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Thursday, August 14

letzterer- Auf Wiedersehen

As I write the final post for this blog, it’s bittersweet.  I am excited there is a new adventure waiting for us in a new city but I am also sad to close the German chapter of our lives.  We’ve traveled to places that we won’t ever forget, and most importantly, we’ve made memories and met great people.  

To finish off, I thought it’d be nice to do a pros and cons of the country we are leaving and the country that will be our new home. 

I am sad to leave a country in which safety is certain.  In the three years we’ve been in Germany, not once have I felt unsafe or concerned of our safety because of neighborhood or surroundings.  The advantage is the country’s strict gun laws that are enforced strictly.  The husband’s coworker was a hunter.  She explained obtaining a gun and shooting license requires a permit and it’s not easy; 2000 Euros in tests which include written with animal specific questions and a proficiency test.  The permit has to be renewed regularly.  In short, guns are banned and that contributes to a safe life in Germany.  Unlike the mess in US.  

Along the lines of safety, we I appreciate people following the rules.  One that’s comical is the pedestrian signal.  When the signal is red people locals wait until it turns green before proceeding.  Although it is funny, I appreciate their rule following culture.  It makes for fewer problems.  Same is the case for driving on the autobahn.  I did not drive on the autobahn but of course the husband did.  Drivers follow strict rules while driving because of the no-speed zones.  Some cars travel at lighting speed fast, unlike US, and following rules timely and correctly is very important because one mistake and it can be costly.  

When we moved, our eyes (and taste buds) were opened to real coffee.  Most coffee in Europe is superb.  I don’t know if they use better beans or are better brewers, whatever the case, we will miss drinking it in coffee shops and at home.  When we visited the US last summer for a short trip we were horrified by the drip coffee.  Why oh why?  Bier too! America has a booming microbrewery culture, I hear, but pros are pros and Germans are pros, for bier.    

Food.  Fresh, organic, local, farm grown aren’t buzz words in Germany.  That’s for a reason; it’s not a trend, people truly believe in eating good food, grown from a source close to home and cooking for the family.  As of recent, fast food chains like KFC, McDonald’s have entered the European food culture, sadly.  Buying food from a restaurant that heats premade blob is beyond comprehensible for some Germans.  There are grandma’s and mom’s cooking dinners for their family daily and sourcing good (sometimes organic ) products.  I am sad we’re leaving for a GMO ridden society where Monsanto and Big Agriculture lobbyists are our food authority.  Europe has stricter rules and tougher bans on GMOs for a reason!  I am not forgiving Germany for the mislabeled horsemeat as beef however they try to keep non-food ingredients out of the food system.  

Also, I will miss the short (TSA) security lines at airports.  Having traveled to many countries, checkpoints were always easy in Europe.  Easy is relative but the rules are simple.  Belts have to be removed, laptops and other electronic devices, keys and toiletries placed in a bin.  Sometimes boots have to be removed.  Once we walked through the scanner it was done.  In America, it’s a nightmare.  When we were in line to board a plane to US I overheard Americans exclaim security checks are much easier in Europe than in US!  And then I rolled my eyes in judgment because Americans love starting conversations with strangers in line or anywhere.  I understand friendliness but is it necessary to talk your child’s first trip to Europe 20 years ago?  No, I don’t think so.  I am not excited about conversations with strangers.  

To say I’ll miss sorting trash is silly but I admire a country that has a precise system for their trash.  In this world with a lot of waste and not a planned way to collect and sort, this is refreshing.  

This statement (from an American usually or my mom) is familiar.  “Europe is expensive because they charge for napkins and ketchup packets.”  It’s become a pet peeve and makes me question human competence.  Many countries and cultures are a throwaway society in which we take 10 napkins and 4 ketchup packets per person and when we don’t use them all, they end up in the trash, unnecessarily.  Putting a price on such items means that society or population understands these things are not (made) free and come at a cost to us and the planet.  (On the other hand, Germans don’t drink tap water so asking for (free) tap water at a restaurant will get you the eye roll.  That’s unnecessary; water should be free, anywhere, without charge or judgment.) 

The green space in Germany.  Germans value their parks, hills, mountains, open spaces and maintain them like so or pay a price to keep them clean.  

There are some things that I will not miss about Germany and am looking forward to in the US. Customer service, lack thereof, is on the top of the list.  We’ve encountered numerous instances where we’ve found ourselves saying “this would never happen in America.”  For more.  

