For foodie travelers

Eating my way through Northern Italy


One of the things I was most exciting about when I got on the train to Italy? The food, of course! I boarded the train in Germany in the morning knowing that I’d get off the train in Milan a few hours later, and all I could think about was what I’d be eating for my first meal in Italy. I love Italian food – the pastas, pizzas, breads and pastries, risotto and pretty much everything that I can eat as a vegetarian (I am always told I am missing out because the meat dishes and seafood are amazing, apparently).milan breakfast pan au chocolateSo while I’m inviting you to join me on a culinary tour of Lombardy and Veneto, the regions I traveled to on my recent visit, be warned: this is only a small fraction of all the good food Northern Italy has to offer, and it is the meat free version.lombardy ravioliI quickly noticed that the food in Lombardy was distinctively different than the food I had in the regions further south. Here, I found that dishes like polenta and risotto were much more prevalent than in other regions and much more common than pasta, for example. You’ll notice in my photos that the color yellow is almost always present – and that’s, as I was told later, because in medieval times, hosts would usually coat the food they were serving guests with gold, which was believed to heal sicknesses and was a sign for good health.

lombardy pumpkin risotto
Pumpkin risotto – not the most photogenic food, but so delicious!

When this decadent customs wasn’t feasible anymore because of rising gold prices, Lombardians still wanted their food to look as if gold was used, which is why the color yellow is omnipresent – in the most iconic dish of the region for example, Risotto Alla Milanese. The color comes from the saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world – did you know that? In addition to saffron, lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and butter are used. As you can see in the picture below, ‘Alla Milanese’ can also be made with pasta, not just with risotto.milan spaghetti milanesaSpeaking of butter – Lombardians are not afraid to use butter and lard, especially in the polenta dishes. Polenta, a corn meal based dish is together with risotto the most common dish in the region, and is usually served with meat or vegetables.

italian food polenta
Polenta with mushrooms

I was told that the food in northern Italy was much more similar to Austrian or Central European food, and I think this asparagus egg dish is a good example for that – even though I’d say the truffle on top is distinctively Italian: lombardy asparagus with egg and truffleWhen I heard that meat (especially poultry) played a big role in the cuisine of this region, I was worried about vegetarian options, but I always found something scrumptious on the menu – like this amazing zucchini starter, which was heavenly:italian food zuccini starterOne of my favorite Italian dishes is pasta with sage butter – burro e salvia -, but I never tried gnocchi (dumplings made from potatoes, eggs, flour and semolina) with sage butter. I was delighted to find out that this dish is just as good with gnocchi as it is with ravioli, for example, and now I am keen on learning how to make gnocchi myself – the home made version is just so much better than the gnocchi you can buy at the store. lombardy gnocci sirmione lombardyI also learned that there are quite a few different variations of gnocchi – some are made with semolina, some without, some are made with eggs, others without. But the most important thing for the perfect gnocchi? The right potato – it makes all the difference! You can see here how different these gnocchi look from the ones above:lombardy gnocciLombardy also has its own version of stuffed pasta, similar to ravioli, called casoncelli. They are usually stuffed with cheese or meat, but you can also find more unusual fillings such as spinach, raisins and pears. And much to my delight, they’re also typically served with burro e salvia, sage butter.casoncelli lombardyTortelli di Zucca, pumpkin filled ravioli or tortelli, is another pasta specialty of Lombardy. Again, they are usually served in a very simple way, with melted butter and Parmesan cheese.lombardy ravioloAnd speaking of cheese: like most of Italy, Lombardy has amazing cheeses. Grana Padano, one of the world’s most famous hard cheeses, was created by Cistercian monks over 900 years ago in the Chiaravalle Abbey near Milan, and the famous Gorgonzola cheese as well as mascarpone also originate from the Lombardy region. That’s not it though – there are many more less known cheeses that are made in this region, Cookipedia lists over 100 cheeses for Lombardy! So do yourself a favor and order a cheese board of local cheeses when you visit Lombardy.milan cheeseAnother excellent option for a cheese appetizer? Burrata mozzarella with tomatoes. I love mozzarella, but nothing beats burrata, which is basically a deluxe version of mozzarella – it is filled with panna (cream) and mozzarella strings.. absolutely divine. And Italian burrata is the best I’ve tried anywhere in the world – these days, it is also produced in the U.S. for example, but it’s just not the same.milan burata mozzarellaYou can get pretty much anything with burrata – pasta, pizza, salads.. and sandwiches! The burrata adds so much to a ‘regular’ mozzarella sandwich, just thinking about it makes my mouth water.milan mozzarella paniniAnd while we’re talking about sandwiches – In Milan, I stumbled across a sandwich, or a panini, to be precise, that I thought was a great combination: shredded zucchini mixed with hard boiled egg pieces and topped with tomatoes. To die for!milan zuccini paniniAnd then there’s pizza, of course. I can’t talk about food in Lombardy without mentioning pizza, which is a staple food in pretty much all of Italy. Even though pizza originates from southern Italy, you can also find good Neapolitan-style pizza in the north, and two of the top ten pizza places in all of Italy (according to Conde Nast Traveler) are in the north: Pizzeria Spontini in Milan and Pizzeria Antico Forno in Venice.milan pizzaThis pizza topped with fresh arugula (rocket), over which olive oil is drizzled, is one of my favorite pizzas – and I’ve been told that the carnivore version, with prosciutto and large pieces of grated Grana Padano, is even better. milan pizza arugalaThe olive oil that is used (generously) for all kinds of dishes comes from Lake Garda, which is known as some of the best olive oil in the country. Wine is another local specialty from Lake Garda – especially the Chiaretto rosé gets a lot of praise. But there are also wines from Bonrada, Riesling and Barbera grapes that are grown mainly in the Oltrepò Pavese region in the northwest of Lombardy, and highly ranked sparkling wines from the same region as well as Valtellina, a breathtakingly beautiful (and off-the-beaten-path) wine region in the Alps close to Switzerland.Wine of LombardyThe Veneto region, to which Venice belongs, is another important wine producer in the north of Italy, and it is also the birthplace of the popular Aperol Spritz cocktail (albeit Trieste and Padua are fighting with Venice over this title). The simple, yet tasty cocktail with aperol, soda water and prosecco has become hugely popular beyond the borders of Italy in recent years, and can be found on every menu in Venice. I also discovered ‘Aperol Spritz happy hour’ during which a buffet of antipasti is offered in bars, and it is completely FREE with the purchase of an aperol spritz (which is usually less than 5). I don’t know if that’s a Venice thing or something that is done throughout Italy, but I basically had free dinner one night thanks to ‘Aperol Spritz Happy Hour’!venice aperol spritzNow I’ve talked about lunch and dinner dishes, you might be wondering: What about breakfast? Breakfast is a pretty unspectacular meal, and most Lombardians who I asked what they had for breakfast told me that they only had a cup of coffee or cappuccino. If they have something to eat with their coffee, it is a brioche, or cornetto as it is known as in the south of Italy, a type of croissant. italy cappuccino and briocheThese are served either plain or filled with chocolate, jam or honey. I always went for chocolate, of course!lake garda breakfastAnd if you have a sweet tooth, like me, you’ll be happy to hear that you’re never far from a bakery in Lombardy, and they are filled with delicious pastries like cannoli (different than the Sicilian cannoli, by the way!)…bergamo cannoli lombardy…shortbread, cakes, cookies, and all sorts of sweet treats.lombardy pan dolceAnd of course you can find Meringues here, a beloved Italian dessert made of egg whites and sugar. lombardy merengueCakes, fruit cakes in particular, are also very popular in northern Italy, much to my delight. I have to say that I prefer a tart with fresh fruits or berries over chocolate cake. cakes lombardyMy kind of dessert!italian food cakeI can’t write about pastries in Lombardy and not mention Polenta e Osei, which I’ve already mentioned as one reason why you should visit Lombardy. These little cakes that look like perfectly mounded polenta have little marzipan birds (birds = osei in Italian) on top and are a specialty from Bergamo.polenta e osei bergamo LombardyAnd then there’s tiramisu, the most iconic Italian desert, which is made with local mascarpone here, and let me tell you: it makes all the difference! lombardy tiramisu1Last but not least – no article about food in Italy, no matter what region, is complete without the mention of gelato. Don’t make the mistake of calling it ice cream, because it’s not ice cream. Gelato has less fat and more milk, and it is much denser, making it more flavorful, and because it is served at a slightly higher temperature, its consistency is silkier than that of ice cream. When you arrive in Italy and see a gelateria, do yourself a favor and walk inside straight away. But wait – it’s not as simple as that. There are just as many ‘tourist trap’ gelaterias in Italy as there are decent ones, so read these tips on how to tell the good from the bad gelaterias first.

