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Everything posted by Culinista

  1. I'm sorry I don't have my notes with me, but I'll try to remember the details as best I can. I notice Helsinki, where I live, is not on your list. In Oslo, we had a nice but extravagantly overpriced meal at Bagatelle, and a just plain overpriced meal at Oro. (That's what we get for eating Spanish in Norway.) Bagatelle's sommelier is an interesting young Finnish guy named Pontus. The best thing we ate in Oslo was boiled shrimp at a shrimp shack on a tiny island in the Oslo bay--I can't remember the name of the island, but it started with an H, I think. The ferry takes 10-15 minutes from the downtown wharf, and there are lots of wild rabbits on the island, which is more of a small park with very little on it. Seemed a popular place for locals to hang out on a sunny weekend. I also second the Bergen fish soup, which we had at Lucullus in Bergen. In Stockholm, I had lunch at Fredsgatan 12, which was an error, because while the dinner menu looked interesting, it's a boring spiffed-up steak-and-potatoes business lunch spot at midday. Bon LLoc could very well be the best restaurant in Scandinavia, which is unfortunate because they serve modern Spanish, not Scandinavian, food. We had the Tradicion menu, which included three mini-tapas, foie gras crema quemada with apple and pork knuckle, grilled pigeon, cheese, and a raspberry souffle. For Swedish food, we had a nice seafood lunch at Sture Hof, which serves updated Swedish fish and meat specialties in a relaxed restaurant in the Sturegallerian. Highly recommended and good value, at least for Stockholm. The pastry shop "Gateaux" (hope that is the name--it's upstairs from the main entrance of the shopping gallery) had some nice pastries and light meals. I fell in love with Semlor, a whipped-cream and marzipan filled bun that might be available only around Mardi Gras. I think Gateaux's version had cardamom in it. Swedish pancakes are yummy. I'd also recommend having seafood at the casual places in the Ostermalmshallen covered market, which is a food destination on its own. The best one (sorry, can't remember the name--I think it was a woman's name), was in the back corner, with the largest seating area. Nearby, there is a butcher shop that sells two grades of aged beef prime rib: plain and gold, which is aged covered in a thick coat of lard. (Lard gets scraped off before cooking.) Paul et Norbert seems to be forgotten by our trendy Swedish friends, but we had a very nice meal there. We went specifically to have capercaillie, a large black game bird that is not commercially sold in Finland. It was served rare, wrapped in cabbage leaves, with game jus. The sauteed foie gras was classic but well done. The restaurant was very traditional without being overly stuffy. If you really want to turn back the clock, go for Sunday brunch to Ulla Windblad, near the Vasa Museum. We had Swedish meatballs and beef Rydberg, sauteed cubes of beef tenderloin with hashed potatoes, onions, and mustard. On the weekend, families are celebrating birthdays, and there is a kind of holiday air. The park is a nice walk after all that traditional food. I hear a good smorgasbord is served at the Grand Hotel, but we did not have room to try it. As for dishes, Lappish food is interesting: grilled Lappish cheese has a squeaky texture. Reindeer is about as exotic as lamb up here, and since it is domesticated, it is not gamey. Game birds are very interesting, provided you can get them well prepared: snow and willow grouse, capercaillie, etc. (Note: depending on the country, some of these birds can only be hunted for private consumption.) In Helsinki, you can get bear sometimes, but I wouldn't recommend it. It's tough, greasy, and outrageously expensive. You will be in time for the new potatoes. And, of course, the salmon. A reddish-gold tint says its hand smoked in a smokehouse, but do also try cured salmon (gravad lax). I've also had very interesting aquavit-treated smoked salmon. Scandinavian women used to pride themselves on their repertoire of baltic herring dishes. My favorite is herring in mustard sauce. Too bad you are going a bit too early for the most glorious Scandinavian products-fresh berries, mushrooms, crayfish. Crayfish are incredible in season (July-August)and are worth the journey. If you have any of these in May, they are bound to be frozen or from somewhere else. (F12 served frozen crayfish in a sauce. I would have preferred to have no crayfish at all.) Because of all the daylight in summer, berries here are like nowhere else during their short but brilliant season. I used to think French strawberries were good, but a single Northern strawberry has the flavor of a thousand Southern ones. Cloudberries are blushing yellow and tart, reminiscent of passionfruit. Sea buckthorn is orange, often found powdered or in juice form, and has medicinal uses. There are also false morels, a toxic mushroom unless properly prepared. Scandinavians love licorice in myriad forms, and even if you don't like it, it's amazing to see how many different kinds of candy there are. As a cook, fresh licorice was a revelation. So were the syrups made of tar and boiled spruce shoots. I brought home the cookbook of Nobel Prize dinners Edit: Gamla Stan is a likely destination for a visitor to Stockholm. I did not try these, but they looked inviting amid the tourist dreck: Pontus in the Green House (rather modern stuff with Scandinavian ingredients) and Den Gyldene Freden, a beautiful pub restaurant dating from the 1700s and owned by the Swedish Academy.
