Eat Street, Street Food, Poble Sec

L1103226Yesterday I went to the inaugural ‘street food festival’ organised by BCN Mes and held at CREC in Poble Sec. The reason I am using inverted comas is that the majority of the food stands have a bricks and mortar location in Barcelona.  Which is unlike street food at say Broadway Market (London) or Street Food Thursday (Berlin). All this is relevant because the line of people waiting to get into Eat Street is 3 people wide and two blocks deep (Barcelona blocks are big). It’s epic.L1103221Which is what I am thinking when I approach the girl with the worst job in the world (explaining to the sweaty hungry people that “No, she can’t let them in because there is a crowd control issue.”) I’ve got two hours before the twins are up from their afternoon nap, tentatively I explain that I write a blog and could I please get in to take some pictures? “Press was at 13:30.” she turns away. I bite my lip and hover a moment until an actual photographer turns up, towering above the both of us, pointing his massive lens menacingly at her and waving his press card – “your choice, let me in or you don’t get covered.” He’s obnoxious, he wears her down, I duck in behind him.
Eat StreetAnd so it is, sometimes another person’s hard time is another’s lucky break. Good thing too. I am amazed at the turn out. At how ready everyone seems to be for something just like this. And why wouldn’t they be, everyone else has been doing the food truck thing for ages?  (I get the impression that setting up a food truck or a temporary stand at one of the many markets may be difficult?  And perhaps the food culture in Barcelona is too ingrained compared to that of Berlin which in the last few years has exploded in the most impressive way?) Read more of this post

Somewhere, Cafe, Sant Cugat del Vallès

Somewhere CafeMy Jordanian father once told me a story; we were visiting Vienna when I was a toddler and we were refused service at a restaurant because of me. Because I was a child. “But there is a dog in here!” he protested (Remember I said he is Jordanian, so letting in a dog and not a child is kind of carazy!). “Yes, dogs are allowed. Children are not.” Discussion closed.  Although children at mealtimes can still be a contentious issue in Northern Europe, in Southern Europe and Spain in particular it’s no big deal.  Where are your children supposed to be if not with you?  And no, you are not expected to wait until they are 18 before going out to eat.  Which means there isn’t really this niche of “children friendly” restaurants.  All people, of all sizes and ages are welcome in all restaurants.

SomewhereEvery now and then though, there is a place that makes special accommodations for little people.  Like Somewhere Cafe in San Cugat.  They’ve gone ahead and made a small corridor full of windows and stacked with colouring print outs and tubs of crayons.  From the moment I walked in with all my three, that’s where they remained.  Poking their faces through the windows when they needed to be fed before getting back to the business of colouring in. Read more of this post

American Baking at Espai Sucre, Born-Ribera,

Kitchen Aids at Espai SucreMichelangelo purportedly said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to release it.” That is how I feel about discovering a new city. I know that my city is somewhere in there but I have to set about discovering it, teasing out the locals that will stand out for me.

In Berlin, I could set out onto its wide streets to discover it.  Barcelona is infinitely more complex.  It’s congested with independent shops and restaurants, the constantly new vying for attention with the old (take Can Culleretes , opened as a pastry shop in 1786 and still listed in Frommers with 3 stars).  All this to say, I’ve been spending considerable time trawling the internet to pin down a starting point for my explorations.

That is how I found myself on Espai Sucre’s website.  I didn’t think I could manage an evening sampling (no babysitter yet) their dessert only menu but – Hello? What’s this? An American Baking Course? Was my Spanish good enough? – My thought barely had a chance to form before it was abruptly (is there any other way?) interrupted by twin 1.  I impulsively clicked “buy”.

Betina's Fondant CakesI’d signed myself up for a 10 hour course in American Baking (which I know), in Spanish (which I insist I understand).

On the day, I’m 15 minutes late (of course, I think this may be a genetic problem).  I join the rest of the punctual group who are already immersed in the business of taking notes and asking questions.  Our teacher, Betina Montagne, speaks rapidly and with visible passion.  She is still excited by pastry after more than 20 years in the business and if you don’t believe it, the dangling cupcake earrings she wears bear further proof.