Gelato in Lombardy
And they’re not skimping on their portions in Italy!

Now tell me – what’s your favorite Italian dish?

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The Best Vegetarian-Friendly Foodie Destinations

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As a world traveling vegetarian, it is not always easy to find delicious meat free dishes. I admit that I was struggling in the Philippines, in the south of Argentina and in Chile. But luckily there are a few places that I’d call ‘paradise for vegetarians’. phnom penh vegetarian amokPlaces were vegan and vegetarian restaurants are abundant, where people know how to cook mouthwateringly good food without chicken broth or lard, which are used in many countries to cook rice in (which is then called ‘meat free’). I even lost weight in the Philippines, simply because of how little I was eating due to vegetarian food options. However, luckily there are some amazing places that I have had the privilege of visiting that have been vegetarian havens. Here are some of my favorite destinations for excellent vegetarian food:brighton vegetarian food

New York, New York

Being a city where you can find absolutely anything you want at just about any time of day or night, my current base NYC has a bountiful selection of vegetarian eats. You can find anything from Ethiopian to Jordanian, without having to look very hard. An entire world of food to experience all within one city. I’m not gonna lie: all the good vegetarian food here was one of the reasons that made me come back, despite the dreary November york blue lane coffee breakfast

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’ve already raved about Thailand’s vegetarian foodie paradise Chiang Mai in detail here. Although there is undoubtedly a lot of meat to be found in Thailand, especially at the street food stalls, Chiang Mai is home to some of the most delicious vegetarian restaurants that I have ever been to. Especially if you are crazy for coconut and curry, you will enjoy the food here. And with over 80 vegetarian restaurants, there’s always a lot to choose from.chiang mai banana flower salad punpun

Southern India

Obviously Southern India makes the list, as in general most of India is predominantly vegetarian. If you enjoy a little spice in your life, working your way through Andhra Pradesh, Karnaraka, Kerala, or Tamil Nadu are well worth it. Probably the most diverse and most flavorful vegetarian food imaginable, Indian food is a definite go-to for me.costa caparica indian food

Berlin, Germany

One location that was a big surprise was Berlin. According to Saveur magazine, which just published its Good Taste Awards 2015, Berlin is now the “new vegetarian capital.” With German cuisine in general being very meat and potatoes, this new title is particularly unexpected, but with a myriad of ethnic food options to be found in Berlin, it shouldn’t be a surprise. I ate my way through loads of vegetarian Vietnamese, Middle Eastern and Turkish food during my several visits this year, and the number of vegan restaurants opening around town seems endless!Berlin ethnic food

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver has a very happening foodie culture. There are so many particular and dedicated restaurants, whatever your dietary desires – vegetarian, vegan, raw, gluten-free – you name it, Vancouver has got it. It’s also the home to The Acorn restaurant, which is the only vegetarian restaurant to date to have received the honor of being mentioned in the En Route Magazine “Top Ten Best New Restaurants” in 2013. I personally had some of the best veggie sushi of my life in Vancouver!park slope sushi

What’s your favorite destination for vegetarian food?

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A Culinary Journey Through Taiwan

Chou’s Shrimp Rolls

You all know how much I love food and how food for me is a vital aspect of visiting a new country. I know people who don’t really care about food when they travel (something that is completely incomprehensible to me) but I am the contrary: before I visit a new country, I research the local specialties, find out what the locals eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and which dishes I have to try before leaving the country. After visiting a country, I am always excited to share my foodie finds with you, telling you which dishes I loved.

Taiwan: A Foodie Paradise

Set A (with Dan Dan Noodles)One country that has enough culinary delights to keep a foodie busy for weeks is Taiwan. The small island nation of the coast of China is not only known for its stunning scenery that spans from lush green mountain ranges to sandy beaches has the reputation to have one of the most delicious cuisines in Asia, and people do not only flock here to eat from China but also from Japan and the nearby Philippines. Talk to someone who’s visited Taiwan and the glorious Taiwanese food will come up for sure!

Taiwanese food derived from the various cuisines in mainland China (like Cantonese or Szechuan food), but you also find Japanese influences in Taiwanese cooking. And like in most island nations, seafood plays a big role in Taiwan’s cuisine.

Local Specialties of Taiwan

Despite being such a small country, you can find a lot of dishes that are special to a single region. Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly prepared soy milk, Taichung is well known for a sweet pastry named Sun Cake, Ilan is famous for a sticky rice snack called mochi while in Chiayi, you have to try the beloved cubic pastry (square cookies sprinkled with sesame seeds). Taiwanese people are so passionate about food that they will travel to another region within the country just to try their local dishes, by the way.

A Love For ‘Small Eats’: Xiaochi

One thing Taiwan is famous for is its tradition of xiaochi, which translates to ‘small eats’. It can best be compared to the Chinese tradition of Dim sum or Spanish tapas: enjoying several small dishes throughout the day instead of the western concept of having three big meals a day.Chou's Shrimp RollsThis concept is actually perfect for Taiwan visitors – it gives you more chances to sample all of Taiwan’s tasty dishes.

Here are the Taiwanese foods that you should definitely try:

Oyster omelet Oyster omelets are a staple in this nation of egg and seafood lovers – the omelet is spiced with a local chrysanthemum and tapioca starch is added to give it a gooey consistence, making it a distinctly Taiwanese food experience. It is usually draped in a thick, sweet red sauce.

Beef noodles Beef noodles are actually a soup which is oozing with chunks of stewed beef, and served with a dash of pickles. Beef noodles are so popular that they have their own festival!

beef_noodlesGua Bao Gua Bao is basically the Taiwanese version of a hamburger. Packed in between two halves of a steamed bun you’ll find braised pork belly, pickled cabbage and powered peanuts, all chopped up and mixed together.

Fried milkfish This is one of the most popular dishes in Taiwan, and is served fried, boiled, in soup, in a congee porridge. Milkfish is so popular that it has its own museum in Taiwan, and of course a festival.

Cho Dofu (Stinky Tofu) This popular snack is what is the durian for Singapore and Malaysia: you either love it or hate it, and its strong odor can be smelled from miles away (well maybe not miles, but you get the idea). Some people say the odor resembles sewage water, but Taiwanese love these deep-fried tofu cubes (that are fermented in milk) which don’t taste as bad as they smell – so best to hold your nose when you try one. And yes, you should definitely try stinky tofu – remember that it’s popular for a reason. Stinky tofu, Shanghai

Coffin bread The name might not sound appealing, but trust me, once you’ve tried it, you’ll probably want to have one every single day! Coffin bread is a slice of super thick toast, prospered like a French Toast but then hollowed out in the middle and stuffed with delicious fillings that range from vegetable chowder and sea food to pepper beef. Guan Cai Ban at Night Market, Taiwan

Oyster vermicelli (oya misua) Oyster vermicelli is a popular thick noodle soup (with thin vermicelli rice noodles) and as the name indicates: oysters! It’s often slurped right out of the bowl and finger-licking good.