  2. Let's see, on our recent trip to Japan, we tried a few new dishes: Snapping turtle hot pot, with a turtle blood aperitif. Very good meat and superb broth, although the blood was unexceptional--just a dark clot floating in reddened rice wine. Drunk more for virility and the macho factor than flavor, I suspect. Probably the most expensive meal per minute we have ever had. The meat was somewhat gelatinous but not at all fishy or reptilian, probably because of the special feed. (At Daiichi, in Kyoto). The bones were very odd, and it was strange not knowing what part you were eating. Some bits looked like eggs in the making. Whale skin, blubber, and meat in another nabemono hot pot. This we tried despite some moral qualms, and we concluded that this is a taste not worth acquiring. Despite the delicate preparation, the flavor was fatty and unpleasantly strong. We also had fugu before the whale at Kozue in the Tokyo Park Hyatt. The fugu was accompanied by hirezake, a fugu fin toasted in flaming rice wine. In Miyajima we tried kawahagi (leatherfish) a relative of the poison blowfish. Unfortunately, they were sold out of fugu sperm...
  3. *hands out slices of smoked salmon* Thanks for all the appetizing addresses. I've only been to London a couple of times, but my husband goes once a month. He is a certified food nut, but for some reason, he has never taken a shine to the Marylebone area. What is he missing? Did he get lost? I've noticed that few London flats feature separate dining rooms, but kitchens seem to be a good size compared to Paris (and equipped with cabinets and appliances, thank goodness). I hope they have gas cookers.
  4. That man sounds like he has severe indigestion. Some of the best bites I've had were amuse-bouche. And sometimes, if a mediocre amuse came out while we were still examining the menu, it would serve as a warning not to venture too far into the water. I do have a problem with restaurants that place dishes unbidden on the table, and then charge you if you touch it. I know this is standard practice in Portugal and maybe people there are OK with it, but it feels wrong. It's also not nice to think how long that terrine, etc. languished on the table before there was a taker.
  5. Does anyone know the title of a Korean language film about two women who live next door to each other? My memory is fuzzy, but I recall a good deal of cooking, and one I think ends up killing and eating the other. The title on the English VHS version was two sequential 3-digit room numbers, separated by a slash (371/372, or something like that). I once offered to cook a "Big Night" timpano dinner for a charity auction. 8 guests paid over $200 each to come, but it turns out that none of them had heard of "Big Night" or understood what the dinner would involve. They must have been very confused by the "Meet Louis Prima" invitations. Fortunately, I planned to screen the movie while serving the antipasti, so by dinnertime, they got it.
  6. We lived in the 17th near Ternes, and let me tell you, the water was HORRIBLE. If you made tea or coffee with unfiltered water, you'd notice a nasty scumlike substance floating on the surface. When we first moved to Paris, I took a picture of a soldier washing his tank before the Bastille Day parade with Evian. I thought it was yet another example of extravagant French idiosyncracy, but I soon understood why. After a few weeks of showering in Eau de Paris, my hair was hopelessly sticky. I was saved from a huge Evian bill when I discovered I could rinse with the distilled water collected from the clothes dryer reservoir. After tasting a lot of bottled waters, we settled on Volvic for still and Chateldon for sparkling. Here in Finland, no one drinks bottled water. In the country, many of the lakes and rivers are clean enough to drink from untreated.
