I don’t think I’ve ever over-eaten as much as I did while in Jordan. But looking back, I’m not even upset with myself- Jordanian food was absolutely delicious.
At one point the girls and I were so sick of over-eating we asked our guides if there was any way we could order less food at dinner.
They replied, “Uh no, not really.”
Anyway, thank god we packed loose clothing because otherwise I’m not sure if our skinny jeans would have survived.
Jordanian food is very similar to Lebanese, and uses lots of Mediterranean ingredients like olive oil, garlic and lemon. Meals begin with mezze, or small-plate appetizers. Next is the main course of grilled lamb, beef chicken or kofte. Finally, you finish the meal with cardamom coffee and dessert. The style of eating is very communal and the food is healthy and light, both of which aspects I loved.
Here are the best things I ate while in Jordan. Needless to say, there was a lot of competition.
1. A Traditional Jordanian Feast on our First Day in Jordan
For our first big meal in Jordan we headed to Sufra Restaurant in downtown Amman.
Like every Jordanian meal, we started with mezze: tabbouleh, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, pickled vegetables, olives, hummus, fattoush, labneh and pita.
As I would continue to do in Jordan, I wildly over-stuffed myself on mezze. With homemade hummus and tabbouleh, how could you not?
Clockwise from upper right: tabbouleh, falafel, chicken liver with garlic, grape leaves. Michigander readers- the mezze was identical to the Lebanese food in metro Detroit, who knew?
Then we moved on to the main course of piles and piles of grilled meat. But more specifically, shish taouk, chicken marinated in yogurt and lemon juice and grilled on a spit, and kofta, ground meat formed into a cylindrical shape and grilled.
As you can see here, the meat was charred and juicy and oh-so-delicious.
Also tasty was this vegetarian dish that Julika ordered, which was like Middle Eastern nachos covered in yogurt. Way tastier than it sounds.
2. Fatet Djaj
Speaking of yogurt-covered, I fell in love with Fatet Jaj. Fatet Jaj is a chicken casserole filled with rice, poached chicken and fried bread, and topped with yogurt and toasted almonds.
What I loved most about this dish was the texture; namely the juxtaposition between the fried bread and creamy yogurt. As a huge yogurt fan, this dish was one of my absolute favorites.
Almost every Jordanian we met would ask us, “Have you tried mansaf yet?” Which makes sense- mansaf is the national dish of Jordan.
Mansaf is a platter of tender lamb on the bone, yellow rice and marcona almonds, which is then drenched in hot yogurt sauce.
Jordanian food is always communal, but mansaf even more so, as you share mansaf as a table and eat it entirely with your hands.
Our guides asked us, “Do you want to eat it the real way or with a fork and knife?” Obviously, we wanted to eat it the real way.
To eat mansaf you take rice with your right hand and form it into an oval-shaped ball, which you then pop into your mouth.
As a lefty, eating with my right hand was impossible and I probably looked like a one-year-old in a highchair. But seriously, try eating with your non-dominant hand sometime- it’s trippy. It almost feels like someone else is feeding you.
But in the end, mansaf was worth looking like a total fool for. So. Good.
Maqluba, which means upside down, is a Jordanian casserole of meat, rice, vegetables and potatoes cooked in a black cast-iron pot and flipped over on a plate.
I loved the dramatic table-side service as well as the steaming pile of carbohydrates in front of me. Maqluba felt like Middle Eastern comfort food- warm, homey and simple; the kind of dinner you’d want on a cold day.
Out of all the mezze we tried in Jordan, the only dish I didn’t know was labneh. And what a shame that was.
Labneh is salty yogurt that is served at breakfast and in mezze. It often comes topped with olive oil and walnuts, and is especially good with za’atar and pita. I need to find labneh in the states because I would totally have it for breakfast every day.
6. Veal with Tahini Sauce ???
Sadly, I never found out the name of one of the best dishes I had in Jordan. But whatever it was, it was GOOD.
This mystery dish seemed to be made of pounded veal and tahini sauce, and topped with green peppers and potatoes. It was creamy and lemony and tangy- and it breaks my heart I don’t know the name. Any experts in Jordanian food who’d like to give me a hand?
[NOTE- After this post was published, a reader let me know that this dish is called kufta with tahini sauce or kufta bel taheenyeh. In case you’re interested in trying it!]
Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase
7. Homemade Pita with a Bedouin Family
While in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, we met a Bedouin family who taught us how to make pita.
First you mix together flour and water, and knead it into dough. Then you bury the dough under charcoal and let it cook. Once it’s done, you dust off the charcoal and eat it.
The bread was so earthy and nuanced in flavor- I loved the charcoal taste that remained as well. It was especially good with piping hot sweet tea.
While I’m not a huge fan of sweets, I really enjoyed osmaliyeh. Osmaliyeh is shredded phylo dough filled with rosewater cream and topped with crushed pistachio.
I loved how light and airy it was, with a touch of sweetness. And while I enjoy baklava, it so heavy and cloyingly sweet; honestly I’d prefer osmaliyeh any day.
Have you tried Jordanian food before? Which of these dishes sounds best to you?
I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board, but as always, all opinions are my own.