Fried pork on rice This dish might sound simple, but you’ll be amazed at the explosion of flavors in your mouth when you try the divine smelling pork belly, which is finely chopped, cooked in soy sauce with a special spice mix, and served over white rice.

Green onion pancake This is something you find in every night market in Taiwan – the thin pancakes are made with scallions and usually filled with cheese and egg.

Soy milk and you-tiao The most popular way to start the day in Taiwan is having the simple breakfast of a glass of savory soy milk accompanied by a you-tiao, a deep-fried dough cruller. Almost everyone in Taiwan enjoys a glass of soy milk for breakfast, but for visitors the taste takes getting used to, as vinegar is added, resulting in an interesting taste, to say the least. Taiwan: Pineapple Cakes

Pineapple cake Pineapple cake is one of the most popular desserts in Taiwan, a square short crust pie filled with pineapple. If you want to buy some to take home as a souvenir, take the SunnyHills brand, which uses local pineapples only.

Bubble tea The bubble tea craze that took over the world a few years ago might be over (even though the beverage is still a popular drink in most parts of the world) but Taiwan is where it all started. This drink, which is also known as pearl milk tea, was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s, is a milky tea to which chewy balls of tapioca are added. You can’t leave Taiwan without trying a freshly made bubble tea from a tea shop. I could go on and on – the list of yummy Taiwanese dishes is seemingly endless. To make your mouth water even more, check out CNN’s 45 Taiwanese foods we can’t live without.

Where to Sample Taiwanese Food

Bubble teaIf you’re lucky enough to visit Taiwan, the Shilin Night Market in Taipei is a good starting point. In addition to this popular night market which is filled with food stalls, there are about 20 streets dedicated to small eats in Taipei alone. Every city has a night market where you can sample the local specialties, but the city of Tainan in southern Taiwan is a paradise for foodie, so if you take your culinary experiences seriously, make sure to visit Tainan. Can’t make a trip to Taiwan happen anytime soon but would still love to try some of the dishes I’ve introduced you to?

The ‘Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine’ Festival in New York

If you live in or around New York, you’re in luck! The ‘Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine’ Festival takes place this month in New York City! From 16 to 20 October 2015 the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and The Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel are partnering with several award-winning chefs from Tainan who will bring you five days of savoring some of Taiwan’s most scrumptious dishes. The festival focuses on small eats and the main dish of the tasting menus you can try there will be Chou’s Shrimp Rolls, a dish so famous that it attracts foodies from all around the world! Instead of making your way to Tainan, where foodies line up to eat at Chou’s bistro (a national institution!) you can sample this world-famous dish right in New York. If you don’t happen to live in New York and aren’t able to attend the festival, look up the best Taiwanese restaurants in your city. Now you have an idea of what to try while you’re there!

Have you been to Taiwan? What are your favorite Taiwanese dishes?

This post is brought to you in partnership with the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau.
Photo credit: (1) Beef noodles by Matthew Hine, (2) Stinky Tofu by Gary Stevens, (3) Guan Cai Ban by Michael McDonough, (4) Pineapple Cake by sstrleu, (5) Bubble Tea – All photos used under Flickr’s Creative Commons License.
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Eating my way through Israel

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Israel has ruined me for life. Not a single day goes by that I’m NOT thinking about the glorious food I had there. No matter if it’s the juicy olives, the soft warm pita bread, the bread shops in general, the most excellent shakhuka, eggplants cooked to absolute perfection, scrumptious couscous, and I don’t even want to mention the hummus, the wonderful hummus, which just hasn’t tasted as good anymore since I left Israel. I am telling you: The food in Israel ruins you for life. I was perfectly fine with the mediocre hummus I had been eating before I went to Israel, but after I tried Said’s hummus in Acre, I realized that as a matter of fact, I’d never even had good hummus before!israel hummus saidBut I am getting ahead of myself – let’s start at the beginning.

What is Israeli food?*

Israel is a culinary melting pot of the cuisines of all the different cultures that passed through the region that marks today’s State of Israel over the centuries. The spices, scents and flavors of Northern Africa, mixed together with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine and traditional Jewish dishes make Israel’s cuisine truly unique, and most of all: extremely diverse and flavorful. Dishes like shawarma and baklava are just as common as schnitzel, borsht and chopped liver. Other dishes that you’ll come across over and over again – served in eateries ranging from cheap street food stalls to fancy restaurants – are falafel, olives, fresh fish, kebab and hummus.Market IsraelOne thing I loved about Israel was how fresh everything was – fruits and vegetables are bought in big open markets rather than sterile supermarkets, fresh fruit juices are made to order at little food stalls, and mobile bakery carts are selling fresh breads and baked goods as the vendors are wheeling their carts around town. Flavorsome spices are prevalent in all the markets, as are dried fruits and nuts.jerusalem market pomegranate

Israeli breakfast

Breakfast is my absolute favorite meal of day in Israel. There are two dishes that stand out for me:


My all-time favorite Israeli dish! Funnily enough, I was introduced to Shakshuka in an Israeli restaurant in Guatemala (side note: if you find yourself in a country where meat is prevalent in all dishes, look for an Israeli restaurant. There are always plenty of veggie options there.) and even though I’ve had it in many places all around the world, I was excited to try it in Israel. So what exactly is shakshuka? It is an egg dish for which eggs are baked in a tasty tomato sauce made of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, chili and other spices. In some places, you’ll find it with additional ingredients such as eggplant, feta cheese or even shrimps. When you order it in a restaurant, it is served in the cast-iron pan that it is made in. I was even more delighted when one of my Israeli friends told me that it was perfectly acceptable to eat shakshuka for lunch and dinner, too. I could eat it three times a day, it’s seriously that good.shakshuka israelThe most popular shakshuka place in Israel is without a doubt Dr Shakshuka in Jaffa south of central Tel Aviv, which started out at as a small food shack and has now evolved into a spacious restaurant with several shakshukas on the menu. I have to admit though that I wasn’t too fussed about the shakshuka I had there (or maybe my expectations were just too high, after hearing so many people rave about this place?) and had better shakshukas around Israel, for example at Cafe Nadi in Jerusalem.shakshuka breakfastMezze

The other breakfast that I couldn’t get enough of is the mezze breakfast. Here, a variety of dips and cheeses, olives and fried vegetables like roasted cauliflower, baba ghanoush (an eggplant paste), tahini (sesame paste), zhough (chili paste with garlic, coriander and cumin) and of course hummus are served with several breads – and let’s talk about the bread for a minute: As a German, I am very picky with my bread, and don’t approve of bread products in most countries. In Israel, however, I couldn’t get enough of the fresh bread and fell in love with all the bread shops. Many cafes have their own bakery on site and bake all sorts of breads (rye, wholegrain, etc) there. That’s why the bread is always super fresh and extremely scrumptious. Bread is by the way a part of almost any meal in Israel, be it the typical Arab pita bread, Jewish Rosh Hashanah, Sabbat and Challah bread or the scrumptious Israeli bread, so for people who try to avoid bread – good luck doing that in Israel (but where’s the fun in eating hummus without scooping it up with pita bread anyway?)israel breadWith the mezze breakfast spread you usually get to order eggs any style, and what’s never missing: a side salad. Eating salad for breakfast might sound weird to some people, but I loved it. The salad is usually made of cucumbers (Israel has a distinctive type of tiny cucumber – much smaller than the ones we know, and much less watery), tomatoes, peppers and onions.israeli mezze breakfast

Common vegetarian dishes in Israel

What I also loved about Israel is that is so vegetarian-friendly. I love it when I’m in a country and I don’t feel like I am missing out on local delicacies because I don’t eat meat. In Israel, I never felt like I missed out, and here are some of my favorite vegetarian dishes:


Hummus is one of the most popular Israeli dishes, and these days found all over the world. It is made out of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice. Like I said in the beginning though: even though you can get hummus all over the world, you don’t know what a really good hummus tastes like until you try it in Israel. My absolute favorite hummus shop was Sa’id in the old town of Acre, an ancient fishing town in the far north of Israel. I would go back to Israel just to eat the still warm hummus with pita bread fresh out of the oven again.hummus israelFalafel