  7. Thanks so much, especially for the link to the other thread. For some reason, my search didn't turn it up the first time. Any impressions of South Bank or Bankside? North London is probably out unless it is on a line very convenient to Waterloo Station. My hubby is proposing to commute to some place called Church Crookham, which I believe an hour SW of London. Maybe we can also consider a remarkable suburb in that direction if there is one, but not knowing any better or any one, we think we'd prefer the city. So Moby, if I share this slab of hand-cured wild salmon I'm lugging home today, can I have your seat?
  8. Hello, We may be moving to London in a few months (if so, it will be our 3rd international move in 2 years ). Which neighborhoods are the best for a serious cook? London is a big town. Where should I start the hunt for my next kitchen? I'm assuming I'll be carrying my groceries home several times a week, either walking or on the tube. I now know how European women stay so thin--they only eat what they can carry home. Thanks so much!
  9. Meal hours are fairly narrow and dinner is early compared to Europe. Since office workers eat between 12-1, it's best to get a seat before 11:45. Most restaurants will not take orders after 9. In ryokan, give yourself time to take a liesurely bath before dinner, which is served at the latest around 7. Shower, scrub, and rinse thoroughly before getting into the communal bath, and don't forget to bring your towel. Tie the yukata with the left side on top. (Right side up is for corpses.) There is a lot of tradition but very little privacy in the Japanese-style ryokan, with the maid coming in and out of the room to serve tea, dinner, make the beds, etc. They will wake you bright and early, sometimes with rousing recorded music. Try a traditional Japanese breakfast, which is not too different from lunch, but you can often request a Western-style breakfast in advance if you can't face the idea of fish for breakfast. The fried egg will be cooked firm and served cold. Or try an onsen-tamago, a kind of coddled egg. Do not bring a lot of heavy luggage when traveling on a rail pass. There are a lot of stairs and very little accomodation for big suitcases. Make sure you can carry it all yourself, or learn to use the takyubin delivery service. Having gone all the way to Japan, I don't believe this is the time to pinch pennies unless you absolutely have to. Food is part of the territory to discover. However, some amazing dishes are really cheap: yakitori, okonomiyaki, ramen, etc. Many of the best restaurants are specialists in a single dish (tempura, unagi, soba...) You decide what you feel like eating and then go find a restaurant that serves it. Don't expect a wide variety of menu items in such places. I am writing an article about trying to penetrate high-end cuisine, which often does not come with plastic food or published menus. This is not easy, even with advanced language ability. A well-padded wallet is necessary, of course. Another thing: Carry cash. Tons of it. This is safe. The post office has started to have cash machines that take international ATM cards, but ATMs for foreigners are still scarce. Try to bring yen rather than exchange it in Japan, since Japanese banks take forever to do a simple transaction.
  10. We just had our first Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Mitchan was closed the day we visited, so we took our taxi driver's recommendation of Henkutsuya, across the alley from Okonomimura. (A note here: I have never seen such aggressive shilling in Japan.) We squeezed in at the counter and ordered one Special Deluxe with soba and one without noodles but with pork, egg, and squid. We found that the one with noodles was much better balanced, even if it was heavier. We ate it right off the teppan with little spatulas. I noticed most people attacked only half at a time, but some cut it into pie wedges and others into little squares. I found squares easier. The sauce was outstanding. Hiroshima-style seems to take a little more skill to construct than the way I make it. (My house version: a thin, crisp crepe with lacy edges, which I fill only on one side with ginger, green onion, chikuwa, scallops, shrimp, squid, shredded cabbage, and bonito flakes. I drizzle a little more batter over the pile and then flip it over, using 2 spatulas to press the pancake as flat as possible. Bulldog tonkatsu sauce is always in our house for these moments.) I saw one grill man in Okonomimura expertly make thin egg crepes the exact size of the noodle and filling rounds, all cooked separately. He then stacked them together and proceeded to press the edges together in a perfectly sealed seam. I'd love to get those little half-moon-shaped individual spatulas. Also available from hotels and tourist info in Hiroshima: an Okonomiyaki Map.