Another instance, I wanted to buy a Bavarian cardigan handmade by someone.  There are plenty of wool shops in the city so obviously people like knitting.   I asked around and was suggested to try the wool shops.  By one near our apartment, I was told they don’t offer knitting services for private individuals.  I went to another shop and asked the same question.  The woman behind the counter was already busy in a conversation so I said I would wait.  She brushed off my wait comment and was disgruntled by the question.  She asserted she didn’t know anyone and couldn’t recommend a name.  It wasn’t the answer I was shocked by but the tone in her voice.  She was rude and furious that I’d even bother asking.  I know it wasn’t anything personal (or maybe it was?) but it was uncomfortable.  A simple I don’t have a name for you would’ve sufficed.  

When the husband’s family planned to visit us, we started paperwork.  Visitors from India (and other third world country) must have a sponsor letter and a completed form from a resident to visit.  

He scheduled an appointment at the Einwohneramt (resident's office).  At the front desk, the person at Window 1 asked for his information and the appointment details.  She told him to wait until his name is called.  The woman in one of the offices called his name and asked for the form.  He responded, what form, I don’t have one.  She yelled at him because he didn’t follow the rules in obtaining a form from Window 3 after checking in with Window 1.  He asked how would he have known that? She was speechless and concluded “I don’t have time for this right now. Here’s the form.”  She, thankfully, permitted him to complete the form in her office.  How nice of her.    

Customer service isn’t common so people are assertively direct.  This isn’t personal because it’s their character but it is hard not to be offended.  

When we visited US last summer, I experienced reversed culture shock.  My cousin and I went to a local restaurant and servers asked about our food, if we wanted more wine or water, if we wanted bread to be refilled?  My question to her was why is everyone so nice and her response “because we are in America.”

Truth be told, not all customer service instances have been bad.

Last year I had waited in line at the post office and on my turn the postal worker said I had to rewrite the address with a new label (due to International mail requirements) and asked me to step aside. Once done I walked over to the counter and proceeded to give her the revised envelope when a woman in line told me to get in the back of the line.  The postal worker said, in my defense, it was fine because I had already waited.

Another time on the phone when I called the company that fixes our bathroom problems (i.e. toilet backed up, water heater broken or shower not functioning). Before I started I warned the woman my German is so-so. I explained our shower’s drain was not draining properly. I repeated “slow” “water” “going”. We needed someone as soon as possible because we will have visitors and the shower will be used by all 6 of us. She asked if it was the shower head or the hot or cold taps. I said, neither. We both laughed. Finally she said the person coming to fix the problem would understand once they saw it. Even though it was the busy season she scheduled me for an appointment within few days. Most of our conversation was her chuckling and asking her colleague what it may be I might be trying to say. That phone call was accomplishing because the women were patient and tried to get me to explain what it was that needed to be fixed. They laughed, often, but the tone wasn’t condescending and instead encouraging in ‘we will get this figured out’. Abfluss is the correct term for the problem. Don’t bother with “Wasser geht nichts”.

We have become close to a couple and can’t imagine this experience without them. We met them (older German couple) through their son, Sebastian, in the US. Sebastian is was coworkers with friends of ours. We met Sebastian and his wife literally the night before we moved to Germany with the help of our mutual friends. One month after arriving in Germany Sebastian’s parents emailed us to introduce themselves and offer us help in any form. They welcomed us into their home the first time with a wonderful dinner and heartfelt reception. Since then we’ve met them countless times. They have “adopted” us as their own (and we them). Funny enough, we’ve become closer to them than Sebastian. They are the most helpful, kind people we know. They are full of love, for each other, and their close friends and family and we feel nothing short of that when we see them. After 3 years of meetings we both agree “once you become friends with Germans, you’re friends for life.” No matter where we end up, we will always be in contact and remain friends.

Then there’s the colleague that took us to her family’s farm home.  There isn’t a shortage of kindness, we just have to become close to the people to experience their loyalty.  

Let me say this loud and clear.  I will not miss dubbed movies and TV shows.  Many American shows are popular in Germany but sadly they are all dubbed.  And it has gotten on my last nerve to see good shows ruined by dubbing.  

The husband will not miss the slow moving processes at work.  He thinks Germans do not make business related decisions without long-winded research.  In a discussion or meetings, his coworkers never feel comfortable making spur of the moment decisions.  For projects, they contemplate many unlikely scenarios.  He is looking forward to a corporate culture that allows him to think and act quickly.   