These fried little balls of heaven are, just like hummus, widely available in most parts of the world. It is debatable if they are truly of Israeli origin, but falafel is one of those Middle Eastern foods that have made their way into the Israeli diet and is now considered the national dish. They are deep-fried balls made of chickpeas (sometimes fava beans, or a mix of both), and usually served with tahini, the aforementioned sesame paste that is a main staple in Israel, hummus and / or pita bread. You can find falafel everywhere, from tiny roadside stalls to high-end restaurants. I’ve had both the cheap version and fancier ones – what they all had in common was that they were mouthwatering delicious.falafel israelEggplant

Eggplant is a classic ingredient in the Israeli cuisine, typically served in two different ways: as baba ghanoush (a pureed and seasoned eggplant dip) and baked in the oven. When baked in the oven, the eggplants are usually baked as a whole, including the skin, which is removed afterwards.israel eggplant dishBureka

Burekas are the Israeli version of Turkish pastry ‘Borek’, made from thin layers of filo dough that is filled with cheese, spinach or mushrooms, sometimes other ingredients. They are fried or baked and are a popular snack food which can be found in most bakeries or vendors who offer just bureka. They are eaten at any time of day. Tip: Get them when they are fresh out of the oven. Another tasty bread dish that has been brought to Israel by Georgian Jews is Khachapuri, a savory cheese filled pastry that is topped with a fried egg.jerusalem bakery standTabouleh

Tabouleh is a popular salad made of tomatoes, parsley, mint, onion, bulgur and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. It is not only eaten in Israel, but all over the Middle East.israel tabouleh

Learning how to make Israeli food

Since I am such a big fan of Israeli food, I was eager to learn how to make some of my favorite dishes at home. Luckily, Abraham Tours offered a Cooking Class and Market Tour in Jerusalem during which I did not only learn how to cook Israeli food, but also more about Israeli food culture in general. Our bubbly tour guide Samantha started our tour at Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem’s big main market which is well worth a visit, even if you’re not planning to pick up fresh produce, but I will tell you more about the market in my article on Jerusalem. As we walked through the maze of fruit and vegetable, cheese and fish, bakery and olive stalls, we learned that chick peas, onions, tomatoes, cucumber, coriander and sesame are the basis of many Israeli dishes. Rice is prevalent, and lentils are also a staple in the country, but also couscous and bulgur (both are grains) are very aviv carmel market dried fruitsFresh food, and especially vegetables, are used in almost every meal: juicy tomatoes, purple eggplant, chilis, peppers in all colors. Jewish tradition brought Eastern European and Russian dishes such as borscht, schnitzel, chopped liver, cooked chicken and gefilte Fish to Israel. As a country with a long coastline along the Mediterranean, fish is ubiquitous in Israel. A popular fish dish that originates in Northern Africa is harimeh (a spicy fish dish with tomatoes, garlic, cayenne pepper and caraway).akko fishAfter our market tour, we returned to the hostel with enough ingredients to prepare a feast for at least 20 people, and start cooking. On the menu:

  • Smoked Eggplant with Feta Cheese and Tahini
  • Tahini paste
  • Tabouleh Salad
  • Grilled Cauliflower with Silan (date syrup)
  • Kohlrabi and Fennel Salad
  • Mediterranean Rice (with an amazing spice mix we bought in the market – I went back later to buy some more of those)
  • Hamshuka (Spiced Minced Meat Stew) – for the meat eaters

Israel Cooking classCooking up all these items was just as much fun as the visit to the market had been. Samantha divided us into smaller groups (1 – 2 people) and each pair was in charge of a specific dish. We were taught how to cut the vegetables for each dish, how to cook or broil them and how to serve them when they are done. I have already made some of the dishes I learned from Samantha at several Mediterranean-themed dinner parties (the eggplant, tahini, tabouleh, Mediterranean rice and grilled cauliflower) and they were always a huge success.califlowerThe market tour and cooking class at Abraham Hostel was one of my highlights in Jerusalem and if you are interested in learning more about Israeli food culture and how to cook some Israeli dishes, I highly recommend taking this private class (you don’t have to stay at the hostel to sign up for it, but if you stay at Abraham’s, you get a discount for the class).pita bread ramallahAbraham is now also offering a hummus workshop which I will definitely take the next time I am in Jerusalem. Like I said: Eating hummus in Israel will ruin you for life and turn you into a hummus snob. So what better place to learn how to make a proper hummus than in Israel? The workshop does include eating all the hummus you prepare, of course! Trust me, these are the best 50 Shekels (~$12.50) you can spend in Jerusalem.israel hummus

Israel = Dessert Heaven!

We can’t talk about Israeli food without mentioning some of the amazing desserts, or the reason I came back from Israel six pounds heavier, nearly not able to close my Dirndl.

Jewish pastries

Jewish pastries are actually very similar to German cakes, cookies and pastries and are widely available in the bakeries everywhere.jewish pastriesHalva

Halva is a pastry that is made of sesame and to which ingredients like honey, vanilla, pistachios, cacao, almonds or nuts are added. In the markets, halva is sold in huge cake-like chunks of which the amount you desire is cut off, almost like a slice of cake. Halva is one of the most quintessential Israeli sweets and you can’t leave Israel without trying it (in the markets they usually offer free samples).halva jerusalemBaklava

The most famous Middle Eastern sweet, a pastry made from nuts or pistachio, honey, syrup and filo. These are available in most bakeries in all kinds of shapes and tastes and are seriously addictive.israel baklavaKanafeh

Kanafeh is one of my favorite desserts I’ve had in Israel, even though the very best one I had was in Ramallah, and if you visit the West Bank (which you should!) make sure to have a Kanafeh while you’re there. It is made of super thin pastry shreds soaked in sweet syrup, with a soft white cheese center and topped with pistachios.israel national trail druze kunefeArabiv coffee

You are typically served Arabic coffee (also known as Turkish coffee) with your sweets, which is brewed in a special pot and spiced up with cardamom. You drink it strong, black and from a small cup.israel dessertHave you been to Israel? What’s your favorite Israeli food?

*This is NOT a comprehensive guide to Israeli cuisine but rather a brief introduction with an emphasis on vegetarian dishes and foods I’ve developed an addiction for enjoyed while I was traveling around Israel.
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Polaroid of the week: A German breakfast in Berlin

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany berlin breakfastMy last few days in Germany were, as usual, pretty hectic – from Munich I went to visit some friends and family in my hometown and in Leipzig, unpacked the summer clothes from my Israel trip and repacked my bag for a slightly colder destination.

My last stop on this rushed visit to Germany was Berlin, where I reunited with Rikka before I left Europe once again (my surprise trip did happen after all – stay tuned to find out where I am!). After our Oktoberfest shenanigans, it was time for her to see our beautiful capital and even though my time was limited, I managed to introduce her some of the best things Berlin has to offer: Street art in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, my favorite neighborhood Neukölln with a glorious sunset at Tempelhof Airfield, and a delicious dinner at Mustafa’s, where my favorite food in Berlin, a veggie kebap, sets you back at a whopping 2.80 ($3.57). The best and cheapest dinner in Berlin in my opinion, but you’ll have to put up with standing in line for it for about half an hour. The word about this little food stand is definitely out.

Knowing that I won’t be able to have a German breakfast again for a few months, I took advantage of the fact that we were staying a one-minute walk from one of the best breakfast places in the city, Morgenland, before I made my way to the airport. Another much too short visit to the capital, but another ‘See you soon, Berlin!’.