I’m partnering with Flights.com to share all about what to eat in Malaysia. If you love experiencing new food when you travel, like me, check out this article on the 7 Best Restaurants in the World!
Malaysian food, guys. We need to talk about it.
First off, it’s amazing. Malaysian food is a blend of Indian, Chinese and Indonesian influences, so uh, how could it not be good?
Secondly it’s surprising. I’ve honestly never been so surprised and delighted by a national cuisine. There were gummy textures, ingredients I’d never seen and myriad flavors and culinary influences.
So in this post I want to share with you my Malay food diary- the greatest hits, and a few dishes that didn’t quite live up to the hype.
You might be thinking, “Wow, you ate all of this in two weeks?” Yes, yes I did. And if anything I wish I had eaten more- but hey, I can always go back right?
Curry Laksa // Kuala Lumpur
I would give my firstborn child if I could just have curry laksa one more time. (Okay fine, that’s hyperbole. But I would drive at least an hour.)
Curry laksa is my favorite iteration of laksa- a bowl of a curried coconut broth, thin yellow egg noodles, fried tofu and cuttlefish. This dish is also called curry mee. Whatever you call it, I freaking love it.
Satay celup // Melaka
An assortment of veggies, eggs and meats, all cooked in peanut sauce? Delicious. Essentially satay celup is like Malaysian-style fondue but with meat on a stick and peanut sauce. Truly a new favorite.
Chicken rice // Everywhere
My daily staple in Malaysia was without doubt chicken rice. In Malaysia I became quite the chicken rice connoisseur.
After lots of trial and error, I decided my favorite chicken rice is saucy, savory chicken accompanied by chicken rice balls, iced tea and chicken foot soup. Yum.
I especially love chicken rice accompanied by a big plate of greens (pictured below) because it makes me feel healthy, even if I’ve eaten six meals that day.
Kuih // Melaka
One sweltering afternoon in Melaka I tried kuih, bite-sized tea snacks that are found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and several regions of China.
As a prolific snacker, I loved eating such a wide assortment of treats at one meal. I tasted nasi lemak, sambal and rice, curry puff and fried shrimp ball.
On the sweeter side I tried pulut kueh, coconut sticky rice with palm sugar, and kuih ketayap, a little green burrito dyed with pandan leaf and stuffed with palm sugar.
Chai and roti prata // Melaka
While in Melaka I joined a group of Malaysian girls for an Indian-style brunch.
For only a couple of dollars we had an Indian feast- flaky, buttery roti prata dipped in a light and spicy dahl, with sweet and spicy chai to accompany.
Considering I had just spent six weeks in India eating exclusively Indian food, I wasn’t about to grab seconds, but I still loved chai and roti prata as a one-off breakfast.
Putu Mayam // Georgetown, Penang
Putu mayam was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had- freshly steamed pandan noodles topped with palm sugar and fresh-grated coconut.
I discovered it at a market in Penang, and fell in love with the soft, gummy noodles and the flavor explosion (forgive me) of pandan, palm sugar and coconut. It was truly like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.
Banana and peanut fritter // Georgetown, Penang
I also discovered this banana and peanut fritter at a food market in Penang. Such a tasty snack, and cooked banana with crunchy peanuts brought me back to the beloved grilled PB&Js of my childhood.
Nasi Ulam Nyonya // Georgetown, Penang
Nasi Ulam Nyonya, also known as Nyonya herbal rice, is a Peranakan dish of fragrant and herb-strewn rice. As far as I could tell, it was simply steamed rice with herbs, lime, shallots and belacan (shrimp paste). YUM.
Here’s a recipe if you’d like to make it yourself!
Penang Char Kuey Teow // Georgetown, Penang
Char Kuey Teow (Chinese : 炒粿條，炒河粉, thanks Wikipedia) is a Chinese dish of flat rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs, Chinese chives and both light and dark soy sauce.
I scarfed down lots of Char Kuey Teow while in Penang, though I must say- it’s a pretty heavy dish for such a hot and humid city! Afterwards I always felt like napping.
It reminded me of a lot of the Thai stir-fried noodle dish phat si io, as its flavor savory, heavy and soy-saucey.
Popiah // Georgetown, Penang
Popiah is a Chinese wheat crêpe stuffed with Chinese sausage, prawns, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, caramelized onion and cooked carrot and turnip. In Singapore I literally had it daily- I loveee me some popiah.
While I didn’t like the popiah in Penang quite as much as the one I had in Singapore, it was still tasty.
Fish head bihun // Kuala Lumpur
I’m the first to admit that sometimes I’m too adventurous of an eater for my own good. Grilled lamb hearts in Istanbul? Yes, please. Civet poo coffee in Bali? Small intestine sausage in France? Yes, please. Actually, I loved all those dishes dearly.
But sometimes my white-girl, Midwest-born and bred stomach has trouble keeping up with my food-obsessed mouth. Let’s just say fish head bihun and I didn’t work out.
Fish head bihun is essentially a rice vermicelli noodle soup with chunks of fried fish-head. While I somewhat liked the dish, after a few bites I knew I would be sick.
Soon after taking this picture I experienced the worst food poisoning I had since a fruit farm tour in the Mekong Delta. Fun.