Having moved to Germany 3 years ago it has become home but there were often times we didn't feel like we belong.  Other than the stares, there’s something in the air that I can’t pinpoint.  The obvious one- language.  Without a basic conversational knowledge of the language, it is impossible to survive in the country city.  Sure, we can ask everyone if they speak English and proceed from there.  While some people were nice and patient others were not.   There’s an uneasy feeling of ‘us versus them’.   And since we will never become fluent German speakers, unless we live for long term, it will not feel permanent.  For lifestyle and strong belief in family and personal life Germany is ideal but never feeling like we will be accepted as one of them makes it hard to say so.   Our decision to live in US is crucial for multiple reasons but mostly so I can pursue a full time career in the food business.  I am looking forward to living in a country where we don’t have to think hard about our sentence structure or verb conjugation because we know the language fluently, we think.  

Both US and Germany have its faults and no place is perfect but a house becomes a home when memories are made.  Even with trials and tribulations, Germany has been good to us and we’re thankful for the opportunity.  

Germans say auf wiedersehen, on seeing you again, because it’s hoping to cross paths again. And Auf wiedersehen Deutschland. We will miss the amazing European life and hope to be back for a visit or permanently. 

Tuesday, July 29

Celebrating Deutschland

I was recently asked about watching THE game. We were fortunate enough to be in the country for all the games. We initially had planned our departure to America sooner and after Germany won against Argentina, we were thankful for our decision. It was once in a lifetime experience to be in Germany celebrating the champions!

Saying Germans are fanatics for futball and support their respective teams is an understatement. Germans go completely bonkers for the sport and endorse with a passion.

We watched the game with some friends at their apartment. Post win the husband (of that couple) suggested going in the city to party with others.

This is unlike anything we have ever seen. We’ve seen excitement, toasting beers and champagne post-game in America but thousands of people on the street is unreal. Of course India celebrates immensely for weddings and wins in which streets are blocked for a barricade and fireworks, but this was intoxicating. We were overjoyed to witness the festivities. If we weren’t futball fans before the games, the contagious energy transformed us.

Aside from the partying, I’ve wondered why Germans honk on a random weekday? It’s not the obnoxious NYC taxi cab honking, it is deliberate. Living in the city (and close to the city building), we hear the honking. Eventually I learned it is honoring newly wedded couples. It isn’t as rowdy as the night of German win, but nothing will match that.

Wednesday, July 23

Food Porn

The foods we will miss dearly.

drei im weckla (mustard optional)
breze (toppings: TRY THEM ALL! love obatzda & radishes)

leberkäse mit brotchen (compacted meat combination)

Nürnbergers with potato salad

Not pictured, the variety of breads and their distinctive tastes. 

Another favorite, wine down anyFridays. Europe's charm of outdoor seating with a glass of wine (or bier) will be sorely missed.   

Tuesday, July 15

Breweries or Brauerei

Germany, especially Bavaria, is known for Biergarten culture so as one of the last posts I want to share information on the ones we’ve tried and enjoyed.

Bier has been around as long as the Germans and it gained further popularity from the monks brewing at the monasteries. Germany = Bier. There is no shortage of ales and lagers. this explains thoroughly the beginning of German bier making and its history.

I’ve mentioned how great bier is around here and its great appreciation; this is more about the biergartens.

The food is typical and varies by the region. Around this area it’s schnitzel, breze (pretzel), dark rye bread with obatzda, sausages, Käsespätzle (homemade egg noodles with cheese and fried onions), and sauerbraten (slow cooked beef). Obatzda is a cheese spread, great on pretzels, dark bread or by itself (if you’re obsessed like me). It is made with cream cheese, camembert

Breweries, we are familiar with, in the area are Lederer, Schanzenbräu, and Altstadthof.

The points of note are they all offer tasty bier and enjoyable outdoor atmosphere. They offer wooden tables and benches for seating. At the larger ones there are two seating sections: self service and servers. The self service is for customers to order food at the window and take it to their tables.

Lederer is the largest of the breweries in the area. Amongst others it has unfiltered weizen and pils; both fresher in taste than their bottled counterparts. The food is average but plenty for an evening at the garten. Schanzenbräu brews rot (red), helles (light) and schwarz (black) bier. Our personal favorite is rotbier because its sweet and slightly hoppy and overall a smooth finish. Out of the three in the city, Schanzenbräu has the best food. There is a specials board for the day and everything is delicious.