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Around the world in 4 boroughs: My 6 favorite ethnic food finds in New York City (2014 edition)

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This summer I finally got around to digging deeper into New York’s amazing food scene and didn’t just stick to my favorite pizza parlors. New York City is known to be a foodie paradise after all, with ethnic restaurants from almost every country in the world.

bustan olivesOne of the many things I love about New York is that the choice of restaurants is so big that even if I tried I couldn’t try all of the city’s eateries (or I would have to make that my life quest). I ate my way around town this year, sampling restaurants in all boroughs except for Staten Island (I guess that’s next on my list!), ticking places off my seemingly endless ‘NYC restaurants I have to eat at’ list. I found so many excellent restaurants in 2014 that this list could easily have twenty restaurants on it, but I decided to narrow it down to one restaurant in each borough (but ended up with two Brooklyn picks, because I skipped Staten Island and Brooklyn is my favorite borough).

shakshuka at bustan
My beloved Shakshuka – read on to find out where to find the best one!

Join me for a culinary world tour of New York:

Middle Eastern: Bustan in Upper Manhattan

Bustan (which means orchard in Hebrew), is a new addition to Manhattan’s large number of Middle Eastern restaurants, but this one aims to be the most authentic one, and I have to say that they are doing a great job in convincing me that I don’t ever need to go to another place to get my hummus and shakshuka fix. The Israeli chef with Moroccan roots aims to combine flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques from Israel, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Greece and Turkey. The highlight for me was that Bustan does not just offer a classic shakshuka (the quintessential Israeli egg dish with eggs baked into a flavorful tomato sauce), but a number of shakshuka variations, including one in a spinach and artichoke sauce instead of the classic tomato sauce, a Greek version with shrimps and feta cheese, or one with chicken and foie gras. The homemade hummus melted in my mouth, and the flat bread, served fresh out of the oven, was to die for (see photo above) – my Israeli friend who joined me for brunch assured me that the hummus was just as good as in a restaurant in Tel Aviv and started calling some of her Israeli friends while we were still there to rave about Bustan which goes to show how authentic the food was. Even though we were bursting full, we couldn’t resist the Nutella pizza to finish off our meal. Another bonus of Bustan: It offers brunch on Fridays, not only the weekend – which is a rarity in New York.

Address: 487 Amsterdam Ave, Manhattan, 10024

bustan dessert pizzaItalian: Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx

It is a known fact that the real Little Italy is located in the Bronx, and not in Manhattan, and this year I finally made my way up there to check out some of the famed restaurants and pastry shops. Everyone recommended Zero Otto Nove (089) as the absolute best Italian restaurant and the restaurant lived up to the hype. I had a foodgasm when I took my first bite of the classic Italian-style wood fired pizza, which had a unique twist to it: a butternut squash puree as a base, instead of tomato sauce. Most of the ingredients, like the mozzarella, the tomatoes and the olive oil, are imported directly from Italy. The pastas and other dishes were just as good as the pizza, by the way, and the Parmigiana Di Melanzana is made to perfection, but I recommend ordering the La Ricardo or a Margarita in addition to anything else you might have.

Address: 2357 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY 10458

pizza at 089 bronxLatin American: Areperia Guacuco in Brooklyn

Bushwick, just a few years back an ill famed neighborhood in Brooklyn, has recently become quite a trendy neighborhood (and recently even got a shout-out in Vogue) and all sorts of trendy restaurants started popping up around the ‘hood in the past few years. The little Venezuelan restaurant Areperia Guacuco is the perfect example of the gentrification of Bushwick: while it seems to cater to the neighborhood’s Latin population, prices are definitely more on the Manhattan side ($7 – $8 for a tiny arepa). It is money well spent though – the arepas sold here can’t get any more authentic. The classic Venezuelan staple – basically pastries, made from cornmeal and water, fried in oil, are made fresh for each individual customer and fillings range from veggie options to the classic sweet & savory version with black beans, shredded beef and fried plantains. Accompanied by typical Venezuelan drinks like papelón con límon (lemonade with molasses) or a cocada (coconut milkshake). Not to be missed when you find yourself in Bushwick, but also well worth the trip out there.

Address: 44 Irving Ave, Brooklyn, NY11237

areperia guacuco

Australian: The Thirsty Koala in Queens

The Astoria neighborhood in northern Queens has long been known as the best neighborhood for Greek food and Middle Eastern cuisine, but surprisingly enough it is where I had my first taste of Australian food! My friend who took me to The Thirsty Koala assured me that the Aussie food served here was ‘the real deal’, and she would know after spending a year working her way around Australia.. The Thirsty Koala didn’t disappoint: the items on the menu could come straight from a menu from a restaurant Down Under and range from kangaroo steaks or kangaroo burgers to a number of fish dishes, lamb lollies, jaffles (savory sandwiches) and octopus tacos. If you’re looking for Aussie food in NYC, this is the most authentic restaurant you’ll find, and every Aussie expat will feel right at home here!

Address: 3512 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, NY

areperia guacuco bushwick
Areperia Guacuco in Bushwick

Japanese: Yamato in Brooklyn

I was introduced to Yamato while I was living in Brooklyn near Prospect Park, and felt like I won the Asian restaurant jackpot. It’s rare to find an Asian restaurant that satisfied all my different cravings equally as good – dumplings, sushi, and noodles, but Yamato does all of them exceptionally well. Between me and my companion, we sampled basically all the classic Japanese dishes and I wanted to go back the very next day while I was still daydreaming about the dinner from the night before. The vegetarian sushi was absolutely heavenly and I have yet to find another place that makes dumplings as good as Yamato. While Japanese restaurants tend to ‘overlook’ vegetarians when creating their menus, Yamato is a welcome exception and my pescatarian friend was raving about the fish dishes and her Bento Box. Yamato doesn’t only do food exceptionally well, by the way, but also the restaurant’s decor is absolutely superb – you wouldn’t expect such a chic interior from the unassuming outside. If you happen to visit during the warmer months, you can dine in the backyard patio.

Address: 168 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215

park slope sushi

Indian: Junoon in Midtown Manhattan

Junoon is the Urdu word for passion, and passion is what describes best what Delhi-born restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj poured into this Indian fine dining establishment. This is not your ordinary Tikka Masala joint, but Michelin-star haute Indian cuisine at its best. Junoon is the perfect restaurant to celebrate a special occasion as well as Indian food, with impeccable service, phenomenal presentation and an award-winning wine list (a selection of 300 wines!) and dishes cooked to perfection, like the much-prasied lamb chops. Junoon is, in fact, one of only a handful restaurants in New York that are known for professionally pairing Asian dishes with Western wines, and if you decide to splurge on the tasting menu + wine pairing ($75 with meat/seafood, $65 for the vegetarian option, plus $45 for the wine pairing), rest assured that you are in for a real treat.

Address: 27 W 24th St, New York, NY 10010

Got a favorite ethnic restaurant in New York that you think I need to try? Share it in the comments below!

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Six gourmet restaurants you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Abu Dhabi

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Traditionally, Abu Dhabi always used to be in the shadow of neighboring Dubai, which seemed more glamorous, prosperous and sophisticated and generally attracted more international visitors. In the last decade, however, Abu Dhabi has grown significantly – when Sheikh Khalifa took over after his father Sheikh Zayed passed away, he invested extensively in tourism and infrastructure, loosening alcohol restrictions and allowing foreigners to invest in property.

Abu Dhabi has prospered ever since and is now one of the most modern and cosmopolitan cities in the world; its wealth notably visible in its many high-end shopping malls, modern skyscrapers, the Formula 1 track and luxury hotels. Home to the regional branches and even headquarters of many international organizations, plus a rapidly growing expat community has seen an influx in world-famous international high-end restaurants which have turned Abu Dhabi into a culinary paradise.

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Abu Dhabi by Ioan Barbulescu on

These days you can find over 1,500 restaurants in Abu Dhabi listed on Tripadvisor and you’ll have a hard time to choose only a few Abu Dhabi restaurants to eat at during your visit. From Michelin-starred restaurants like Frankie’s Italian, Hakkasan or Marco Pierre White Steakhouse to local gems, visitors can have truly unforgettable meals here.