Mirella at Espai SucreBefore I’ve had a chance to cease perspiring (summer’s still going strong here, even at 8:30 in the morning) we are invited to the kitchens.  Where an army of red Kitchen Aids man the counters. Betina asks us to turn our attention to the brownie recipe…and we are off!  We are asked to double up with the person closest to us.  My partner is Mirella, a girl from Barcelona who is studying to become a chef.  She is vibrant and bubbly.  If she is annoyed at being paired with the foreigner, she doesn’t show it, instead she gives me her apron when she notices I haven’t brought one and that in the war of cocoa powder and Suzy – the cocoa is winning.

Kitchen Aids at Espai Sucre Read more of this post

New! Bite Club, Street Food Party on the Spree

Bite ClubThe upcoming Bite Club Berlin has prompted me to do something I’ve yet to do on Foodie in Berlin – write about something I haven’t been to yet.  But I have a feeling… “The way you know about a good melon.”

It’s logical really, think what a success Street Food Thursdays at Markthalle Neun has been (4,954 likes on Facebook!).  Now add a body of water, music, balmy weather, ropes of naked light bulbs and the persnickety tweaking (in a good way) of Tommy Tannock and ‘fireball’ Miranda Zahedieh and you are bound to get something really really good.  That you wouldn’t want to miss!

I’m travelling and won’t be able to make the first one but you better believe that when I return to Berlin – this is where you will find me. Read more of this post

The Thai Market, Outdoor, Wilmersdorf

Nose to tail eating Thai styleBerlin is a city of extremes. On the one hand, you’ve got bureaucrats, trying to out best each other at making you squirm.

Even postal workers are in on it, you should have seen the maniacal happiness in the eyes of the postal worker while I ruffled around in my wallet to find my driver’s license.

“You’re not getting that parcel without your passport. No point looking in there – I need your passport – that’s the only way.”IMG_4128

I don’t take the bait (any more). I calmly (kind of) step out of line and take my time, without the heckling. Find it and line up again. Nor do I take (visible) offense when the same postal worker peers at the license – then me – repeatedly as if I am buying a gun, rather than picking up my Amazon book.IMG_4124

So in this context, I am dumbfounded – no other word will do – to find a place like the Thai Market. Where women (I didn’t see a single man cooking) sit cross-legged and cook. Where everything is either €5 or  €2.50.  Where dishes are washed in pails of water.  Fried chicken languishes in the sun.  Hands don’t get washed for the 5 hour duration that the women are cooking.IMG_4123

Of course if the horse meat scandal in Europe and the rat meat scare in China have taught us anything, it’s that we are  not as in control as we would like to believe, no matter all those inspectors going around swabbing door handles.  (Did I ever mention that fending off said health and safety inspectors and bribing her with brownies and granola was one of my jobs in my other life?). Read more of this post

Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, Arte Sucre (Macarons) & More, Markthalle Neun, Kreuzberg

Big Stuff Smoked BBQSylee suggested we meet at Markthalle Neun on Saturday.  “I’m obsessed with the place!” she enthused.

It’s evolved considerably since my last visit.  The USP’s of the stands are distinct from one another and reel the Markthalle Neun consumer mercilessly hook, line and sinker.The pulled pork sandwich At Big Stuff Smoked BBQ, there is a line of hungry punters wrapped around the corrugated shack, as tinny Charleston music blares from speakers located somewhere behind the chicken wire that makes up a big part of the shop.  The Italian girl at the cashier is wearing a flat cap, her sweater sleeves are pushed to the elbows exposing a full arms worth of shirt sleeves – she looks like she should be hitching a ride on the back of a Ford Model T truck circa 1920.  I inch ever closer to the guy with the black latex gloves pulling pork apart for the sandwiches.

Sadly for me, Big Stuff has had a good day and they have sold out of everything except the pulled pork sandwich, so I miss out on the matt aluminum tray loaded with mounds of sauerkraut and squirts of bbq sauce (€12 for the regular, €16 for the large).  I get the pulled pork sandwich (€5.50) and a side of smoked potato (€1).  It’s good.  Not shredded to the point of resembling candy floss the way I experienced at Pitt Cue in London but delicious in a less complicated way.  My mother has her sandwich with a glass of ale from Heiden PetersA beer from HeidenpetersI appreciate that the brains behind Markethalle Neun have been considerate enough to provide ample seating, with feisty coloured plastic chairs so I don’t have to scan the hall long before finding somewhere to sit.Mini macarons from Arte SucreLayla choses to get her sugar fix from Arte Sucre in the form of mini macarons (heaven preserve us from trending sweets: whoopie pies, cake pops, marshmallows – I mean you!). As I try to identify and retrieve the perennial coffee flavoured one, the French woman selling them begins to rattle off flavours: lemon, cassis, chocolate, mandarin mint…

Mandarin with mint? I think, intrigued as I immediately commandeer that flavour and take half a bite.  The other half I hand to Sylee.  “These are good right?”.