Altstadthof is within the castle walls and also makes rotbier along with others. Since we’re fans of the amber rotbier, we only get that here. Food is okay and could be better; it tastes like it’s premade from the morning or previous day. Best bet for food is Nürnberger sausages. There are lengthy tours through the keller (basement) on weekends, call ahead for English tour. The garten is smaller than most but there’s always room for one more on the bench.

Meister is further away, 50 kilometers from Nürnberg. (In autobahn terms, that’s 45 minutes.) If given the option to go to Meister regularly, we would. The food and bier are both perfect. The brewmaster serves during weekends. The food is all freshly made, tastes homemade and filling. During the weekends they are always busy but especially for fish (Carp) season. Making reservations for lunch or dinner are highly recommended. Also their Schäufele is outstanding therefore when making reservations tell them to save a plate or two of Schäufele (it is only available at lunch). Their garten is the smallest so plan to arrive early for a table outside. There isn’t a lot to see or do around there but the food and bier are worth the outing.

Biergartens are around many blocks and in parks so we say if it’s crowded on a nice, sunny day, it’s a good sign the locals are enjoying their bier in the garden.

Saturday, July 12

Spain for a Special Occasion

For a momentous birthday, big 30!, the husband and I booked a trip to Spain for a week. And best yet, the best friend also a traveler at heart and cook/foodie by work agreed to join with her then husband. I had anticipated this trip because visiting mainland Spain was a dream of mine. Ever since I took 7 years of Spanish in high school and college, I’d fantasized living in a Spanish countryside. Although we didn’t go and stay forever, it was one of the best trips we’ve taken in the last 3 years. It is hard to declare any particular trip as the best or most favorite, because like all your children (how do I know this? I don’t because we don’t have kids) each are special in their own right but there’s one that stands out. Our week in Spain was that. Now let me tell you why and how.

The best friend came few days early to spend time in Germany and then the three of us met her husband in Barcelona to start our week long adventure. With her help we planned a precise itinerary for the trip: Barcelona- Catalan- Rioja- Tarragona.

Our flight arrived in the evening so we spent the night in Barcelona. We had a small window of daylight therefore went to Bodega Manolo for dinner and lots of wine. It’s a family restaurant and no one speaks English. The following dishes were notable. Grilled cheese with grilled veggies; creamy and fresh. Potatoes with aioli wasn’t anything we had tried before, potatoes were tossed with aioli and topped with herb oil. Thick toast or water cracker topped with brie and Iberico ham, broiled and cooked perfectly, also creamy and delicious. The salad with fish was overpriced and underwhelming. Shrimp with sweet and acidic mayo was fresh but bland. The mayo might have worked better for dipping bread than with shrimp. They offer free bread & olives to all guests. We ordered a house red wine that paired with the meal. The family serves memorable food and provides warm service.

After checking out the next morning we were greeted by a driver in front of our bed & breakfast. The older gentleman was very sweet and led us to the large van he’d brought. He didn’t say anything about the planned day. Clearly there was a surprise that the husband and the best friend had planned and my anticipation peaked. Jorge said he was from the area and is familiar with all the back roads. We drove couple hours to Abadal Vineyard in Bages. Amazed by the beauty in nature and surroundings I couldn’t believe we were starting this trip with a wine tour and tasting. The tour was 90 minutes and includes and thorough explanation of the local grapes and wine making process; the winery is a family operation since 1200s. We tasted various combination of tempranillo, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Picapoll. The last is a local varietal, tastes aromatic and fresh, ideal white for summer nights, with or without food. Another favorite was Merlot Reserve.

We then drove to Montserrat 20 minutes from the winery for the biggest surprise. We arrived at L'Angle in Sant Fruitos de Bages. We were I was informed this would be a multi-course tasting menu. We could choose wine pairings or by the bottle; we opted for couple bottles. The meal was not 3, 9 or 10 courses, it was a 12 courses! Some of the courses included Mojito, a minty/white foam with liquor, Parmesan Gnocchi with broth was liquid parmesan filled gnocchi with broth, Oysters with sour apple pepper and butter which oyster wrapped in apple slices, cubed apple with a hint of mint and sugar all topped with frozen apple. Foie Gras with pear in wine sauce and cocoa and Sichuan pepper: foie gras ice cream with pear in wine gelee and Sichuan pepper chips/crumbs. False egg white with Iberico ham: mashed potato used to make the egg white cradling a fresh yolk and topped with a cheese cracker and ham; this dish to me tasted like breakfast. One of our petits fours was lipstick of berry ice.