If you are a foodie and on the hunt for the absolute best culinary experiences, the selection might be overwhelming, which is why I am sharing my recommendations for the top six restaurants you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Abu Dhabi with you:

Marco Pierre White Steakhouse
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse by Mike Fleming on

Spice Mela

Spice Mela has only been open for a few short months and already taken the #1 spot in TripAdvisor’s Abu Dhabi restaurant rankings. Situated on the second floor of the Rosewood Hotel, you’ll notice the floor-to-ceiling windows which make for fantastic views, and the simple but tasteful décor. The restaurant serves Pan-Indian cuisine, combining the varying culinary styles of Indian states like Punjab, Kerala or Rajasthan. If you are looking for a high-end Indian dining experience, this is the place to go.


Catalan is another superb restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel, and also opened in 2013. Similar to Spice Mela, it quickly became a favorite with locals and tourists alike, and the menu is filled with mouthwatering dishes from Spain’s Catalonia region. A Michelin-starred chef is heading the kitchen here, so you can expect the best quality and high-end versions of simple Catalan dishes like Paella. If you can’t decide what to order, go for the special seven-course tasting menu – you won’t regret it!


Another fine view to go along with your dinner can be had at Quest, which offers amazing views of the city and the Arabian Gulf thanks to its fabulous location on the 63rd floor of the Etihad Towers. The menu draws most of its inspiration from Asian cuisines, cooking up dishes with an eclectic fusion of Chinese, Malay, Singaporean and Japanese flavors.

By Nene La Beet on

Villa Toscana

If you were to try only one Italian restaurant in Abu Dhabi, it had to be Villa Toscana. The restaurant is located in the fabulous St Regis Hotel, and the food here is just as divine as you’d expect from a St Regis resident. The taste of Italy is nowhere as authentic as here, and the menu offers every Italian dish you could possibly crave from home-made pastas to crispy pizzas and sea food.

Li Beirut

Li Beirut is another ethnic restaurant in Abu Dhabi that is well worth a visit. Specialising in Lebanese food, it is ranked among the city’s best restaurants and won the TimeOut Abu Dhabi Restaurant Award several times. You can enjoy dishes like crusted lack of lamb or foie gras kebbeh here, all while enjoying the fabulous vistas that the restaurant offers in addition to its exquisite food.

Lebanese appetizer by kris krüg on

Blue Grill

If you are a steak lover, you can’t miss Blue Grill. Located in the Rotana Hotel on Yas Island, it makes for a prime dining experience in a steak house that doesn’t do anything by the book. You can actually watch the star chefs preparing the steaks in the open kitchen, and choose from decadent Australian 1824 grain-fed beef steaks or classic American prime steaks. The restaurant itself is beautifully designed with wooden fixtures and giant rustic-chic chandeliers which create a wonderful atmosphere.

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Eating my way through Malta

maltese food

When I traveled to Malta last month, I had no idea what to expect in regards to food. What exactly is Maltese food? And of course I worried a little that vegetarian options in Malta might be limited. I worried for no reason though! Even though the national dish of Malta is rabbit, Stuffat tal-fenek, there are plenty of vegetarian options in the Maltese cuisine.

maltese starter

Thanks to the perfect location of the islands right in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta has always been on the trading route between Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe, which consequently influenced the country’s cuisine. With people from different cultures passing through Malta on their travels from north to south or east to west, plus the various civilizations that occupied Malta over the centuries, Malta benefited from many more culinary influences than most other Mediterranean countries (especially considering how tiny the island nation is!), but at the same time, its food has an inerrably Mediterranean note. Fruits and vegetables typical for southern Europe, such as tomatoes, olives, broad beans, citrus fruits and figs, are part of most meals, and surprisingly delicious locally produced Maltese wines and cheeses top off each meal.

mdina fruits

Let me take you on a tour of my favorite Maltese dishes and introduce you to some of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in Malta and Gozo!

Maltese Snacks

Maltese snacks are pretty addictive – especially the pastizzi. These little flaky dough parcels are filled either with ricotta cheese or with peas (the pea version is usually not vegetarian though). They reminded me a lot of Cornish pasties (a specialty from Cornwall that I love), clearly influenced by the British presence on the islands. You will find them all over the islands, from cafes and restaurants to dedicated pastizzerias. See below for my recommendations on where to try pastizzi.

Pastizzi in Malta

The other typical savory snack is the ‘ħobż biż-żejt’, a sourdough loaf of bread dipped in olive oil and rubbed with ripe tomatoes, and then filled with tomatoes, capers, tuna, garlic and onion. We tried a slightly different version of this dish – basically the ingredients (plus Gozitan cheese) not mixed together, served with bread and olive oil:

maltese lunch at ta rikardu gozo

As a starter or a side with meals, you usually also find some pastes and spreads, like hummus (the Middle Eastern influence), olive paste (Sicilian influence), bigilla (made from broad beans or tic beans – North African influence) or an anchovy paste, all served with delicious Maltese bread which is baked in wood-fired ovens – creating a dark, chewy crust and a soft, fluffy inside – or Maltese galletti, crackers that are normally homemade.

maltese dips

The best bread to try is Maltese ftira though, a flatbread with a hole in the middle and topped with amixture of tomatoes, eggplant, olives, capers (and anchovies for a non-vegetarian option). I (as a pizza lover) could’ve eaten this bread every day – for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

maltese ftira

You’ll also often find Gbejniet as a starter, a white cheese made from unpasteurized goat’s or sheep’s milk, which is then dried in baskets and served drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with crushed black pepper and sea salt.

maltese platter ta rikardu
Maltese cheese on the right

Maltese classics

While most of the classic Maltese dishes aren’t vegetarian – for example Aljotta (fish soup), Lampuki Pie (fish pie) and a variety of rabbit (fenek) dishes that include soups, stews, sauces, pastas and pies, there are several meat-free options. Soppa tal-armla, also known as Maltese Widow’s Soup, was one of the best soups I had eaten in months! It is actually a simple soup, made with broad beans, peas, carrots and other vegetables that you might have, plus a Gbejniet (the above mentioned Maltese cheese) thrown in at the end. It doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it is to die for. In fact, I will try to make it at home with the help of this recipe.

Maltese rabbit fernek
Malta’s specialty: Fernek (rabbit)

Kapunata is the Maltese version of French ratatouille or Sicilian caponata – kind of a vegetable stew with zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomato, garlic and onions which is easy to make and can be served with pasta or just bread.

Desserts & Sweet Treats

The Maltese love their sweets, and I found myself constantly surrounded by enticing bakeries and pastry shops. Having visited just before Easter, I was lucky enough to be able to try figolli, a traditional Easter biscuit filled with almond paste and decorated with icing sugar. They come in different shapes and colors, sometimes also chocolate covered, but some bakeries also had a small version (figollini).

valletta cafe cordina maltese easter treat

A popular sweet year round are cannoli, brought to Malta from nearby Sicily (supposedly home to the tastiest cannoli in the world). These little tubes of crispy fried dough are filled with fresh ricotta cheese, and sometimes chocolate chips are added to the ricotta filling, but I preferred the ones we were served with fresh strawberries. To die for!

maltese cannoli
malta kannoli

Luckily for me and my sweet tooth, I never had a hard time finding a treat with a good, strong cup of coffee. Even better: most of the pastries are filled with almonds or an almond paste, which I can’t get enough of.

maltese pastry valletta


Malta isn’t necessarily known as a wine-producing country, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to make wine! Maltese and Gozitan wines have won several awards in international competitions, and the grape varieties grown on the islands can easily keep up with Italian or French grapes. You’ll find Maltese Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Carignan and Chenin Blanc. The wines I tried were all fantastic.

Malta’s national beer is Cisk, founded in 1928, and is traditionally a light lager. The brewery now also produces some stouts and pale ales, and even the Cisk Chill – a beer lemon mix similar to a German Radler or a British shandy.

