Tag Archives: food & travel

Prague – The Food

I’m still going through vacation photos; sorting them out and reliving our trip. As I am, I realized it only seems fair to post a few photos of some of the food we tried in Prague. I mean, Istanbul got a food post. And The Netherlands got a good bit of attention with Claudia’s herring and my beloved oliebollen. So, in the interest of all things fair and right and foodie, here are a few of the food snaps I managed to take before stuffing my face. Note to self: I really need to work on that whole ‘pause, show some restraint, photograph, then eat’ system.

The first thing you need to know about food in Prague is that it tastes better when you eat it in a quaint neighborhood beer garden like this one.

You can't beat the food or fun offered at a neighborhood beer garden

And it’s even better if your neighborhood beer garden is rowdy and festive and brightly painted, and has great beer and live music.

Who could possibly resist this place? Or polka music?

Not much of a beer drinker? How about a cup of piping hot honey wine, then?

Honey Wine vendor at Old Town Square

I’ll warn you – it tastes a little like a hot, oaky chardonnay but with a healthy dose of paint stripper and Nyquil. And not the good cherry Nyquil, either. Gird your loins, kids. This stuff packs a punch. It was warming and sweet at the first sip. It was punching me in the gut and trying to steal my wallet by the last. Frankly, they could have sold a lot more of it if they’d just served it up in one of these beauties. That little bit of marketing genius is free, honey wine man.

I'm guessing everything tastes better in hand cut Czech glass. Pinkies up!

You know what else is really attractive (to me, anyway)? Big honkin’ hams smoking on an open fire pit. I can’t look at this stuff without wondering where the big pan of biscuits is hiding. Yes, I’m southern. Why do you ask, darlin’?

This is Old Prague Ham and That is the Old Prague Ham Master

I could go into the history of Old Prague Ham, but frankly I don’t care how it got here. I just want it really bad and I can’t stay focused on anything other than its smoky goodness long enough to put any more effort into it. Here’s what you need to know – it’s gorgeous and it smells like smoky meat heaven. Period.

Don't you wish you had smell-o-vision right now?

But wait! There’s more! The OPH man also sells sausages with rye bread and spicy mustard. AND kraut with little Czech dumplings and chunks of smoked ham in it. And Nestea, evidently.

Oh yeah, baby. We're about to get our Eastern European on!

The sausage was tasty and the bread was lovely and that kraut was a work of art, but let’s talk about the ham for a minute. Stay with me.

I would eat this on a boat. I would eat this on a float. I would eat this in a car...

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Dang! That’s a lot of smoky ham!” And you’d be right. Which brings me to my one and only tourist rip-off cautionary tale from our trip. The sign above the Old Prague Ham quotes a price. A very reasonable price. What you won’t notice (because I swear it didn’t say it anywhere) is that the quoted price is for a certain size portion of ham and that OPH is sold by weight. So unless you step up and say, “I’ll take the 80 Czech crown portion” (which translates to roughly $4.00 US), they will give you a giant plate of ham and tell you it’s 200 crowns (here, I’ll do the math – that’s $10.00 US). Now, ten dollars isn’t going to break anyone’s piggy bank, but what it will do is feed everyone standing within 10 feet of you. And that’s 10 feet of space in Old Town Square where all the tourists mingle in close proximity. I ate ham. The Complete Package tried the ham. The four Asian tourists sharing our tiny cocktail table were invited to try ham, but giggled at the absurdity of the size of my ham plate and politely declined. So instead, it fed two young homeless men who were scrounging through a garbage bin rescuing bread that others had tossed aside, and it also fed their little dog. Little dog got that crusty piece of ham skin, and he totally rocked it. Which leads me to my last two bits of advice about Old Prague Ham.

1. Too much Old Prague Ham may lead to massive stomach cramping and over-consumption of anti-diahrreal medications. It may also cause you to curse the day you ever laid eyes on 200 crowns worth of OPH, and say things to yourself like, “I’m sorry, Istanbul. I packed that Immodium assuming that I’d be sharing it with you. But I was wrong. So wrong. Please forgive me.”

2. If the wish I threw into that wishing well comes true and I do, indeed, return to Prague some day, I’m having what TCP had.

Because that's the way *uh huh uh huh* we like it

And now for something sweet. While at Prague Castle, a smell danced past my nostrils that was so intoxicating, I found myself drifting toward it much like those old cartoons where the besotted floats above the ground being pulled in a trance-like state towards something irresistible.

One whiff, and you'll want to hand over your wallet & credit cards

In this case, it was trdlo. I know. It’s an odd name. But what it lacks in vowels, it more than makes up for in aroma and flavor. Imagine the smell of warm cinnamon sugared toast. Picture the texture of soft warm white bread hot out of the oven. Now imagine the combination of those two things – a warm, soft cylinder of piping hot bread, enrobed in a crunchy cinnamon sugar hug.