Precision of each course was flawless and words cannot justify the intensity of flavors and the immense knowledge of the chefs creating thought provoking food. I had never tried Molecular gastronomy before this meal and I am a fan. The service is attentive and courteous. The restaurant is spacious with modern design. In my day to day cooking, I wouldn’t cook like this and I wouldn’t serve this food in a (future) food business (though never say never), but I would go back to l’Angle in a heartbeat for the gastronomical treat. After lunch we learned l’Angle is a Michelin star restaurant, fittingly.

Jorge then drove us to his farmhome in the Spanish countryside. The home is tucked away in the hills and windy roads it offers basic amenities and is comfortable for 2-3 couples in a group. We napped for the afternoon and I awoke to another surprise; a cooking class with a local restaurant’s chef in the kitchen of the farmhome. It was convenient to stay put for the evening with a home cooked meal. We learned to make Romesco (tomatoes, red peppers and nuts) sauce to eat with Calçots. Calçots are from the onion family, look like a large green onions and are eaten in March in Spain. The chef grilled and fried them. They taste like a cross between onion and leek and are sweet when grilled, ideal accompaniment for Romesco sauce. To eat them, peel the outer (burnt) layers, and dip in the romesco sauce. We all enjoyed grilled Calçots with Romesco sauce better than fried. We also learned to make Trinxat de la Cerdanya, mashed potatoes with cabbage and ham, served with Pork belly. It tasted of grandma’s cooking; comforting and filling. Also two types of tortillas: one traditional and one with eggplant and cheese; both were tasty. There is a technique to making Tortilla and it was nice to learn from the chef; the key is to whip the eggs separately in a bowl, keeping aside while frying the potatoes and onions in a pan with lots of olive oil (important!!), then combining the veggies with the whipped eggs before cooking in a skillet for the final dish. We made Crema Catalunya, a crème brulee type dessert but simpler to make and highly preferred.

The next morning we had a simple breakfast of juice, cheese and Iberico before brief sightseeing around the small towns. Stone houses dot the landscape of the countryside; prior to 1800s there were vineyards throughout but due to a plague that wiped out the grapes now it’s bare. Rosemary grows wild everywhere in this region. We hurried back to cook another meal with the chef and learned poti-poti, paella and candied almonds. Poti-Poti is a salad made with olives, baccala (salted cod), onions and boiled potatoes. It was unusual and pleasant. Paella is meatier in this region as opposed to the seafood available in Valencia. This particular was made with pork, sausages, and mushrooms, deeply flavored with a tomato/onion sofrito and satisfying. The key to Paella is Bomba rice, no exceptions.

We proceeded with our journey the next day to Rioja from Barcelona. We rented a car from Centaur at Barcelona Airport to which we say don’t bother! Their shuttle operates every 30 minutes and is annoyingly difficult to find at the airport so we wasted time. Once we got our rented car, we stopped in at Zaragosa for lunch at Casa Emilio. There we each had 3 course menu del dia, which included lentil soup, pork cutlets with potatoes and a flan. The soup was made with Puy (French) lentils, bacon, carrots and garlic for flavorings. The whole garlic cloves melted in the soup when pierced, amazing! Pork and roasted potatoes were okay because the pork was bland and overcooked. Flan was covered in whipped cream which surprised me, why cover a homemade dessert in cream? It was good. The service is friendly and the price for the meal was reasonable. For freshly made food this is a good on-the-go stop.

La Rioja from Barcelona is a 5- 6 hour journey with many tolls between Barcelona and Rioja, approximately 50 Euros. Even with the tolls to see the region and visit multiple wineries, having a car is necessary. The landscape is covered in newly planted grape trees. The region has hundreds of wineries in the area. All the towns along the wine route are small with tourism as their major industry. We stayed in the town of Abalos at Villa de Abalos. The population is 300 people and is quaint. The villa is spacious with each room gracefully decorated and well connected for wifi; both impossible to find in Europe. Owner is friendly and helpful and recommended dinner at Terete (in the town of Haro). As a group we ordered roasted leg of lamb, tortilla with chorizo and kidney & livers. The kidneys and livers were cooked in a rich red wine sauce with rosemary and remarkable. We also had beans with Chorizo which was slightly under salted; the best friend, however, liked the dish. Tortilla with Chorizo was a little undone yielding a mouthwateringly good dish. Finally the lamb was supposed to be showstopper, and it was underwhelming. Salt shaker was placed at each table to season accordingly, making it difficult to judge how much each person likes. Price of dinner was reasonable however lamb was pricey. If in the area, Terete is acceptable for a meal.