Pineapple cookies // Melaka
Pineapple cookies are famous in Melaka. But once I finally got my hands on one (they’re hard to buy individually) I wasn’t terribly impressed. As always, I have to admit I prefer American cookies to any other.
Cendol // Melaka
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but cendol was downright the most bizarre dessert I’ve ever encountered. Imagine a bowl of green jelly noodles that taste like worms, topped with red beans, shaved ice and palm sugar. With a little receptacle of more green jelly noodles in case you didn’t get enough.
Frankly I’m not sure how any of these ingredients go together, much less in a dessert. But to each their own.
Peranakan laksa // Kuala Lumpur
On my final night in Malaysia I had Peranakan laksa.
Laksa was one of those dishes I wanted so badly to love. I tried Peranakan laksa, asam laksa (okay, at a mall) and laksa in Singapore. I sadly always found it a little… bland. The only one I liked was curry laksa- but hey, you can’t win ’em all.
Have you ever tried Malaysian food? What did you think?
You guys didn’t think I was done writing about Penang, did you? Because I seriously loved that city too much to pen just a one-off post.
My last day in Penang wasn’t the typical travel day- it was a private culinary tour, which trust me, is not the norm in my travels. But considering how much I love food tours- see here and here– I couldn’t resist experiencing one in a private car.
Here are the highlights of my very special last day in Penang.
Having Breakfast at a Wet Market
Our Penang-born guide, C. K. Low, picked Dylan and me up in an old-school burgundy Benz at 9 a.m. sharp. As soon as I felt the air-conditioning I couldn’t help but look forward to the day ahead of me.
C. K. Low and Dylan enjoying iced coffees and banana fritters.
Under C.K. Low’s expert guidance we sampled everything from banana peanut fritters to char kway teow, Penang’s signature noodle dish.
I won’t go into too much detail as a Malaysian food post is coming very soon to an inbox near you. But seriously guys- yum.
Clockwise from upper left- char kway teow, putu mayam, putu mayam being steamed, the banana and peanut fritter.
Visiting a Thai Buddhist Temple, Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram
Next we headed to Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram (Thai: วัดไชยมังคลาราม). While the Buddha was not quite as quite as splendrous as the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, the temple was certainly beautiful, peaceful and nearly void of visitors.
I also loved hearing about C. K. Low’s Thai ancestry while at the temple, as he explained the strong Thai influence in Penang.
Visiting a Traditional Soy Sauce Factory
I’m not sure if this is normal, but I absolutely love soy sauce. So I was excited to see a soy sauce factory up close- and how beautiful are these pots?
We also got to taste the soy sauce, which naturally, was delicious- thick and syrupy and bubbling with that addictive umami flavor. It was a far cry from La Choy, a.k.a. liquid salt.
Trying Nyonya Food at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant
Our next stop? Nyonya appetizers at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant.
From the moment I walked into the building (which dates back to 1880!) I was in love: tall airy ceilings, a red and green tile floor, a British Colonial meets Straits-Chinese feel.
While Dylan and I were much too full from breakfast for an entire meal, we ordered Peranakan top hats, or Koay Pai Tee.
Honestly though I wasn’t over the moon about the top hats- they kind of remind me of wedding hors d’oeuvres. But on my next visit to Penang I fully intend to return to Pinang Peranakan Restaurant for a full Peranakan meal.
Spotting the Ocean
Yeah. No explanation necessary here. Can you imagine waking up to this view everyday?
Finding Tons of Colonial Mansions
As I’ve mentioned in other posts (Penang, Macau, Singapore), I’m fascinated by colonial history and architecture in Asia.
So at the end of our tour, I asked C. K. Low if we could see Penang’s colonial mansions. And I was not disappointed. While some were a bit shabby, others were in immaculate condition. But shabby or not, I still relished the chance to see such unique and historical architecture.
Sigh. Aren’t they just dreamy?
As we were driving Dylan, who hails from England, said, “Look, there’s a cricket pavilion!” which I never would have known. One of the benefits of traveling with a Brit is definitely their ability to identify relics of a British colonial past. (That and I’ve met some who travel with teabags, which is genius.)
All in all the tour reminded me of why I loved Penang so much- you’re never more than a stone’s throw from a colonial mansion or a really, really good meal.
Have you ever gone on a private culinary tour?
A big thanks to Rasa Malaysia Penang Private Tour for hosting me and showing me what I should be eating in Penang.
Also after reading TripAdvisor reviews, I would definitely recommend requesting C. K. Low. He was very personable and professional, and lots of people on TripAdvisor experienced no-shows with other drivers.
I know this post is um… a bit late. And some bloggers would’ve scrapped it all together. But you guys know how much I love food so I really couldn’t resist sharing.
Dear lord, in 2014 I ate well. So well that I just had to recap the greatest hits, because guys, there were many.
Whether I was in Madrid or Malaysia, or a London food market or ski-in Swiss restaurant or a Vietnamese street cart, I was chowing down on something delicious.
What I love too is that all of these meals brought back good memories, what is exactly what good food does. It’s personal. It’s emotional. It’s sentimental. It makes you smile, even in retrospect.
Seafood Pasta // Murano, Italy
While I was disappointed by the food in Venice, on nearby Murano I had one of my favorite Italian meals of all time.