  11. Given that the total length of Japan is 3500 km (2173.91 miles) and the area somewhat smaller than California, it doesn't seem so unusual that a lettuce traveled from one end of the country to another. Heck, in my grocery store in Finland, practically everything travels a long way to get here, particularly in winter. What about Charantais melons, Vidalia onions or Florida oranges? This is more a sign of the state of global agribusiness than uniquely Japanese finickiness. That said, the Japanese have succeeded in getting products shipped long distances in far better condition than we are seeing in America and even Europe. Japanese produce is still grown to maximize flavor as well as visual perfection. American produce is grown to ship well and look good on the supermarket shelves, but most of it has no taste at all. European produce is better, but they are showing disturbing signs of American-style mass agriculture. When I lived in Paris, almost everyone shopped at Monoprix or similar for produce. Street markets like Poncelet and Rue Cler were becoming tourist attractions, with a large amount of imported produce being sold in a Disney-esque farmers' market atmosphere. The only holdouts are the weekly roving biomarches. I don't like waste, but being finicky keeps standards high for the merchants. Nobody should accept styrofoam tomatoes or plastic peaches, no matter where we live. Why do we keep buying them? I also like seeing where the produce comes from. I notice local Finnish tomatoes are always more expensive than the imports despite the lower transport costs and the fact that summer here lasts only 3 weeks. In the end, it's all about marketing and market forces. As for the doggie bag problem, my aunt in Yokohama has started tucking a plastic ziplock baggie into her purse to sneak uneaten food home. It's horribly bad-mannered, but she's getting more free-spirited with age.
  12. Just mentioning umeboshi brings on Pavlovian mouth watering... My grandmother used to send us umeboshi air mail in the 70s. She carefully de-seeded them to decrease the weight for shipping, and my mom used to dole them out as a special treat, dividing each one among 6 kids. Even today, the idea of having a whole one all to myself seems like a luxury. My gaijin hubby was never wild about umeboshi until we went to my aunt's house in Yokohama this weekend. She served soft, delicate nanko ume, which had a less salty, more floral taste. The next day at another aunt's house, we had handmade nanko ume, and my husband was sold. Tucked in our luggage is a Tupperware with a dozen or so, and I will dole them out as carefully as my mother used to do. We had one spectacular ume dish at Izusen, the shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) restaurant in the Zen temple complex of Daitokuji in Kyoto. It was a large, sweet, juicy tempura ume. It tasted only slightly dried and salted, not sour at all, and was covered in the thinnest, laciest veil of tempura batter. The pit was split in two, so we could get at the kernel. At Iwaso Ryokan in Miyajima, we had a nice umeshu (plum wine) with a twist of orange and cut with white wine.
  13. I'll stifle my "Yuck!" impulse long enough to ask what kind of cheese.
  14. A shaver is on my shopping list for our upcoming trip to Japan. I remember the lovely smell when my mother shaved bonito just after arriving in the US in the 70s, but the katsuo-bushi kezuri disappeared with the arrival of her 4th kid and instant dashi powder. Now my husband has gotten curious about freshly shaved katsuo-bushi. I have a feeling my arms are going to look more toned soon. I like the way the shavings wave around when sprinkled on hot foods, as if they were alive. I remember someone telling me that the way to buy dried bonito for shaving was to bang two pieces together (they look like sticks of wood) and listen for a hollow, dry sound. Is that correct?
  15. Terrific recommendations. We might go for the crab since we will be having yudofu for lunch in Kyoto. The relatives range in age, from 4 to 70. The ramen museum looks too fun to miss. Does anyone ever make ramen from scratch, including the noodles? I've always wondered how they get the Sapporo noodles to curl.