Her eyes grow round. “Really good.” she agrees. I turn on my heel and return to Arte Sucre, this time to buy a pretty box of choux buns (6 for €7.80) to go with our excellent coffees from Kantine 9.

Choux pastry buns Read more of this post

The Walk, Dubai


The Walk, Dubai

I’m in Dubai.

The winter made me do it. Not that I mind winters, in fact I used to like them. The lazy dark days, over-eating, watch some TV, take in some shows. It was good. But it isn’t anymore. Not with 3 kids, two of which are babies that have to be dressed up like Michelin men to brave the weather then stripped down completely to cope with the central heating.  And not with the hypochondria I’ve developed on their behalf, every time I dropped Layla off at kindergarten I would look at the other kids, coughing, wheezing, like a geriatric ward on uppers.  Emirati mall

So Dubai. 24ºC and sunny.

You would think it was a no brainer decision but I had my doubts.  I always thought of Dubai as coarse.  A male centric blemish on the earth (you can see The Palm from space.)

But who can argue with 24ºC and sunny?IMG_1417

We land in Abu Dhabi because there is no direct flight to Dubai from Berlin (No surprise there then).  Passport control is staffed entirely with women, wrapped in black, their pinned up hair making their  shrouded heads look conical and alien.

Avocado tartine at Le Pain QuotidienThen there are the feet and the big man toes.  In Europe if you’ve seen a man’s toes, it goes without saying you’ve seen a lot more of him besides. Not in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Dishdashas swish this way and that, backless sandals scrape against the pavement (Arabs are famous for the shuffle walk) exposing toes the size of limes, tufts of hair sprouting generously beneath the nail beds.  Their magpie nature means that the sandals are adorned with all manner of shiny accessories. Read more of this post

Petersham Nurseries, Garden Centre & Restaurant, Petersham-Richmond

IMG_3313The first time I went to Petersham Nurseries was for a Slow Food lunch with the subject of edible flowers. Back then Skye Gyngell had just started to work her magic behind the stove, today she has handed over her wooden spoon (or whatever) to Greg Malouf claiming that receiving a Michelin star has driven her away.I’ve read a substantial amount of grumbling regarding the prices (for example in John Lanchester’s review for The Guardian) which for a la cart is about £50 a head and for the set lunch goes from £28.50 for two courses and £32.50 for three courses. In London and environs that can’t be considered extortionate, surely? Is it because you can also buy pots of lavender that this seems expensive to some? Or because of the bathroom, which reminds me of the composting outhouses from my days at girl scout camp but with running water.The service is faultless. Young british women, wearing flowery blouses and sensible flats. Thick, straight (in spite of the 70% humidity) hair pulled back in ponytails and a sheet of fringe brushing their eyebrows. Their cheeks blushed just like the many heavy-headed roses surrounding us. Our principal waiter is a british man, who looks like he’s come off the set of Chariots of Fire.My sister and I eat outside under a loosely thatched roof, which provides plenty of dappled sunshine. We are close enough to the trickling fountain that it gives us some relief from the sweltering humid heat (what is it with the weather? It can only do 18ºC and raining or 30ºC and humid?).

I am looking forward to seeing what Greg Malouf does with the produce of the garden. And with Middle Eastern food which is still largely unexplored in the west and at its point of origin, very rustic.

I order the 3 course set menu finding it at once good value and a good way to discover the new style of Petersham nurseries. This starts with a fattoush salad, whose usual form is a chopped salad with fried pieces of flat bread but in this incarnation is all manner of greens I don’t recognize and small beets, juicy white radishes, sweet cucumber, even sweeter tomatoes some cherry and some peeled wedges of a larger variety. Instead of deep-fried flat bread, there are crunchy slices of sourdough sprinkled with sumac. Three violet blossoms adorn the salad like a crown. It is beautiful, to behold and to eat.