After a bit of sightseeing on the island, we moseyed into a little hole-in-the-wall to have lunch. A few spritzes later, out came a succulent seafood pasta brimming with razor clams, shrimp and mussels.
While I normally find seafood pasta ho-hum, this was anything but. Nom.
Swiss Barley Soup // Grindelwald, Switzerland
For starters, I freaking love soup. I love everything about soup. I love that it’s homey and warm and wintery, and that you can sop it up with bread. Because carbs.
But I especially love soup while sitting at picnic table in Switzerland, sipping a local pils and watching clouds drift lazily over the Alps. While the slopeside food in Switzerland was gourmet (Colorado, let’s step up our game please), this traditional barley soup dusted with dried wildflowers was the best thing I tried.
Swiss barley soup on the ski slope? 12 francs well spent.
Okonomiyaki // Brixton Village, London
As I rhapsodized rather extensively, London is a foodie wonderland. During my three weeks in the Big Smoke I ate more than I should have and frequented lots of food markets.
One of my favorite finds? This okonomiyaki at Okan in Brixton Village. Okonomiyaki is a savory pork and scallion pancake topped with fish flakes and spicy mayonnaise, and while the one I had at Okan was the first (and only) I’ve tried, I’m pretty sure it was top-of-the-line. I mean look at it.
Bao // Netil Market, London
Seriously guys. That bao though. I can barely look at this picture without feeling sad and I wish I were kidding about that.
I discovered this delicious creation at Bao Bar at Netil Market, where bao is the only dish on the menu.
The doughy bun was filled with slow-braised pork belly, pickles and cilantro and dusted with peanut powder, a dish that was not only delicious but visually and texturally appealing. Perfection.
Bread and Butter Pudding // East London
This bread and butter pudding was like crème brûlée on uppers: it had a toffee brown-butter flavor, a crispy crust and a luscious crème anglaise. As I wrote in my post, I was literally sighing with happiness over this bread and butter pudding, and that’s not even hyperbole.
Salted caramel tart // East London
Okay, okay. I know we’re all kind of over salted caramel and it’s en route to become as banal as chocolate lava cake. But this salted caramel tart was absolutely delightful: decadent, nuanced, chocolatey and topped with coarse sea salt. Plus, I had it at Pizza East, a super chic restaurant on the Eating London tour which I absolutely will return to.
Cream Tea // Lincoln, England
At long last, last year I ventured to the North of England. Up north I tasted many English specialities for the first time: crumpets, Sunday roast and my favorite- cream tea.
Who wouldn’t love piles of buttery scones, moist lemon cakes and the best smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches ever, all washed down by a pot of tea?
And the ambiance was bar-none- a quaint, timber-framed tea shop perched above a swan-filled river. How very English.
Smoked Mackerel with Poached Egg and Prosciutto // Brighton, England
It’s no secret that I loved Brighton– and after riding rollercoasters on the pier, I found my new favorite seafood restaurant, Riddle and Finns.
There I ordered smoked mackerel on a bed of colcannon, drenched in a sauce reminiscent of my beloved New England Clam Chowder, topped with a poached egg and crispy prosciutto. Yes.
Bacalao // Madrid, Spain
Wow, bacalao. While as we all know, fresh cod is well, meh, salted cod is another beast altogether. (Geek moment- the history of cod is actually fascinating and I would totally recommend this biography on cod.)
Anyway, if you’re ever in Madrid head to Casa Revuelta for bacalao, a crispy, salty intensely flavorful cod creation that you should probably wash down with Mahou and enjoy with friends and/or Spanish strangers.
Indian feast // Delhi, India
On my first night out in Delhi, my travel buddy and I beelined to Bukhara. Bukhara is one of Delhi’s fanciest restaurants, the kind of place the Clinton’s go when they’re in India.
While normally a raging tourist trap is the total opposite of my scene, I’m so glad I headed TripAdvisor in this case. At Bukhara McCall and I gorged ourselves on the best Indian of our lives: juicy, charred lamb skewers, vats of creamy dahl and buttery piles of naan. And at the end of our trip, we went to Bukhara’s sister restaurant in Agra for a near identical meal. In both cases, we struggled to walk after.
Paneer butter masala // All Over India
During my six-week stint India, paneer butter masala was one dish that I ordered again and again and again.
I took the following picture at a roadside restaurant but it wasn’t the only place I had it- I became borderline addicted to the rich, buttery joy that is paneer butter masala. Accompanied by nan slathered in ghee, obviously.
Duck Soup // Bangkok, Thailand
While abroad, I’ve been known to find one amazing Singaporean hawker center/Vietnamese street stall/rundown Italian café, and return daily. The following duck soup stall in Bangkok was no exception.
Truly, this duck soup may be the best dish on this list. While I procured it at a humble street stall across the street from Lub d Silom, it would’ve been at home in any self-respecting Michelin restaurant.
Slippery rice noodles, braised duck thigh, a smattering of herbs, the umami broth of dreams… can you blame me for having it every day?
Pandan Noodle Dessert ??? // Penang, Malaysia
One of the things that delighted me most about Malaysian food was that it was all new. As I had never been to a Malaysian restaurant at home or abroad, Malaysia was my personal food discovery paradise.
