I have never been a risotto person. Somehow the idea of rice that has been cooked to a congealed consistency with vegetables that have lost their bite or protein that has leeched its flavour has never really appealed.
Moreover, back home - as in most Asian countries - rice is a sideshow to the main culinary event – meant to be doused in curry or infused with the flavours and aromas of generously-spiced hunks of meat . It has always defied logic to me to fill up on a bowl of risotto before even hitting the main course. This was perhaps the strangest element of the entire Italian meal plan I encountered on my first visit to Europe many years ago – why serve me a bowl of starch before getting to the really good stuff?
So lurid yellow risotto a la Milanesa? No. Pea-green risotto that, honestly, is one of the most unappetizing dishes one could ever be presented with? Definitely not. Slick, black squid ink risotto? Maybe – only because I quite like the metallic, briny taste of squid ink.
Red seafood risotto?
Now we’re talking :)
The dish responsible for changing my mind on the virtues of risotto was a dish of tangy, tomato-ey, red risotto eaten in Perast.
Imagine the scene: The Restaurant – Conte, one of the most perfectly located restaurants I have ever come across, fronting Boka Bay winking and shimmering in the late afternoon sun, dense green hillsides of the Bay’s famous fjord-like formations dipping headlong into the water, retro-style airplanes gracefully performing some sort of celebratory airshow overhead (we never quite figured out what the occasion was) while zippy little speedboats cut through the glassy waters. I could have been favourably inclined by the setting, but that risotto tasted perfect!
The dish is something you won't struggle to find along the Montenegrin coast – influenced as it is by its Venetian maritime heritage and its close proximity to Italy – but the red risotto we ate in Perast was by far the best version we tasted.
A mound of plump rice coated in a sweetly tart tomato sauce and studded with shrimp, squid and mussels – surprisingly light and perfect with a glass of the crisp local white wine. It’s the only risotto I’ve ever eaten that made my mouth water even hours (well weeks, cause it’s still watering now as I am writing about it) and spurred me on to order the seafood risotto a few more times during our time in Boka Bay, although sadly we didn’t find another one that compared.
Needless, to say if I ever find myself in Perast again, a trip to Restaurant Conte is definitely on the cards :)
And while on the topic of tables with a view, here are three of my waterfront favourites:
Tataku Vave, Easter Island - Chile
This restaurant on Easter Island is the place to go to have a sunset meal – perched on wooden decking that juts straight over a rocky coast just outside the island’s only town, Hanga Roa. The restaurant’s juicy ceviche pyramids are only outdone by the spectacular view of the luminous blue Pacific waves crashing just metres away.
Foreign Correspondents' Club, Phnom Penh - Cambodia
This legendary sundowner spot by the Tonle Sap does a good line in Asian-style tapas. But more than anything, grab a bar stool overlooking Sisowath Quay and the river beyond and get ready to drink in the view.
Rock Bar, Bali - Indonesia
Touted as one of the world's top bars - and for good reason - you can dine on stone pots of noodles, punchy Asian sea food and Balinese-spiced bites, washed by the spray of giant waves pounding the rocks below you. The bar's hot reputation means it does get insanely busy around sunset, but head there later in the evening and you can enjoy a fairly chilled out dinner suspended over the wild waters of the Indian Ocean.
I’m a breakfast person. Always have been and always will be. It’s a rare day indeed (and in my world a sad one) that I have to start getting things done without having a bite to eat.
In fact, let me rephrase that – it is a rare, sad, grumpy and unproductive day if it begins without breakfast. I really don’t get much done on an empty stomach.
Unsurprisingly, finding a great breakfast spot on holiday is something I take particular pleasure in. Nothing heightens that lovely feeling of being poised at the beginning of a brand new day in a brand new city than finding a lovely place for breakfast.
I was in Istanbul a couple of weekends ago and was on the lookout for Kaymakçı Pando, a little café tucked up the streets of the Besiktas quarter of Istanbul, not too far from the grandiose Dolmabahçe Palace.
Kaymakçi Pando, unsurprisingly sells kaymak – the luscious Turkish clotted cream that feels and tastes like something between creamy butter and breakfast cream, along with other typical Turkish breakfast favourites. The café is no more than a small room piled with tables and chairs, with the owner tending a giant bowl of steaming milk at the entrance, walls plastered with cuttings from various papers praising the Pando’s famous kaymak (and pictures of the cows I assume the milk used to make it comes from), and a ceiling fan slowly whirring above – I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to sit down and plot the rest of my day.
The old owner is a descendant of the Turkish Bulgarian family of Sestaki and it was his grandfather who learned to make the creamy kaymak from working for a rich pasha under the Ottomans. The clotted cream treat is as much a favourite now as it was then – served with a generous helping of honey.
We of course opted for the bal-kaymak (the sinfully delicious kaymak and honey combo) as well as a hearty portion of Sucuklu Yumurta (fried eggs with spicy sujuk sausage), all served with fresh bread and juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and local cheese. Heaven on a plate!
The charming Kaymakci Pando will definitely make it to my list of favourite breakfast spots, and in tribute to it, here are the others that would join that list:
Longuinhos, Margao - Goa
Okay, you may accuse me of being a bit biased here, but there are fewer places in the world I could end up for breakfast that would make me happier than my very own family restaurant back home in Goa. From the mellow morning light filtering through the large windows, the familiar sounds and sights of my home town waking up to a new day and the smell and taste of what few would dispute are the most delicious sausage rolls in the whole of Goa, Longuinhos definitely ranks up there in my list of favourite breakfast spots. Add a steaming coffee, crispy meat and prawn patties and a few croquettes to the plate and you get a great taste of how many busy Goans start their day.