Trdlo stands draw crowds of visitors, all following their noses

Here’s how it works. Bread dough is rolled into a thin rope and wrapped around a metal cylinder. A board is sprinkled with sugar crystals and cinnamon, and the cylinder is rolled through it, as though rolling out a pie crust or pizza dough. Rolling helps to flatten the dough onto the cylinder and helps the sugar/cinnamon mixture stick to the dough. The cylinders are then placed one at a time onto a special rack over a hot fire.

This stuff is heavenly, which makes those holy rollers

As each trdlo is taken off on one end, another new one is added at the other end. By the time each cylinder makes it across the fire, it is perfectly golden and ready to eat. Each roll is broken in half, forming two beautiful golden cuffs of deliciousness. If they weren’t so darned irresistible, I’d wear them like bangles on both wrists. So not kidding.

Another sweet treat was our stroll through the small but interesting History of Chocolate Museum. It’s tiny and kind of kitschy, but also fun. Your reward for paying the entrance fee is the live chocolate making demonstration, where a candy shop employee shows you the steps to making hazelnut creme filled chocolate stars.

The live chocolate making demonstration in progress

Oh, the magnificent aroma of that chocolate room. It’s so strong and so heavenly, it seems to permeate every cell of your body for at least 20 minutes. If I could bottle it as perfume, I could buy a summer castle in Prague. It was glorious. If you’re into tasting over smelling, the pay-off comes at the end of the demonstration when you get to sample the goods.

Twinkle twinkle little star, cuter than a Hershey Bar

And while I’ve always made it a practice not to publish photos of myself or TCP, he did manage to snap a shot of me coming out of the tasting room. It’s not flattering by any means, but what are you gonna do? Sometimes the truth hurts.

Oh, snap! I was sure NanaBread was a brunette!

Prague is primarily known for it’s pork dishes and dumplings, but there were a few culinary surprises. Take this appetizer, for example.

Fried Sardines & a cold Pilsner - TCP was one happy cat!

I don’t heart stinky fish, but The Complete Package does and he was tickled to pieces with this plate of sardines, fried up crispy and dipped in mayonnaise. And for the record, that’s not lumpy American mayo from a jar. That’s the good stuff. The homemade version. And if you ever eat it (especially on fries while in Europe), you will never look back. I think TCP could have sat in this little Italian cafe and eaten sardines all day long. The beer didn’t hurt, either.

And then there was this steaming platter of Spaghetti Carbonara. It was lovely, but it tasted even better than it looked.

Proof that everything is better with bacon

This was TCP’s lunch. I was hoping he’d filled up on stinky fish, but no such luck. Evidently he was just getting started. But I did get one bite, and it was tasty. Don’t feel bad for me, folks. Mama didn’t raise no fool. I did my research and knew October was at the peak of the wild mushroom harvest season. So guess what I ordered?

Read it and weep - Wild Mushroom Risotto

Oh, yeah. It was creamy. It was earthy. And it was fabulous. Which reinforces what I’ve said all along. When you travel, give yourself a gift you’ll always cherish. Try local foods. Immerse yourself in local customs. Try to live, as much as possible, as a local instead of a tourist and you will create memories that will last a lifetime. And, truth be told, that works just as well when traveling to other states as it does abroad.

If you missed the Prague post, you can click here for a shortcut.



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Istanbul – The Food

Turkish Baklava & Turkish Delight - delight is an understatement

The problem with blogging about vacation food is remembering to snap photos before you start eating. If you lose focus and get carried away with the fabulous dish in front of you, you’re faced with nothing but memories. That said, I had every intention of documenting all of the regional cuisine we sampled while in Istanbul. I was not entirely successful. I was able to snap a few though, and here they are – for your enjoyment. While it’s obviously not the same as being there, until they develop scratch-n-sniff computing it’s the best I can offer. Suffice it to say, the food was every bit as good (in most cases better) than it looks.

Buffet Lunch in Sultanahmet - varied, traditional & incredibly flavorful

This buffet lunch was one of our first meals in Istanbul. It was in a tiny family owned restaurant in the ancient Sultanahmet section of town, almost next door to our hotel. The manager greeted us at the door and took the time to explain what each dish on the buffet was and how it was made. We then picked the dishes that sounded interesting and waited for them to prepare our plate. Among the dishes we sampled – stuffed bell peppers, eggplant tangine, spicy green beans, a baked squash and tomato casserole, a seasoned rice, and lamb from the rotating kebab spit. Verdict: a perfect introduction of the week to come. It was varied, flavorful, traditionally Turkish, and as warm as the people who served it.

Lunch on the Run - a street vendor doner kebab & a cold ayran

There are a myriad of options for meals on the run. Our favorite was the doner kebab. Each vendor serves a different version, and each version is delicious. This was one of the first of our many doner kebabs. If you love doner kebab like we do, keep reading. Our favorite is listed below.