While normally I research food very carefully, I have no idea what the following dish is. It seemed like pandan noodles topped with palm sugar and grated coconut and should probably be in every trendy restaurant ever.
If you know what this is- speak up- and please, send along a recipe!
Curry Laksa // Kuala Lumpur
Is this dish not just gorgeous? And not only gorgeous, but tasty. I could truly tuck into curry laksa every damn day.
Curry laksa was one of my favorite dishes in the two weeks I spent in Malaysia: a creamy, flavorful broth filled with deep-fried tofu, cockles and al dente egg noodles, all topped with chili paste. YUM.
Bánh cuốn // Hanoi, Vietnam
I ate a lot of delicious street food while in Northern Vietnam in June: miến lươn (eel vermicelli soup), bún bò nam bộ (vermicelli with grilled beef), Hanoi-style phở, nem rán (fried spring rolls) and more.
But the best meal I had was bánh cuốn with bacon, mint and chili that I groggily procured one hungover morning.
The meatiness of the grilled bacon, the acidity of the lime vinegar, the fragrant crunch of the herbs… oh god. Take me back.
Though overall I definitely prefer southern Vietnamese to northern, and Saigon rather than Hanoi style phở, this Northern Vietnamese dish was hangover gold.
And to add insult to gastronomic injury- this dish cost 35,000 dong, or less than $2.00. That’s sales tax.
Worst meal of 2014: Nutella crepe (with black hair) and rotten eggs // Rishikesh, India
Hey, you can’t win ’em all. My worst meal of 2014 was by far this brunch from hell in India.
The meal started with such earnest intentions- my travel buddy and I were going to enjoy a leisurely brunch on our one day off from yoga school. The waiter first dropped off the Nutella crepe, which I tucked into happily. It tasted… off, so I opened it to discover several long, black hairs.
Normally I brush off hair in food- it could be mine after all, right? But in this instance there was no way- it was too long and black.
So I turned to my eggs, which again, tasted off. I called over the waiter and asked, “Sir, are these eggs bad?”
“Yes, they are.”
“Um, what? Why would you serve me rotten eggs?”
He shrugged. “Because the man who was supposed to bring the eggs this morning never came. It is not my fault.”
So I paid the bill and left. Which in retrospect, why on earth did I pay? The result of this terrible brunch was, shocker- debilitating food poisoning. My travel buddy threw up in a bush and I went home to vomit violently for my entire day off. Good times.
A little late, but what was your best meal of 2014? Or more fun- your worst?
One of my favorite things about the French is that they tend to be well-rounded: The French dress fashionably, travel, read a ton, keep abreast of politics and quite famously, eat well.
Collectively I’ve spent about a year and a half living with French families so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about French home-cooking. But returning to Paris this year reminded me of so many French eating habits I have yet to work into my daily life.
While there are many French food customs I’ll never get on board with- like oeufs en gelée (blergh) and small, sweet breakfasts, there are others, like a salad with every meal and good wine that I’m more than behind.
*Note- not every French person or family does these things, these are just food customs I’ve observed personally.
A Salad with every meal
Salad is truly an art form in France. In fact I never liked salad until I lived there.
When I lived in France, I made a simple green salad every day to accompany the main dish at dinner. I loved how it wasn’t a question- at dinner you always have baguette, and you always have salad.
You start with fresh, butter lettuce that you wash and dry with a salad spinner three times. It’s usually from the farmer’s market and speckled with dirt so it’s important to wash thoroughly!
Then you always, always, always make the vinaigrette from scratch. (I’ve never even seen bottled dressing in France!) Here’s my recipe.
And voilà, you have a delicious salade verte!
Yogurt after every meal
After dinner in France we would bring out an assortment of yogurts: mousse au chocolat, lemon and strawberry, among other flavors. In my opinion, yogurt is the perfect low-key, weekday dessert, and boasts plenty of health benefits as well.
Sadly, this is one French food tradition I sadly won’t be replicating in America as American yogurt is sugary, processed and terrible for you. You might as well just eat half a candy bar.
Also, if you’re ever in France, the above yogurt, Fjord, is the yogurt of dreams: thick, tangy, creamy, addictive. As in like worth smuggling through US customs.
Interestingly enough, there’s actually no viable English translation for apéro dinatoire! Cocktail party with snacks? Drinks and finger food?
Essentially an apéritif dinatoîre is when you invite guests over to drink and snack on an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. You don’t “officially” serve a meal so it’s not a dinner party; it’s more of a casual, often weekday gathering that lasts late into the night.
(Fun fact- did you know no one says hors d’oeuvres in France? It’s an antiquated word.)
Gougères, or cheese puffs, I made for an apéritif dinatoîre last year. They’re surprisingly super hard to make- this was my third batch!
Sparkling water always makes me feel kind of fancy. Plus, if you’re trying to cut out pop, it’s a healthy carbonated alternative.
Always using a tablecloth
Another thing that makes me feel a little more put-together? A tablecloth. The French never sit down to eat without one.
Epic, five-course dinner parties on the regular
Oh god. French dinner parties are so much work yet so worth it. Here’s the drill:
1. Decorate your house beautifully, with a fresh tablecloth, flowers, chic stemware and your best china. Your best china isn’t just for holidays- it’s also for impressing your guests. And turn on some music!