Farsons, the Cisk brewery, also makes Kinnie, Malta’s popular non-alcoholic soft drink. Kinnie is basically a bittersweet herb lemonade of dark color (lighter than Coke though), and reminded me more of a Campari Soda than a soft drink. I have a feeling it mixes well with wodka.

Maltese Drinks

Where to eat in Malta


I spent most of my time in Valletta, which is why most of my recommendations are for Malta’s capital.

Café Jubilee

Café Jubilee is one of the cutest restaurants I’ve seen anywhere in the world – a dimly lit, cozy restaurant filled with nostalgia! The walls are covered in old-fashioned pictures and paintings, and there is memorabilia from a long time ago everywhere, like antique kettles, bottles and strollers.

They are famous for their homemade ravioli which are also sold in supermarkets throughout the islands (look out for Nanna’s Raviolis), but also have crunchy pastizzi bursting with flavor, a big breakfast menu and in addition to traditional Maltese cuisine, you can get trendy dishes here; like a yummy-sounding Quinoa salad, or a sandwich with roasted beets, spinach and goats cheese – the perfect combination! I know I’ll have to go back there the next time I’m in Malta because I didn’t get around to trying their dessert ravioli (filled with a chocolate hazelnut cream… need I say more?!).

Address: 125 St Lucia Street, Valletta | (Their original branch is in Gozo, see below)

Cafe Jubilee

Caffe Cordina

This is the oldest (and probably most famous) café in Malta, worth a visit just for its decadent interior, which includes elaborate mirrors, frescoes on the ceiling and a long wooden bar. An even bigger draw is their huge outdoor sitting area though, right on Victoria Square.

Caffe Cordina Malta Valletta

You can try qaghaq ta’ l-ghasel, honey rings, a typical Maltese sweet, here, the famous savory bread snack ħobż biż-żejt’ (see Maltese Snacks above), or pick up some figolli around Easter. They also have a huge selection of pastizzi, or you could go for a rabbit dish or the Maltese Platter which includes most of the snacks mentioned above, plus the tasty Maltese bread and galletti.

Address: 244 Republic Street, Valletta

Caffe Cordina in Malta

Badass Burger

As the name indicates, this place serves truly Badass Burgers, but also plenty of options for vegetarians, including a veggie burger, sandwiches and salads – my rucola spinach salad with buffalo mozzarella and roasted sunflower seeds was divine!

badass burger valletta

I also love that their dessert menu includes Banoffee Pie – my favorite British sweet treat! I was beyond excited to find a Banoffee Pie after so many years without and I had to order it. In fact, I had to go back the next day to also try their Banoffee milkshake which didn’t disappoint – not only because it came in a huge milk bottle!

Address: 46, Old Theatre Street

They also have a branch in St Julian’s.

badass burger banoffee pie

Dolci Peccati

Even though this is actually an Italian café with some of the most sophisticated and decadent cakes and tarts I’ve seen outside of France, this place also has some of the most inexpensive and mouthwatering vegetarian lunches in Valletta, like a chickpea & chestnut soup, a veggie burger, or a vegetarian pasta dish with eggplant. Plus, this being an Italian-owned café, you can rest assured that you’ll find some really good gelato here.

And: Dolci Peccati has fantastic coffee! Their main branch is in Sliema (268 Tower Road).

Address: St John Street (near the corner of Republic Street), Valletta

malta valletta pastry shop

La Mere

La Mere is a solid choice right on Merchant Street in the heart of Valletta, and they basically have something for every palate: Maltese, Indian, Arabian and Mediterranean cuisine. You can get anything from an authentic Indian curry to fresh fish or salads or a typical Maltese Platter with Bigilla, Maltese cheese and galletti. Tip: they have a large lunch menu that is great value for money.

Address: 174 Merchant Street, Valletta

La Mere Restaurant

The Grassy Hopper

The Grassy Hopper is a small but excellent vegetarian/vegan restaurant that is not much more than a hole in the wall in Valletta. They also have a food truck that you’ll find in Gzira. Here you find all the things that make a healthy eater’s heart beat fast – smoothies spiked with spirulina, wheatgrass, raw cacao, macca or bee pollen; salads with kale and buckwheat, and a number of vegetarian burgers that leave nothing to be desired. Due to the tiny size of their shopfront, they have a daily changing menu, which you can always find updated on Facebook regularly.

Address: 123 Old Theatre Street in Valletta or the food truck in Ix-Xatt ta Ta’Xbiex – Opposite Atlas Insurance (right on the waterfront).

valletta the grassy hopper

St Julian’s


Gululu was my absolute favorite restaurant in Malta – I’d consider staying in Sliema next time just so that I can eat at Gululu’s every day. And even if you’re not staying in Sliema or St Julian’s, Gululu is worth the trip there (super easy & quick from Valletta on the bus). This is the place to go if you want to try some really good Maltese food and wines, at surprisingly low prices.

Ftira at Gululu

The ftira here is out of this world, ranging from traditional toppings to more exotic, modern versions. If you’d like to try one of the famous Maltese rabbit dishes – this is the right place for you. You can also devour fresh fish, homemade pasta or a yummy salad. My rucola, honey-roasted pumpkin and goats cheese salad was simple, but heavenly nonetheless.

gululu restaurant salad

Address: 133 Triq Spinola, St Julian’s

Café Cuba

I can’t write about food in Malta without mentioning at least one pizza place – and look at this pizza:

cuba restaurant pizza

If you need your pizza fix on a regular basis (like I do!), Café Cuba can definitely satisfy your cravings. The large menu of pizzas fresh out of a wood-fired oven is almost overwhelming, but you’ll most likely find yourself coming back here for more. If you’re not into pizza, you’ll love the pastas, burgers and salads. The best time to eat here is during sunset – grab a table on the terrace and enjoy the views over the bay – but apparently the coffee here is superb, too, so if you’re strolling along the promenade, why not pause here for a coffee pit stop.

wine with a view in st julians

Address: Spinola Bay, St Julian’s. They have another branch in Triq Ix – Xatt, Sliema.


Ta’ Rikardu

Ta’ Rikardu needs to be on your list of places to visit for the views alone! Head up to the rooftop terrace of the historic medieval building inside of Victoria’s Citadel and take in the stunning vistas, with a glass of wine and some traditional Gozitan cheese (Gbejniet) – both made on the family’s vineyard and farm. The food is not unforgettably good, but the views will stick with you forever.

Address: Triq il-Fosos, Victoria

maltese homemade pasta

Café Jubilee

This is the original Café Jubilee, well worth a visit for the cozy atmosphere and all the tasty dishes mentioned above (see Valletta).

Address: 8 Independence Square, Victoria

maltese pasties
Delicious vegetarian Maltese pasties

Have you been to Malta? If you have any recommendations for dishes and restaurants that shouldn’t be missed, feel free to share them in the comments below!

This post was brought to you as a result of the Blog Island Malta campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Malta Tourism Authority and the support of Air Malta. I maintain full editorial control of the content published on and it is my policy to provide an honest, objective review, reflecting my own experience and opinion.

