. Port and Cheese is not an uncommon compliment and neither are little sausages wrapped in bacon, homemade cranberry sauce and creamy bread pudding. The food social scientist in me asked a lot of questions concerning food and tradition to the family’s grandmother. She told me that in her school years, domestic sciences were taught where you learned all cooking basics and knitting. Like I imagine home-economics was in American schools. Those classes don’t exist anymore (at least in the U.S.) and no wonder why people of our generation are having to either teach themselves culinary arts as apart of hipster homesteading trends or simply eat processed convenience foods out of ignorance. I notice, that in America unless you come from a liberal, educated family (or a very rich one), your holiday dinners generally come from a box, a can and a cling-wrapped foster farms tortured processed meat product. In England, at least most people from a wide range of socio-economical backgrounds cook from scratch.

After my trip, I realized Italy is the best place on earth. People (Italians) sometimes take for granted how precious their country is. What other country has what Italy has: Rome, Venice, Sicily, food, wine, art, history, music, Milan…the list goes on and on.  Not only is Italy wonderful for its rich landscape and crystal blue beaches but the also the way everyone respects each other, their body and how to eat (and live) a good life. I heard so many Italians on the streets in London and it made me sad because I know why they are there. Young Italians are giving up on Italy and fleeing to more affluent (organized) parts of the world for a “better” life. But what constitutes a better life? To me, I left America and effectively rejected my culture in order to live a better life. In Italy. And this is where I plan to stay until its not fun anymore.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! (:

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