2. Wait for your guests to arrive- they’re always a little late. Once they arrive greet them with a kiss and serve them hors d’oeuvres and cocktails (kind of like an apéro dinatoire but with a lot less food).
And don’t forget to thank them for their gift, usually a bottle of wine or flowers. In France it’s rude to show up empty-handed.
3. Sit down to the table for the first course (entrée in French. Yep, it’s backwards from English!)
4. Serve the main course. It is imperative for everyone to rave about the food- in France people talk a lot about food. Points for serving more exotic dishes like tagine or goulash.
5. Serve the cheese course. Ideally you will have at least 3-4 room-temperature cheeses on a plate- here’s my guide on how to serve a good cheese course.
5. Serve dessert. Also, this isn’t a throwaway course- it’s a lot of work. Ideas: financier with a berry coulis, omelette norwegienne, a poached pear in a salted butter caramel sauce.
6. Serve coffee.
7. Chat about politics/sex/family life until as late as three a.m., serving up plenty of wine.
8. Wake up mildly hungover and wash about 8,000 dishes. Each of those courses had a fresh plate, remember?
Buying good wine
Once I grow up (ha) I vow to never buy Yellowtail again- good wine is worth paying extra for, in my book. Unfortunately, good wine in the states is pricey, but in France you can pick up a decent bottle from 3-5 euros!
Also, someday I will have a badass wine cellar like my host dad in France with a gravel floor and a million wine bottles. #seriously
Ah, I love a good farmers market, especially in France. Most French farmers markets are open two-three days a week, and serve up all the good stuff: charcuterie, seafood, cheese and fresh produce.
Um I think if I mention one more picnic on my blog you are all going to kill me, but really- I never have them in the states. Picnics=the best.
A cheese course before dessert
Eating healthy on the weekdays and indulging on weekends
This is one healthful custom I’ve observed in France. The French often eat simple foods during the week, and on the weekends indulge in pastries for breakfast, barbecues for dinner and sinful desserts. It’s the perfect mix of abstinence and indulgence.
Omelets for dinner
I’ve actually never seen anyone in France eat an omelet for breakfast! But we did often eat them for dinner with chives and other fines herbes on top. Yum!
More cheese and butter in my life
And especially more goat’s cheese.
My actual favorite food in the world. Also it kills me that this cost literally two euros.
Which French eating habits would you like to adopt?
Over my three weeks in London, I finally settled upon my dream neighborhood- the East End. The East End is everything you’d want as a twenty-something; it’s packed with street art, cute cafés, lively bars and some of London’s trendiest restaurants.
The East End also has hundreds of years of history. For centuries it was synonymous with poverty and over-crowding, and Huguenot refugees, Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and Bangladeshi immigrants have all called it home.
So when Eating London invited me on a food tour of the East End I was totally on board- as both a foodie and history buff how could I pass up the chance?
And if I haven’t already convinced you that London’s a foodie town, prepare yourself, dear reader.
St. John Bread & Wine // Bacon Sandwich
Our first stop? St. John Bread and Wine. Featured on my favorite travel show ever, No Reservations, St. John is known for its nose-to-tail dining approach, which as an offal lover, I’m all for.
This bacon sandwich was near perfect: thick, cut-with-a-spoon-tender slices of bacon slathered with a secret ketchup sauce and held together by grilled white bread. And what’s neat is that both the bread and bacon are baked and cured in house.
And while normally I prefer American-style bacon over English, this was the bacon sandwich to rule them all.
The English Restaurant // Bread and Butter Pudding
What’s that you say? Who eats bread and butter pudding at 10 a.m.?
Well at the English Restaurant, you can! Between the creme brûlée crust and the luscious crème anglaise sauce, I was literally sighing with happiness over my bread and butter pudding. And plus, the English Restaurant had the most cozily English atmosphere- I could’ve nursed a pint there all afternoon.
Androuet // Cheese Platter
To my delight our third stop was Androuet, a little French cheese shop! We tasted two of my favorite English cheeses, cheddar and stilton. And from the first mouthful of perfectly ripe cheese I was in fromage-ophile heaven.
The young French owner explained that Androuet was started in Paris in 1909. I also learned that the owner and I are cheese twins; both of our favorite cheeses is Sainte-Maure de Touraine, an unpasteurized, full-fat aged goat’s cheese with a piece of straw through the middle.
Poppies // Fish and Chips
British readers, please skip this paragraph. But to my palate fish and chips is overkill- why pair fried with fried?
But the fish at Poppies was light as fried cod can be, and was especially delicious when doused in vinegar. I also loved the throwback American diner interior and kind of wanted to play Elvis on the jukebox.
Pride of Spitalfields // Ale
Next it was time for drinks, so we headed to Pride of Spitalfields for an ale tasting.
While I love beer, my inner hipster hates that I can’t get myself to love ale- it’s just too lukewarm and still! And although I sadly hadn’t been converted into an ale-drinker by the end of the visit, I’d definitely return to Pride of Spitalfields for its cozy, red-plush interior and dozens of beers on tap.