  16. Our situation is a little odd. We will be in Yokohama for two nights, primarily to visit relatives. In previous visits, we have always eaten in various aunts' houses, so this time we thought it would be best to meet people in restaurants. My uncle is reserving a room on the third floor of Kiyoken for a big family lunch get-together. What would be good to order there? We still don't know where we will go for the two dinners, but I'd like to make the arrangements myself since I don't want my relatives to feel obligated to pay for everything. We will probably be 4-6 people in the group each evening, which may limit our choices. People live all over the place, so something close to transportation is ideal. I'm curious about the ramen museum. We have very limited time--would it be worth the trouble to visit it? Normally I'd go on my own to find out, but an uncle is picking us up from the Shin-Yokohama station and I'd have to make a special request to be taken there. Thanks so much!
  17. My corner roastery in Paris used to be Bru^lerie des Ternes, in the Poncelet market, where I bought my beans whenever I ran out of Venezuelan coffee at home. It wasn't a world-class caffeine emporium, but it smelled nice and was convenient. In general, I have to agree with Bux about French vs. Spanish coffee in bars and restaurants. Maybe I've been biased by my Spanish in-laws, but I find run-of-the mill French coffee to be an odd mix of harsh and flat at the same time. It's terribly expensive, but sometimes we treated ourselves to coffee and a croissant (a l'ancienne is classic but the noix is almost too decadent) among the power breakfasters and tourists at Laduree on the Champs-Elysees. (Coffee comes in a heacy silver pot only in the salon, none at the takeout counter.) The fact that it was next door to my husband's office never helped. Brasserie Lorraine has a good quiche Lorraine in their generally overpriced menu, but I often stopped there for coffee because it was a little better than average and Francisco made sure it came with a little coffret of mini-macarons. Usually, there was an elderly lady in the corner. She also got the macarons, even though she only orders a glass of water. Little touches like that made the coffee taste better. PS. I forgot my other neighborhood cafe/boulangerie, the Ducasse-owned Be. Very respectable cafe and croissant there. This was the closest bakery to my house. No wonder I couldn't lose weight!
  18. My husband and I are making a food-filled visit to Japan in late February. Any non-Chinatown recommendations in Yokohama? Also, is anyone familiar with Kiyoken or the ramen museum? Thanks so much for any help.
  19. How about Yokohama's kamameshi (flavored rice steamed in individual pots)? My favorite is uni (sea urchin).
  20. All these unagi words reminds me of my first visit to Japan on my own. My relatives called my grandmother to find out if I could eat Japanese food. She told them I had eaten unagi for lunch (a specialty in the Nagoya area). For two weeks, at every relatives' home, I was served una-ju. I didn't complain, it's delicious.
  21. I've made mixed wild, white, and brown rices in a rice cooker with reasonable results, but your mix might be more difficult because of the longer cooking times of dried red and black beans. I imagine this would be a problem on the stove as well. What do the package instructions say? And just curious, for what dish is this mixture intended?
  22. Nice thread. Can anyone recommend a good book on meibutsu? I can read Japanese but would have to mail order the book.
  23. Anyone know how I can get a yuzu in Finland???
  24. I have black thumb, and no plant has survived more than a month in my care except orchids, which seem to thrive on neglect. But after moving to Finland, I'm getting desperate. There are few fresh Japanese vegetables and herbs here, not even green onions. I live in an apartment with a tiny balcony and lots of windows, but it is cold and there's only a few hours of weak daylight. What can I grow? I'd love shiso, mitsuba, kinome, etc., but I don't even know where I can get seeds since I don't read Finnish. Is there some kind of indoor greenhouse or mini hydroponic system I can get?
  25. Wacky things I liked: Haggis Roasted agave worms in salsa, also same worms roasted alive on bed of hot salt Pony carpaccio Ant eggs and bee larvae A kind of pudding steamed in a pig bladder, made only in my in-laws' village in Spain Bird's nest soup Natto Camel-tastes a little like liver Wacky things I didn't like: Alberto Adria's white chocolate with black olives Preserved duck embryos Spleen at St. John's Sheep eyeballs Pig snout is only so-so, but my in-laws always give it to me Bear-also in Finland, very expensive and not good I'll usually try anything at least twice, but I draw the line at live monkey brain.
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