Read more of this post

Jakobs Höfe, Asparagus & Pumpkin Farm, Beelitz

Two years is the length of time t it took me to concede that “White asparagus is not that bad.”  I would go as far as to say: “It is rather good.

“For the last couple of springs, I would encounter mountains and mountains of the stuff, swollen and pale – looking like a sick relative of my beloved green asparagus and turn my nose up at them.  I would scan the corners of the stand, be it at the supermarket or an outdoor market until I would spot a few bundles of the green stuff, usually imported from Greece or Spain.

What made me change my mind?  A plate of asparagus, boiled potatoes and schnitzel at the Ritz.  Ravenous after my Athens flight with EasyJet (why did Stelios call it ‘Easy’ I wonder, is it tongue in cheek? Is it so that when you are ranting like a mad person in your head, about the injustice of paying the same price you would pay a ‘civilized’ carrier, one that doesn’t make you queue ad infinitum, the word ‘easy’ can continually bait you?  Yes, I would fly another carrier, any other carrier, except wouldn’t you know it ‘easy’ jet is the only one that continues to fly to Athens from Berlin.)

A meal at the Ritz will make most things palatable, they even gussy up the lemon half with a bit of yellow gauze (to keep the pips from dropping out when you squeeze the lemon, since you ask).  €30 is what that plate of food cost.  ‘Beelitz’ asparagus is what it said on the menu.  Beelitz and its asparagus seems to be to Berliners what Yorkshire and its rhubarb seems to be to Londoners.  I have journeyed to Yorkshire and strained my ears with the rest of the rhubarb tourists listening for the rhubarb squeak.  It seemed reasonable to me that I should travel to Beelitz and see white asparagus in  the stalk.After spending some time poking around on www.beelitzerspargel.de, I settled on Jacobs Hof.  I bundled hubby and daughter off into the car and 45 minutes later we were staring at a 2 story inflatable asparagus spear with a big grin pasted on its face. We made our way to the restaurant and were asked if we had a reservation – ‘Eh…? To eat asparagus in the middle of nowhere?” I thought?  But the lady wasn’t off her rocker, it was buzzing in there.  True most people were over 70 but they were having a grand old-time.  They found us a table.  We ordered asparagus with potatoes and ham (€12.50) with hollandaise sauce.  The asparagus was dreamy, the potatoes were incredibly flavourful and the ham was, good sliced ham.  The hollandaise sauce was from a carton, I think it almost always is here, except for at the Ritz but even there it was more like a mayonnaise than an hollandaise.  To be honest, even that didn’t sully the asparagus.  It was good.  So good that I bought some and made them with homemade hollandaise a few days later.  Read more of this post

Hofcafé, Garden Cafe, Wannsee

Can it be?

One and a half days of brilliant sunshine seem to confirm it.

Although the trees are still brown and bare with no promissory green buds.But today as I sat in the courtyard of the Hofcafé in Wanssee, I could hear euphoric bird song and pretty flowers dazzled me every which way I looked. They were all greenhouse grown and potted but it didn’t matter to me.  My eyes fixed on their brilliant colour.  I grew optimistic and slid my sweater off, exposing my bare arms – ah well, perhaps a smidgen too early for that but a whisper of what is to come.My first week in Berlin, I remember chatting to a Brazilian father in Kollwitzplatz, I was delirious with the excitement that seems to afflict nearly all those moving to Berlin.  I gushed about how wonderful it was.

“Yes…” he paused, perhaps considering whether he should quash my enthusiasm.  “The winters though…  They are very hard.  Grey skies every day, for days, for months…”  His voice trailed off and so did his gaze, as if contemplating something unsettling.Pah!  Probably seems that way to a Brazilian used to seeing everything in Technicolor I thought then.  Now two years later, a Londoner entirely acclimatized to setting out with an umbrella even if there isn’t a cloud is the sky and a person who believes that SAD is just another made up Western affliction to keep company with lactose intolerance – I say

“Yeah, WOW! Those Berlin winters will knock all the ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens‘ right out of you!” Until all that’s left is, well the grey fluff you find when you move the sofa.

If what my iPhone tells me is to be believed, Spring may just be coming to town next week.  I hope it plans on sticking around until buxom Summer knocks it aside. Read more of this post

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