Archive

Food

A couple weeks ago I managed to get away from this English “summer” , and run off to the beaches of sunny Basque Country (which, as many posters will inform you, is NEITHER SPAIN NOR FRANCE!!!) to stay with my friend M and her lovely Auntie in San Sebastian/Donostia and Zarautz.

It was sunny and 30 degrees every day. And I’ve got the sunburn to prove it.

We spent most of the day lounging around on the beach and eating delicious food. The national dish in Basque country is Pintxos (pronounced peen-chohs or, if you are my other friend M, Pinchlaghghghg). They are loosely based on open-faced sandwiches, meaning that they have to involve bread or crackers, somewhere. Usually. We had some in the main square in San Sebastian:

That’s deep-fried, breaded shrimp (basically European tempura. Yum!), and smoked salmon and crab salad on a slice of baguette. We shared them with a beer for M, and a Sangria for me.

Pintxos are bar food, and every bar you go into in Basque country has counters covered in platters of different kinds of Pintxos. Traditionally you start in one place, get a couple Pintxos and a drink, and then move on to another bar, eat some more of them and get another drink, etc. Locals can help themselves to whatever sandwiches they want, and then tell the barman how many they ate, while Tourists get a plate to load up.

After the breaded shrimp place we went over to a more gourmet bar (basically the Basque equivalent of a Gastropub). I was too busy eating to take pictures, but they had truly amazing and creative ones, like a giant slab of brie on Melba toast, with half a slice of liver pate on top. Delicious. On a later night we went back to this place and had a baguette slice with a sphere of something soft and cream-cheese-like sprinkled with cinnamon. We never did figure out what it was, but it was delicious, if slightly too rich and creamy to handle.

We spent the second and third days lying on the beach in Zarautz, and made our own lunch: Spanish cheese, baguette (purchased at a bakery around the corner), olives, and chorizo. So good, and perfect for the hot weather.

The entire beach front in this town is lined with restaurants, which serve their food on an outdoor patio. These are aimed at tourists, so the food was not great, but super cheap. For 10 € we got a three course meal, a pint (or the local equivalent) of beer for M, and a giant (about 2.5 pints) bottle of Basque cider for me. Basque cider is closest to cloudy cider here, and is traditionally poured into the glass from a great height. Not my favourite, and needless to say I did /not/ finish the whole bottle.

The food also came with a stunning view, and a random performance by a Basque rock band.

Being here you could really see (and taste) the distinctiveness of Basque culture. Of course, calls for Basque independence were everywhere, especially on the last night when we stumbled into a Basque celebration (read: massive street party) in honour of the Virgin Mary, called Karmengo Jaiak.

Advertisements

When my parents were visiting we stumbled into a lovely restaurant in Notting Hill called Granger & Co.

It was a bright and gorgeous space, with huge windows, light wood, shining wine glasses and smiling, chatty staff.

I had a cappuccino:

and a semolina-crusted calamari salad, with baby spinach and fennel, and a lime and harissa mayo (£10.90):

They were cooked perfectly and were tender with just the right amount of crispiness in the semolina coating. The dip they served with it was sour and spicy – a bit too sour for my mood at the time, but it complemented the calamari really well and I can easily see someone else loving it.

My parents each had ricotta hotcakes (£10.80), topped with banana and caramel butter, served with maple syrup (as far as I recall). One of the best things I’ve eaten in a long while (I had to try some of theirs, obviously). The butter melted over them, caramel and all, and the ricotta added a great texture to balance out the bananas and butter. A delicious heart attack on a plate..er…bowl.

Great food and a great vibe. It was a bit on the pricier side (it is, after all, Notting Hill), but well worth a visit.

This place had been highly recommended to me, and I finally got a chance to check it out.

What can I say? This is probably the best Asian food I’ve had in Cambridge, and by that I mean that the dishes were traditional and tasted mostly like they were supposed to. How good they were was a bit of a hit and miss.

We started off with some steamed buns with pork, egg, or beef in them. The bun was overdone, the texture a bit too (stale) bready and the egg oversteamed but still delicious. The pork tasted the way it should, but the texture was completely off. I have no idea what they did to that poor piece of meat:

The dumplings (veggie & egg), on the other hand, were perfect. Perfect texture and absolutely delicious.

Here’s the inside:

Then we had some glutinous rice balls with red bean:

They were quite good, but the soup wasn’t quite sweet enough and I think it could have used a bit more red bean:

We were still hungry when we finished, so we ordered some noodles with egg and tomato.

This tasted quite different from all of the other iterations I’ve ever had, but I actually really liked it. The tomato tasted a bit like pasta sauce, which works for me since I don’t really like heated tomatoes. Not authentic (but then again, how authentic can egg and tomato be?!), but yummy.

The whole lunch came to £16.00, and in retrospect was probably more that three people had any business trying to finish (no regrets). All in all, I probably will come back here for my fix of Chinese goodness, but it’s no Hong Kong. Or Toronto. Or London.

Speaking of London, I had some dim sum there earlier in the year. It was ridiculously priced at £16.00 per PERSON (!!!!), but the food was absolutely fantastic, and a quick dip into a bakery afterwards for a sesame ball (I don’t remember how much this was, but certainly less than £1) was just as satisfying.

Vanilla tea from the Tea Man in the market (About £4/250g).

With milk and, because I don’t usually like the taste of honey in my tea, 1/2tsp of sugar. So good. All the vanilla goodness of Chai for those days when you don’t want spices.

This.

This made all of the other food experineces I have ever had in my life completely irrelevant.

This was at a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong, which received a Michelin star, but never raised their prices. The entire dinner (it’s that busy – forget getting in at normal dim sum times) cost us $7 Canadian. For two people.

This was a steamed bun filled with egg. This bun was soft and flaky, the egg was the perfect consistencey and just a litte sweet. Every bite literally melted in your mouth, while leaving you with a soft, subtle, sweet taste. So good.

And then, we had this:

That’s jelly. With some kind of flowers in it. I don’t remember much about it, except that it tasted like nothing else I’ve ever had. Like tea in jelly form. But better.

I can’t even.

On (Good) Friday, a few friends and I went to CB2 cafe to do some reading, as our usual study spot closed down for the holiday. The studying in cafes thing isn’t as big here as in Canada, so this is the first time I’d actually done my reading in a cafe.

CB2 turend out to be a great spot. Just East of the Grafton, it’s quite close to the city centre, and it has a great atmosphere. We went upstairs, which had huge windows and shelves upon shelves of books (including one with a picture of an Anglo-Saxon brooch on the back, which I didn’t get a closer look at since that would have involved creepily leaning over a random stranger):

There were tons of people doing work there the day we went, and surprisingly most of them were not ex-pats. It was quiet with just enough white noise to make working comfortable.

The coffee wasn’t great – not nearly as good as Fitzbillies’ – but good enough to fuel a few hours of reading and contentment. I had a capuccino:

I think this was about £2.00. J had a coffee and a chocolate croissant, delicious and hot out of the oven:

All in all, good food and a great place to study. It has a reputation as a cultural hub, and apparently they have concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. Can’t wait to check those out! Updates to follow.