Sunday, October 7, 2012

Meals on wheels: Brussels or the neither fish nor fowl edition

It's been quiet here for a reason! I have been on the road for so many days this summer and autumn that this blog is turning into a travel-blog rather than a food blog! But even out on the road I focus on food as much as it is possible, and in Brussels it was very much so. There will be posts on China coming up shortly, but I deciced to start with Brussels where I spent a couple of days last week... And I hope that, by the end of this year, I will also have published that post on cheeky's in Palm Springs which has been waiting to be written since May.
So Brussels. How best to describe it? Let's put it this way: it's neither fish nor fowl, which on the one hand is a good thing (you get the best out of two worlds) but on the other, it's exactly that: neither nor! I hadn't been to France in years (wait until you get to the end of this sentence, I am no stupid blond who thinks that Brussels is in France...) and I was sort of expecting Brussels to be like a cute middle-size French town - which it totally isn't. There are only very few Boulangeries, hardly any Traiteurs, let alone des Patisseries qui sont digne de carry that title. And it's not totally Dutch either...But, if you keep your eyes open, you will find a few gems and to make that easier for you, here are my Brussels-tips:

Let's start with the foodie-mekka of Brussels: la place sainte catherine. If you are in need of fresh vegetables or mushrooms, you should head straight to Le champingros. They have a great selection and the products look as if picked from the garden that same day. They are closed on Mondays, which I learned the hard way, but I went back on Tuesday and bought some girolles (by the way why do I know the French word for chanterelle? I mean I'm pretty good in French but when and where did I pick up that word and why did it stuck to my mind?). Cut in small pieces with a tad of cream and some crispy baguette they made a perfect dinner.

If you are looking for a present, maybe some new kitchen tools, you should definitely stop by the cute little store called pimpinelle, 57, rue de flandre. If I hadn't made the mistake of flying with easy jet (which limits your luggage to a tiny suitcase and maximises your stress level), I would have definitely bought quite a few items there... They also offer a small selection of sandwiches and cakes and occasionally host cooking classes.

On Saturday night, we felt like the luckiest persons in the world as we just so happened to get the last free table at le pré salé, 20 rue de Flandre.

We had walked past it in the morning and decided that that was the place where we would go and have moules-frites in the evening. It's a very simple, no frills place with tiles on all the walls as if it had been a butcher's in its previous life. Judging by the crowd, it must be a locals' favorite.

We were sitting right at the entrance and wittnesed several people being turned down - so if you want to go there, don't expect to be as lucky as we were, make a reservation instead. The moules which were served in lovely battered casseroles were delicious, as were les frites. 



If I ever make it to Brussels again, I might just have to try the frog legs on their menu, a dish I loved as a child (I already was a weirdo at the age of ten).

Of course there is a "funky" chef's figurine in the window, gladioli (fake or real, who knows), but all that just ads to the no-frill charms of the place.

Also on place sainte catherine is Nordzee - Mer du Nord. 

It sits on the corner with the flock of people in front of it. It' s always buzzing with people and I know why: delicious sea-food on the hand, which you can enjoy with a view of the beautiful church of sainte catherine.

I had the fish soup and came back on my last day in town to have another one because I liked it so much. It comes with a slice of baguette and a nice big dollop of a delicious aioli and some grated cheese, what more could you possibly ask for? I wish I would have tried their fish burgers which also looked delicious.

And lastly, also on la place sainte catherine, you will find the Crémerie Sainte-Catherine. It's a shop right out of a picture book which still sells bottles (!) of milk, beurre wrapped in paper and whether you believe it or not, the black and white cat is part of the store inventory. How can you not love a place like that? They also sell a selection of sandwiches which must be great to have on a picknick in the summer.

However, in the rue du midi, close to the grand place, there is an even better traiteur of which I unfortunately did not take a picture. The lady who served me there (probably the owner) is a master example on how you should treat customers! I went into the store and ordered a small slice of a cheese from the Jura covered in dried flowers. She complimented me on my choice and gave me a piece to try, although she already knew that I wanted to buy a piece anyway! That's how you should treat your customers! I also bought some fresh ham and a lovely chèvre-quiche which was served as plockmat (that's Swedish for a buffet of coldcuts) in the evening... Every day I made it back there to check on whether they had any more of those quiches but I always arrived too late during the day...

If you are into the arts, the Wiels is a place you should pay a visit. It's a center for contemporary art set in a former brewery, and the cafe in the entrance hall is a cozy hang-out place. The temporary exhibition of Leigh Ladare's works was too much for my taste, but I nevertheless enjoyed the visit due to the building's interesting design.