The Perfect Snack - dried fruits & nuts from the Spice Market

Know what’s better than gorgeous dried fruits & nuts in the exotic atmosphere of the ancient Egyptian Spice Market? Dried fruit stuffed with roasted nuts. We sampled the succulent apricots stuffed with almonds & the dates stuffed with pistachios. It’s a perfect “carry around while you shop the Spice Market” snack.

Simit - warm & smothered in toasted sesame seeds

Dear Simit, you look like a donut or a skinny bagel, but you are nothing like those imposters. You are warm and toasty; brushed with sesame oil and smothered in gloriously roasted sesame seeds. If you were smaller, I would wear you on my finger like a ring. A wedding ring.

Giant irresistible mounds of Turkish Delight in the Spice Market

There’s no escaping it. Turkish Delight is everywhere in Istanbul. There are almost as many varieties as there are shops selling it. Some are rolled into small square-shaped logs and dusted in superfine sugar. Some are rolled like a jellyroll and have the flavor and texture of a chewy marshmallow. But the best are made from honey & roasted pistachios and are more expensive than other varieties. Bottom line: they’re all good; some are better than most; you get what you pay for, so go for the good stuff. Also, try the pomegranate. It will rock your world.

A cold Efes Pilsner hits the spot on a warm day

The Complete Package will attest to the fact that I am not a beer drinker. What I miss out on, TCP makes up for. He enjoys a good beer, and loves to sample the local brews. However when we travel, I make it a point to try new things. Local things. Even exotic things I might never try at home. So I tried the local Efes Pilsner. And it was good. It’s even better on a warm day.

Picnic Supplies - a meat & cheese vendor in the Spice Market

I was blown away by the giant wheels of cheese and ceilings dripping with cured meats at the Spice Market. I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did. We saw shop after shop of dried fruits, Turkish Delight, and spices. But to come around a corner and see giant blocks of gorgeous cheese and big, beautiful cured sausages and salamis – well, it was a joy and an unexpected pleasure. My tip for travel food: ALWAYS try the local specialties. Even if it means crawling out of your box and your comfort zone. Life is an adventure, so live it!

Lunch on the Bosphorus - Olives in Lemon & Octopus Salad

Our lunch break on the Bosphorus was terrific. Sitting in a little cafe right on the water, eating seafood just pulled from the water by local fishermen – well, it was beyond memorable. We picked a handful of appetizers instead of a lunch plate, and we were not disappointed. Among our choices, olives brined with lemons and whole peppercorns and a lovely octopus salad. I can still taste it just looking at that photo. Followed with a hot cup of Turkish tea, it was a perfect meal.

Our favorite restaurant - The BarBecue House

The BarBecue House restaurant was conveniently located a few doors down from our hotel. We passed by it each time we walked to the trams on Divan Yolu Cadesi (the main street that runs past the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque). Each time we passed, the engaging waiters would try to tempt us in for a meal, regardless of the time of day. With a lovely dining room upstairs, a lively dining room downstairs, and a charcoal grill right by the front door that was perpetually tempting us with the smell of grilled meats and fresh bread – well, let’s just say they didn’t have to sell it too hard. In all, we ate dinner here three times in six days, and we thoroughly enjoyed it each time. If you’re in Istanbul and looking for a meal near the Hagia Sophia, stop in and visit The BarBecue House. And tell Ramazan his friends from Houston say “Merhaba/Hello!”

Favorite Food - this doner kebab outside the Rustem Pasha Mosque

Every vacation produces a favorite dining experience. Usually, The Complete Package and I have differing opinions on what that favorite meal was. In this case, we agreed. Hands down. Our favorite meal was this fantastic doner kebab from a small stand outside the entrance to the ancient Rustem Pasha Mosque near the Spice Market. It had everything the perfect doner kebab should have – warm, lovely bread, lamb sliced right off the rotating spit, a creamy yogurt sauce, fresh tomato slices, some thinly sliced onion, and in this case – golden french fries. But the frosting on the cupcake, the cherry on top of the sundae, was the addition of a few blazing hot chili peppers set out on the dining tables. This was one of those sandwiches that had you rolling your eyes back in your head and moaning with delight. As we washed it down with two cold ayrans (a salty yogurt drink), we both leaned back in our chairs and simultaneously said, “Now THAT was one fabulous sandwich.” It was all we could do to walk away and keep sightseeing. If we’d hesitated even 5 minutes, we would have ordered another one and done it all over again.

And that, my friends, is the best reason to immerse yourself in the place you are visiting. You never know when something will surprise you. Do yourself a favor. Try the real cuisine, not the fast food joints that are sprinkled about more and more cities around the world these days. You can have those things at home. Take a chance and enjoy the best your destination has to offer… while you can.


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