The FCC, Phnom Penh - Cambodia
With its breakfast balcony taking in the gently flowing Tonle Sap, the most vivid blue skies stretching beyond and the laid-back vibe of Cambodia’s capital seeping out of every inch of this colonial-era gem, The FCC Phnom Penh is definitely the place to begin discovering this fascinating city. Order a fried egg sunny side up, a smooth dark cup of coffee and a roll slathered with tangy lemon curd and get out your book – this breakfast spot is made for lingering morning meals.
Il Lago, Geneva - Switzerland
The bright frescoed walls of the cozy Il Lago restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva form the perfect backdrop to grab a moment watching the beautiful people wander across the Place des Bergues, en route to (what I imagine) are their jobs making fancy watches and passing UN resolutions (ok, I admit, there may be other things people do in Geneva). But I digress… my point is that Il Lago serves up the most perfect Bircher Muesli I have ever eaten -sprinkled with jewel-like fresh berries - and the lightest croissants too. I think I actually picked the crumbs off the plate so I wouldn’t waste them!
Mana Nui Inn, Easter Island - Chile
My memory of the little B&B I stayed in on Easter Island will forever be tied to breakfast on Easter Sunday, when the owners placed little chocolate bunnies amidst our breakfast spread. In addition, a view that dreams are made of – pristine Pacific waters and huge clouds gathering in the dawn light – and a daily changing menu of freshly squeezed tropical juices like guava and banana, platters of cheese and cold meats, pancakes, fresh buns and eggs, made this little morning hall one of the most memorable places I’ve ever had the pleasure of tucking into a delicious breakfast.
What are some of your favourite breakfast spots around the world? I'd be happy taking notes :)
One continent, four countries, plates and plates of awesome food!
You will have to forgive me for being a bit on the back foot with updating the blog... three weeks on holiday in some of the most stunning places I've ever been to has made me forget (quite happily) the internet and everything else associated with sitting at a desk and typing out stuff.
Still, there's too much great platetrotter-friendly material to post about, I figured I better get back to it :)
I thought a round up of some of the best dishes I came across in each of the four countries we went to might be a good place to start:
Ceviche at Tataku Vave, Easter Island, Chile
Plump pieces of the island's ubiquitous white tuna, prawns, scallops and cuttle fish doused in tangy lime, tossed with onion and tomato and turned out in a giant sea shell - just the sight of Tataku Vave's ceviche was enough to make us lose interest in anything other than getting forks to mouths. The food was incredibly fresh and the setting would put most restaurants that claim a sea view to shame - luminous blue Pacific waves crashing just metres away, giant clouds and spectacular sunsets... what more could you want?
Steak with Jalapenos at La Parrila Del Nato, Guayaquil, Ecuador
I was dutifully warned by the waiter that the dish was spicy when I made my order but I'm happy to say the warning was unnecessary. La Parilla's jalapeno steak was hands down the best steak on the table that evening - incredibly tender and bathed in a creamy onion and jalapeno sauce that hit just the right piquant notes. Just thinking about it is making my mouth water...
Trout with Creamy Ginger Mash at Toto's House, Aguas Calientes, Peru
I'd never eaten trout and I can't believe it has never made it onto my plate before - it's too good to have been ignored this long. The trout at Toto's House was silky, served with a caramelized ginger topping for a truly simple yet sublime dish. The creamy mash which had just a touch of ginger (and what we thought might have been coconut milk) made the perfect accompaniment to the fish. Add to that a perch just above the crashing Urubamba river and you have a top-quality dinner spot in an otherwise overly touristy town.
Pastel de Santa Ana at Mercado Municipal, Sao Paolo, Brazil
I've waxed lyrical about Portugal's Pasteis de Natas before and while I don't mean to change loyalties, the Pastel the Santa Ana might just be my new favourite. This eggy tart probably uses the same ingredients as the former but the filling is rendered denser and richer as opposed to a custard... almost like raw egg yolk beaten with sugar. Best eaten with a bica to cut the sweetness, it was the perfect sweet ending to an awesome food-filled trip.
I am a condensed milk junkie. Yes I know it's unsophisticated eating at its finest and is the sugar + dairy haters' poster child for foods that do bad things to you, but it tastes so good!
I remember the feeling of pure joy watching a tin of Milkmaid being emptied into a glass jar, ready to be dug into after each meal. My mother would puncture two holes at opposing ends of the tin and balance it precariously on the rim of the jar and I'd watch the entire contents slowly ooze out in a thick swirly flow.
Then it was time to eat - smooth and sweet straight from the jar or thick and lickable after it had been left to sit in the fridge for a bit. Condensed milk in coffee, tea, on bread, chappatis, pancakes - all were fair game.
After that came the invention of squeezable tubes of the stuff (convenience defined), and my discovery of Vietnamese coffee (to me purely a vehicle for the delivery of sweetened evaporated milk). My childhood obsession with the stuff has definitely grown with me.
So it's little wonder that I am over the moon to be heading to South America this weekend. South Americans have managed to improve what, in my mind, is something I thought no living person could make any better. They've managed to do it by caramalising condensed milk to turn it to dulce de leche - milk candy that is even more delicious than the stuff it's made from.
I can already taste those Brazilian beijinhos (soft dulce de leche candies coated in coconut sprinkles) and hope to eat my share of manjar - the thick milk candy spread available in Chile and Peruvian Tejas - dulce de leche nut candies coated in fondant and chocolate. Basically I plan on tasting very single version of the stuff I can find :)
I predict a picture gallery in the near future!
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