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UK Travel: Brighton For Foodies

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Brighton isn’t all fish and chips and candy floss, you know. There’s a great foodie scene here demanding something suitable for the more sophisticated palate too. If you venture beyond the classic tourist traps of the main seafront roads in Brighton you’ll find some real gems, much like in any town where tourism plays a large part. Some great places to try are:

Brighton Beach
Brighton, England

The Tea Cosy

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy name, The Tea Cosy is the place in Brighton to go for a cream tea and a glimpse at the eclectic British and Royal themed collectors items. A favourite with the likes of Tatler and The Telegraph, it seems The Tea Cosy can do no wrong. Here you can breakfast on the likes of a ‘Prince Harry’ – a boiled egg and soldiers, enjoy a ‘William and Kate Selection’ for lunch – tomato and basil, cucumber and egg mayo sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, a slice of cake and a pot of tea or a ‘Queen Elizabeth Coronation High Tea’ – consisting of a selection of cakes, cream tea style scones, pate and toast, cheese and biscuits, finger sandwiches and of course tea. If you’re a fan of the Royals, or even just a fan of cream teas, this is the one you simply have to visit.

hester street fair cakesThe Restaurant at Drakes

If you want fine dining in Brighton, this is where you come. With a reputation for using only the best locally sourced seasonal ingredients, The Restaurant is a real favourite with those looking for an excellent meal while in Brighton. Perfect for a romantic dinner, thanks to its elegant atmosphere and exquisite food, you certainly won’t forget a night here. With choices such as hand dived scallops, glazed and pressed shoulder of pork and hazelnut bavorois for dessert, it will be a real treat for the tastebuds.

british pub foodMediterraneo Delicatessen

High up on the list of top places to dine in Brighton, this great little place is a real joy to discover. Deli by day and Sicilian restaurant at night, it offers something a little bit different to the other restaurants in Brighton.  With delicious specialities such as cannolis, lemon and poppy seed cake, limoncello cake and white chocolate and almond cake to be bought from the deli by day, plus traditional Sicilian food by night, like lasagne, pizzas, parmigiana de melanzane (aubergines in a tomato and parmesan sauce), peperoni ripieni (stuffed peppers) and tiramisu, you’re bound to be stopping by both day and night.

may italy montaione pizzas & wineAnother place not to miss is the street diner in Brigthelm Garden in Queens Road. This amazing food market comes to Brighton every Friday between 11am and 3pm and you’ll find such delights as gooey brownies, gourmet fish sandwiches, Venezuelan empanadas (think Cornish pasty style stuffed pastries with a kick), American style grilled cheese sandwiches, Caribbean curries and Mexican sweet treats. Perhaps also try Agua Dulce, a great little Spanish Restaurant and Tapas Bar on King’s Road.

goats cheese tapas sevilleSo when you’re considering your foodie travel destinations, don’t dismiss Brighton. Lively and action packed it may be, but it packs a punch in terms of culinary delights too.

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On the hunt for quinoa in South America

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One of the things we were most excited about when we finally started traveling through the Andes region of South America was the prospect of getting quinoa right out of the farmers’ hands, being right where it is grown.

Quinoa – A global food phenomenon

During our annual visits to the U.S., we had witnessed how quinoa had gotten more and more popular there over the last few years, and it had become a regular item on our shopping list. In 2010, it was still a novelty to see quinoa on a menu – only available at Whole Foods or other specialized vegetarian or organic shops – two years later, nearly all of the major supermarkets were stocking quinoa and in 2013, it was hard to find a restaurant that didn’t have some kind of quinoa dish on the menu.

In fact, the U.S. had imported 68 million pounds of quinoa in 2013 – compared to only 7.3 million pounds in 2007! Within six years, consumption had almost multiplied tenfold and the U.S. are currently the world’s number one importer of quinoa. The UN even declared 2013 as the ‘International Year of Quinoa‘!

cafayate quinoa salad
A quinoa dish in Argentina

What had happened that this exotic vegetable (often thought of as a grain, but it is actually closer to spinach or beets than to grains), virtually unknown a decade ago, had become one of the most sought-after foods in such a short time? It is rare that a ‘new’ food is incorporated in a nation’s diet as smoothly as quinoa found its way into thousands of health-conscious people’s kitchens. When you look at the nutritional value of it though, it is easy to understand why quinoa is so popular: one portion covers nearly 30 per cent of the recommended daily protein intake (a portion of rice in comparison only covers 5 per cent) and it has nearly twice as much iron, magnesium, zinc, fiber and potassium as grains or rice. And it is not only super nutritious, but also delicious! A nutty taste, while the texture reminds of couscous, and it is easy to prepare. In addition, it is gluten-free and considering the growing amount of people who try to avoid gluten, this is the ideal ‘superfood’ for celiacs, for vegetarians and vegans.

Are we hurting the people who grow quinoa?

When demand really rose a few years ago, critical voices started to appear. They were claiming the growing export numbers caused such an increase in prices for quinoa that local farmers in the Andes region, where quinoa is grown, weren’t able to afford it anymore. By buying quinoa, people would hurt Bolivian farmers who had lost their most nutritious food due to the huge appetite for quinoa in the U.S. and other first-world countries, selling so much that there was barely anything left for their own needs.

Knowing this, we were interested to travel in the regions where quinoa was grown – the altiplano of Bolivia, and Peru’s and Ecuador’s Andes regions, which are the world’s three biggest producers of quinoa. We wanted to see what the situation was really like.

quinoa salad at quinoa
Quinoa at Quinoa in Santiago

When we crossed into Bolivia from Chile, we quickly noticed that there was indeed barely any quinoa to find. We didn’t see quinoa on many restaurant menus, and had to really look for it in the markets. Coming from Chile, a rather developed country, we had come across quinoa in several places, even an entire restaurant dedicated to it – Quinoa in Santiago.

Too expensive for the locals?

When we didn’t really come across much quinoa in Peru either, we figured that the rumors must be true: quinoa had become too expensive for the locals to afford it. After all, the price per kilo on the world market had tripled between 2006 and 2011 and was still rising!

Whenever we did see quinoa in a supermarket, it was around a whopping $4.85 for a 1-kilo bag – while noodles would cost around $1.20 for the same amount, and rice even only $1. There seemed definitely truth behind the claims that it had become too expensive for the locals.

However, it turned out that critics who claimed us greedy first-worlders would eat all the quinoa and leave the farmers without their most nutritional food were actually wrong. While quinoa had been grown in the Andes for over 6,000 years and been a main staple for the people who lived in the altiplano for centuries(since corn doesn’t grow at 4,000 meters/13,100 feet),  its cultivation had been prohibited by the Spanish when they conquered the region and replaced it with European foods such as wheat and rye. The ‘mother grain’, as it is called by the Incas, never made a comeback after the Spanish left – particularly potatoes and corn had replaced quinoa.

Bolivian Market
A typical market scene in Bolivia: Dozens of kinds of potatoes… but barely any quinoa

Most Bolivians don’t even know quinoa

That’s why many Bolivians outside of the altiplano don’t even know quinoa (!) and it hasn’t been on their menu for decades. Some of the older generations still cook it occasionally, but people here prefer potatoes, corn and rice. Quinoa had become so insignificant for Bolivia’s agricultural sector that it was only grown by very few farmers in the altiplano.

It was only thanks to the sudden demand from North America and Europe that production was boosted again. Instead of stealing the locals’ food, the demand for quinoa from overseas enabled the farmers to buy better agricultural equipment, have a significantly higher income and to afford better food. The people who were eating quinoa all along still keep a share of the harvest for their own consumption – after all, only the very best quality quinoa is exported. That’s something we experienced in South America: whenever we did find quinoa in the local markets, its quality was way below the quality we were used to from the States. When we did find quinoa on restaurant menus, they were usually special vegetarian restaurants. Local restaurants almost never offered any quinoa dishes.

A better life for quinoa farmers

Since quinoa had become so popular, it has started to improve living conditions in Bolivia’s altiplano, one of the poorest regions of the country. More demand called for more quinoa fields, it employed more people, and the higher income helps them to build better houses and achieve a better quality of life. They did use to eat more quinoa before it became a food phenomenon in the first-world, but only because they didn’t have much of an alternative. Now, thanks to their larger income, they are also able to afford more foods that can’t be grown in the altiplano. The country’s president actually pushes its production and offered huge loans to quinoa farmers in the last few years.

potosi cafe la plata quinoa cake
A rare innovative quinoa dish in Bolivia: Quinoa cake

Do you love quinoa as much as we do? Feel free to share your favorite quinoa recipe in the comments below! And if you’ve traveled through the Andes, we’d love to hear if you felt quinoa was nowhere to be found or if you came across it more than we did!

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