When in Brussels, the normal thing to do is to go to a chocolatier and try some Belgian chocolate. The only problem is that I am not that much into chocolate. That's why I rather checked out one of the oldest (and also one of the very few!) patisseries, namely Wittamer. The café sits right on the place du Grand Sablon which makes it a nice spot to sit in the sun on the terrace. Their cakes are the classical French kinds, I had the opéra which unfortunatley lacked the crunchy bottom. The prices were normal for Brussels, but for someone from Berlin, skyrocketing - I think I paid 7 Euros for my opéra (dear sister, correct me if I'm wrong!). I guess I'll leave it up to you to make up your mind on whether that is a fair price or not.

copyright of all photos j. 

That's all from Brussels- next stop: Beijing!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Berliner Speckgürtel

I feel like a total copycat with this post because I just have to blog about the Café and Weberei that was so nicely written about on berlin reified. For the last days of my vacation, I deciced to hire a car to venture out into the Speckgürtel of Berlin - that's German for lard belt, which is the common name given to the rich suburbia surrounding cities. Now, the surroundings of Berlin are not necesarrily rich in money, but they are rich in fun places to visit. Some of those places are however almost out of reach for people who don't own a car and that group actually includes myself and most of my friends. Living in Berlin, you simply don't need one. Plus, there are plenty of car sharing companies to choose from (a bonus with them for instance is that you don't need to pay the parking fee).

Anyway, I have had the plan to rent a car to meander through the Berlin Speckgürtel for quite some time now so I was especially excited when I found the fabulous tips on berlin reified. 
The Handweberei Henni Jaensch-Zeymer in Geltow was my fist stop and when the sign outside said that the cake of the day was chocolate cake with black currant sauce, I immediately knew what to order. I love everything cassis, so of course I ordererd their cassis lemonade to go with the cake. The lemonade was more beautifully decorated than most drinks you would order at a hip and stylish café in Mitte and it tasted the perfect mix between tard and sweet. Likewise, the cassis-chocolate combo on my plate was lovely!
Their weaving products were just as exquisit. There was a black and white coat on display which I absolutely loved! Anyone feels like donating 750 euros? I also accept small coins ...and the coat will be mine in no time...

The next day, I ventured even further! Oranienbaum near Dessau was the destination I entered into the garmin (how did we ever find our way around when we where road tripping back in the days???)! Oranienbaum is a very small town which totally shows what happened to this god forsaken region after the fall of the wall... Let's put it this way: I could only live there if  I had an antidepressant drip invusion in my left arm at all times... During the 17th century, a poor Oranien-Nassau princess was forced into marriage and into a life there in the middle of nowhere. 
I here you ask: if the place is so horrible, why did you bother to drive there? Well, it just so turns out that this old dutch-connection still pays off today! The castle which used to be the princesses humble abode hosts an exhibition on modern Dutch design this summer. Unfortunatley, you had to pay to take photos inside the exhibition, something I don't support as a matter of principle.  The castle is undergoing renovation at the moment, but I actually liked the rooms that were not yet renovated best.

Outside in the big courtyard, there is a small restaurant which mainly served what looked like frozen tarte flambée (yiiiks) but they also had a cold cucumber soup on the menu. As my bloodsugar level was in the dark red area (people who know me know that that is right before I am willing to kill for food), I decided to give it a try. It literally blew my away - it tasted so refreshing and well prepared. Blame the fact that I didn't take a photo on my low blood sugar level, but just be assured that for the last two days, I have been experimenting in my kitchen to make a similar tasty cucumber soup so there might be a recipe popping up soon. The soup which by the way was served with delicious sourdough nut bread made me really wonder why they would have something that good on the menu together with frozen flammkuchen...

An old sun dial... pretty please don't restore-distroy it!!

I like the word Denkmal. It literally means historic momument but I always take it as an order to think! Denk mal! Think!

Painted-on windows on one of the castle's to love them!

Just when I was about to leave Oranienbaum, I deciced to walk to orange Ampelhaus which had a sign that read gallery posted outside.  
And this gallery made the trip to Oranienbaum even so much more worth it! The house was bought by a couple of Dutch artists who had travelled to Oranienbaum in connection with the official exhibition in the castle. They saw the house, bought it, put it back into a state of use, and turned it into a place that reminded me of Berlin Mitte in the 1990s even though the first time I went to Berlin was in 2000....
How brave of them to open a gallery featuring modern art and design in such a place! And what they did (and did not do) to the house!

Some rooms are almost kept the way they were when they bought the house. Am I the only person who thinks that different layers of color and ripped wall paper is art?

Or why not cut right through the existing bathroom if you need a passageway? The current exhibiton which will be on display as long as the exhibition in the castle is on display features objects and art works made from other objets. Such as the couch made from a rug. Or a lamp made from plastic cups. Or, art works made from littel white squares cut from imploded airbags (as in the picture with the couch). Just like they put the old house to a new use, so did the artists find creative ways to recycle!