Aladin // Indian Curry
Would a tour of the East End be complete without stopping by Brick Lane? Probably not.
Brick Lane, also known as Curry Mile, is home to a large Bangladeshi community that immigrated to London in the 1970’s and 80’s.
The chef served up three curries for our visit, and all were scrumptious- I especially loved the lamb curry. But by this point I was so stuffed even the tastiest curry could hardly entice me.
(But don’t worry, I made room. You think I’d let a lamb curry go to waste?)
Street art by Stik on Brick Lane
Beigel Bake // Salt Beef Sandwich
There was quite a line outside Beigel Bake, and from my first bite of this salt beef sandwich I could see why. The fatty, melt-in-your mouth meat paired with the yeasty bagel and dab of sharp yellow mustard made for a perfect fatty-acidic taste combination.
Pizza East // Salted Caramel Tart and Tea
And the grand finale? Dessert at Pizza East! I fell in love with Pizza East for two reasons- first, the uber-chic, warehouse interior which oddly enough we weren’t allowed to photograph. And secondly, this salted caramel tart was possibly the best thing I had all day- decadent, chocolaty and topped with coarse sea salt.
My only regret- I wish I would’ve had room for pizza as the pies coming from the kitchen looked to die for!
Final remarks on the tour
As you may have guessed, I absolutely loved the Eating London food tour. I loved that the tour guide, Nicole, provided so many interesting facts about the East End’s history and culture- I was jotting down facts on my iPhone during the tour. And as I’ve mentioned, the food was bar-none.
And my favorite eat of the day? It’s a two-way tie between the bread and butter pudding and the salted caramel tart.
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After lunch I burned off a fraction of the calories I had just consumed by combing the East End for street art. Sigh… I love London.
Have you ever eaten in the East End?
A big thanks to Eating London for providing a food tour in exchange for a review. They in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are (as always) my own. If you’d like to join the Eating London food tour, here are a few tips: don’t eat breakfast, bring a camera, show up on time and DEFINITELY wear loose-fitting pants and comfortable shoes.
Okay, world. Here’s my personal declaration: London is now a foodie town. In my humble opinion, you can find more creative and diverse food in London than you can in Paris or Chicago.
Yep. I wrote it.
Don’t believe me? Read on to learn all about London’s best food markets I discovered during my three weeks in the Smoke.
I ventured to all of these markets under the shrewd guidance of my friend and fellow travel blogger Amanda. Amanda knows all about where to find the best eats in London; she’s even writing her dissertation on London’s up-and-coming craft beer scene!
What’s up: Netil Market is a tiny market located nearby larger and more frenetic Broadway Market. Its aesthetics are delightfully hipster-friendly with clapboard stalls, green pinstripe awnings and picnic benches. And despite its small size, Netil Market has lots of great eats.
What I loved: Um, this bao from Bao London. The only dish on the menu, this classic gua bao is filled with slow-braised pork belly, pickles and cilantro, and dusted with peanut powder.
It took everything in my power not to order a second one.
Also, the market offers lots of childhood classics like cupcakes and grilled cheese (which kind of goes with the hipster theme, no?). And I always thought grilled cheese was an American thing!
Where to find it: Every Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. at 23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL. Website: netilmarket.tumblr.com
What’s up: Craving London’s best ethnic food? Get ready to queue up at Broadway Market, the sprawling market located only a stone’s throw from London Fields.
The market offers up quintessentially British eats like Scotch egg and stilton cheese, as well as a kaleidoscope of ethnic cuisines, from Italian to Indian.
What I loved: At Hanoi Kitchen I had some of the best Vietnamese I’ve had outside of Saigon; I was in heaven over my barbecued pork and my beloved Vietnamese coffee. I even went back for a second coffee… whoops.
Amanda seemed to enjoy her first taste of Ghanian food quite a bit too!
We finished off the meal with a bit of caramel New York cheesecake in London Fields. While it didn’t quite compare to the cheesecake I’ve had stateside, it was still a nice taste of home.
Where to find it: Every Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:oo p.m. at Broadway Market, E8 4PH
What’s up: Brixton Village is a covered arcade market boasting the kind of fresh-off-the-boat fare that foodies dream of, from jerk chicken to traditional Japanese. It’s located in Brixton, a rougher immigrant neighborhood that’s a bit out of the way; but this food is worth the hike, I promise.
What I loved: We beelined to Okan, a tiny Japanese eatery for my first taste of okonomiyaki. Um, yeah, how have I never had this AMAZING dish before?
Okonomiyaki is a savory pork and scallion pancake topped with fish flakes and spicy mayonnaise. Drool. And because it’s always beer o’clock in Ashley and Amanda world, we cracked open some icy Japanese brews to accompany.
As we wandered around the market after lunch I cursed my stomach for not having more room; everything looked so good! I did find space for some frozen Greek yogurt that I tried in Greece a few years ago. It was as delicious as I remembered!
Brixton Market also seemed like a great place to buy inexpensive groceries; I saw tons of fishmongers and vegetable stalls in the area.
Where to find it: Brixton Village is open 8 a.m. – 11.30 p.m. every day except Monday, when it shuts at 6 p.m. The directions are complicated so check the website below.
What’s up: Borough Market is a food market located in Central London, right on the Thames. Although a bit pricey, it’s the perfect spot to stop while sightseeing. The baked good selection is particularly tempting!
And as I so eloquently wrote last year, spit roast pork sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and sangria all in one sitting? Yes please.
What I loved: While in town I stopped by Borought Market on at least four occasions. But the best thing I discovered this year was La tua pasta, a pasta stall that sells some of the tastiest black truffle tortellini in existence. My mouth is literally watering just writing about it.
Where to find it: Borough Market is open for lunch Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and offers a full market Wednesday and Thursday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.), Friday (10 a.m. – 6 p.m) and Saturday (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.). It’s located at 8 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TL, right outside the London Bridge tube station.
Here is a map I made to help you find all the markets!
View London Food Markets in a larger map
What’s your favorite London food market? And if you’ve never been, which one entices you most?
While my stint in Singapore was (sadly) short-lived, I still managed to cover a lot of gastronomic ground in four days. Which had no small part to do with my extensive preliminary research- besides grilling Edna, I also devoured as many Singapore food guides as possible.
Once I hit the ground I quickly learned that Singaporeans know how to eat; Singapore’s a nation positively obsessed with food. Which is no surprise- Singapore is a culinary wonderland, a delicious blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine. (more…)
In stride with my goal to take a cooking class in every Asian country I visit, I knew I would have to find a cooking class in Bangkok. And after spotting their rave reviews on Trip Advisor as well as an enthusiastic review from a close friend, I settled on Silom Thai Cooking School for my introduction to cooking Thai food.
Wet Market Tour
The morning begun by meeting our adorable instructor, Mai, outside the local wet market. I loved how she took the time to explain the difference between ingredients- by 10 am I had already learned about everything from identifying mushrooms to levels of curry spiciness by color.
Mai showing us finger ginger and the difference between a regular and kaffir lime.
Yellow curry paste, red curry paste, green curry paste. Mai taught us that red is the spiciest but personally green is my favorite!
Learning How to Cook Thai Food
Next we walked to the cooking school which I have to commend for its cute design as well as being clean, well-organized and spacious.
We began the class by washing all of the produce we had just purchased. Among the familiar (tomatoes, plantains, limes) were some new ingredients like yellowgrass and Thai eggplant.
The first lesson of the day was how to make coconut milk which was surprisingly laborious. You take shredded coconut, soak it in water and then squeeze it into a sieve. After you repeat the process a few times you have coconut milk!
Our adorable instructor, Mai.
Making coconut milk from shredded coconut.
I loved having a local teacher because she taught us so many little cultural quirks about Thailand. “We put sugar in everything,” admitted Mai with a smile. Which may explain my slight aversion to Thai food, ahem…
As we squeezed the water out of the shredded coconut, she told us. “Good food take time, no?”
And when asked to explain how Thai people eat such rich food and stay slim, she replied, “Thai people no fat because chili and tamarind paste make you digest quickly.”
Other fun fact of the day- apparently kaffir lime keeps your hair from greying and can be used as a toilet deodorizer. Who knew?
Learning how to grind chili paste which apparently is how you tell if you will be a good wife or not in Thailand!
Something I noticed about Thai food was that the preparation for each dish is long, but the actual cooking time is quite short. Each of the dishes we made was on the flame for no more than one of two minutes. As I learned in Hong Kong, using a wok speeds things up considerably!
Here were the five courses we made.
First course: Chicken in coconut milk (tom kah gai)
Chicken with cashew nut (gai pad med mamuang). Personal thoughts? Meh.
Fried fish cake (thod mun pla) with homemade sweet chili sauce. My favorite dish of the day!
Red curry with chicken (kaeng ped gai). By the time we had this I was so full I could barely touch it!
The dessert. Which I can’t remember the name of but it had banana and was delicious.
Overall I loved Silom. Aside from the wonderful instructor, I loved how the class included so many personal touches like giving us a recipe book at the end of all the recipes we had made. One word of advice- do not eat breakfast the day of the cooking class as you’ll be absolutely stuffed by the end!
Even though I’m far from a Thai food convert, I still enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how to make Thai food at home.
Have you ever taken a Thai cooking class?
Many thanks to Silom for the complimentary cooking class. I have truly never had such a warm and helpful instructor so thanks especially to Mai for her patience with us!
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There are few things I love in France more than the open-air markets. There’s just something about the beautiful produce, friendly vendors and shameless people-watching that I adore.
I have been to the markets many times but never with a camera in tow. To my surprise and delight the vendors were more than happy to be photographed, and even made jokes like, “What, am I not pretty enough for your pictures?”
In the photos below you will see lots of my all-time favorite food items: blocks of salted butter, buckets of crème fraîche, large pots of rilletes and pâté and sausages like boudin noir and andouillette coiled up like garden hoses.
The produce at markets in France is different from markets in the U.S. : Vegetables come in covered in dirt, the cheeses are often made with raw milk and the wild game birds are displayed with their heads on, which I found out is so that you “know which animal you are buying.” There is also lots of offal, some of which is great, like the tripe-based andouillete sausage, and some of which is truly awful, like kidneys.
I hope you enjoy the photos, and Bon appétit!
Have you ever visited a fall farmers market in France?