There is even art work in the attic and the basement. I really urge you do go there and support the young artists! I don't know if I had the guts to start such a project in the middle of nowhere. They are also planning to stick around and continue there gallery with another show next year and there is also an artist in residence-programme. 

As Oranienbaum is only a short drive away from Dessau, I just had to swing by the world famous Bauhaus school.

I did however find the exhibitions there quite average, and I guess to really make the most of the visit, you should go on one of there guided tours for which it was unfortuantely already too late that day. It is very difficult to imagine that one if not the most influential design school of the 20th century was/is set in Dessau, which today, sorry to say so, is also not the place where the magic happens.... As a matter of fact, I found this overgrown basketball basket to be quite telling. 

There were also a bunch of oh-my-good-I-can't-belive-it-ugly houses right next to the Meister houses. At first, I wanted to take a picture of those ugly houses, but felt like it would not be appropriate to make fun of someone's house online. However, I still secretely would like to do an art project on ugly houses built in Dessau since 1990....Gropius would surely be making a three-sixty in his grave if he saw some of them...
So, instead of ugly houses, I share some countryside moments with you - the Elbe in Dessau and the fields around Brodowin.

copyright of all photos j.

Friday, July 20, 2012

If you haven't been to the market... haven't been to the city at all! Is my motto when it comes to discovering new destinations. In this case, we are talking about the market in Lisbon. 

I headed there for a long weekend which, considering the fact that it has been raining more or less for the last 5 weeks in Berlin, was just about the best thing one could do. It was three days of summer weather with 30 °C in the shade and a light breeze. Lisbon is a beautiful town, spread over seven hills which allows you to stroll from one magnificent viewpoint to the next. The small streets and lanes of the older parts of town are cozy and the narrower the more shade the provide. We bought fresh nectarines, apricots, cherries and plums at a small fruteria. Taking the first bite of a nectarien made you envision the farmer who with a smile on his face picked the fruit from the tree that very morning - the fruit was that ripe! Not like in Berlin where you have to buy the nectarines 4 days before you want to eat them because they were picked before fully ripening.
We enjoyed breakfast at pasteleria Suica in the sun.  I couldn't imagine a better start of the day.  There pastel de nata were excellent, but there pan de lo was a true gem. It was basically just a small biscuit de Savoie, but what a fluffy one!  
At praca do Comércio, we enjoyed freshly squeezed orange juice in the evening sun, overlooking the river Tejo. And of course we ate fish which is a must when you're in Portugal! 
Something which took me by surprise was the delicious icecream that Lisbon has to offer. I just didn't think of Portugal as an icecream-country. At Fragoleto, try the dulce de leche ice cream or their fruity flavors such as plum which they make from organic fruits. Good icecream is a bit on the pricier side of life, but I am always willing to spend an extra euro if the quality is right. You'll find the place in rua da prata 80, quite close to praca do Comércio in Baixa. 

 How come even the mail boxes look better a 1000 kilometers from home?

The best icecream though is to be found in Belém at Moo & You. When I was a child, my favorite flavor was cassis ( I have mentioned before that I was a weird child) and at Moo&You they had cassis which tasted just like the one I had as a child. Another flavor which totally blew me away was their poppy seed ice cream. I have had that flavor before, but mostly there was more ice and less poppy seed. Here however, the ice cream really tasted poppy seed! The owners were super friendly and quite happy to see us stop by again after two hours...I guess it doesn't happen too often that poeple are as food crazy as we are and eat 3 scoops in 2 hours....

But, as I said, you don't really know a city until you have been to one of its markets. That's why on Saturday morning, we headed to the organic market at the local parc of Príncipe Real. What a gem! You could buy teeny weeny tomatoes, ripe plums, fresh herbs and bottled juices. I bought some dry oregano as a souvenir. I am sure whenever I will spice a dish with it, it will take me back to this little market.

Behind the market is a cute little café where you can enjoy a decent breakfast. We shared their ham and cheese toast (nothing beats melted cheese...) and had the obligatory freshly squeezed orange juice.

There is another rule when it comes to exploring foreign places. If you havn't been to the coolest book store of the place, you don't know the city either, it goes. Therefore, on Sunday, we headed to the LX factory which used to be an abandoned textile factory and now has been taken over by creative industries. 

It's buzzling with cute shops, excellent restaurants (most of which were unfortunatley still closed on a Sunday morning) and every Sunday, they host a small flea market. We had brunch at the cute café na fabrica under the shade of some old trees. 

Then, we headed to the book store Ler Devagar in LX factory. It is a huge book store, spanning over several floors and in the center, they left an old textile machine. It was such a cool bookstore that I really regret not speaking portugese and therefore not beeing able to buy every third book on the shelf...They do have a small selcetion of foreign  (french and english) books though, a cute café on the second floor (which since we had just had so much food at the bruch unfortunately couldn't try) and the location itself is resaon enough to go there!

Copyright of all photos j.