We visited wineries based on location and proximity to the Villa. We learned many large and small wineries grow their own grapes but also purchase grapes from other wine producers. Tempranillo & granache blend are the most common, full bodied and dry. We found the wine here to be too strong; we thought we’ enjoy Rioja wine and sadly that wasn’t the case.

In between wine tastings we stopped in at Asador Arina. I can’t find the address or the town on internet so here’s a brief summary. We had menu del dia: artichokes dipped in batter and fried, fried fish or filled red piquillo peppers in tomato sauce. Everything tasted great; this is for the blue collar working man’s lunch, hence not being able to find online. Hopefully it will be searchable online in future.

With belly full of wine and brief nap we agreed to dine at Villa de Abalos with a multi course menu. My 1st course was grilled Artichokes, 2nd course lamb chops and 3rd course chocolate, molten lava, cake. The lamb was cooked to perfection and everything I had was spectacular. The husband ordered tomato & avocado terrine with caramelized goat cheese, piquillo peppers stuffed with shrimp and hake and the same dessert. He said he was impressed with the food also and friendly service. Dinner reservations are only available for guests of Villa de Abalos (that could change in the future). Wine and bread are served on the house.

From Rioja we visited Tarragona to visit ruins and spend time at the beach. The town draws tourists for the Roman ruins and Amphitheater. Due to the cool weather we opted to tour the ruins, World UNESCO site, before heading north. We found a restaurant on one of the side streets that looked promising for lunch. We had mussels, cod with romesco sauce, and shrimp risotto for him; everything was adequate but not outstanding. Even with our lackluster lunch, we believe the goal in tourist towns is to find a restaurant on a side street for possibility of great food.

The aim in Barcelona was to see some sights and eat our way through the city. We wandered the streets of the city few hours after arriving from Tarragona. We found few bars nearby and stopped in for wine and tapas. Around 10pm, the husband and I walked to Bar Celta to consume more food. Celta is known for Octopus, pulpo, and we highly recommend going there for just that. Don’t bother ordering anything else because many tapas are premade and heated before serving. The bar is loud with locals, drinking beer and enjoying greasy food.

On my actual birthday we went to La Cova Fumada for lunch. There is a menu with all the items and we ordered few different things: artichokes, garbanzo with butifarra, sardines, pan con aglio (bread with garlic), Pulpo, Bomba and sangria. Cova Fumada is known for everything they prepare and Bomba is especially on that list. It’s mashed potatoes and ham mixture dipped in batter and breadcrumbs and fried. Butifarra is sausage made with pork and spices. With the creamy garbanzo beans, it was incredible. Artichokes were grilled and served with butter sauce; they were so good we ordered another plate. Sardines were served whole with garlic & chive sauce. Pulpo was the only thing that was overcooked and not a favorite. Everything we had that day was exquisite. This restaurant has mainted its reputation for the food from locals and tourists, making it very busy (and loud). It is small therefore sharing tables and sitting with strangers is expected. It was crowded during our time and the servers were constantly yelling “pardon” to move around the room. When the server recommends something, get it; that’s how we ended up with artichokes. They don’t take reservations so get there early and put your name on the waitlist. We had a 45 minute wait. They are only open for lunch and close the door at 3pm, no special requests. The food and attentive service are the only reason it’s always busy.

That night’s dinner was at Bodega Manolo because we knew it’d be good. In addition to some of the same items, we tried new ones. Everything was impressive, again.

On our final full day we visited the Picasso museum. If art is of an interest, Picasso museum is a must. Then us ladies headed to Chocolate museum for a tasty tour. Hoping to see most of the sights that day we walked to Parc Guell and Gaudi’s creation. Both are unique and an artistic expression of an architect. We walked to La Sagrada Familia and upon seeing the lines we photographed the church from the outside and left. After the visits, we headed to dinner hoping to find a restaurant on my list. One was closed but in one of the street squares we saw smoke and smelled grilling. We stumbled into a neighborhood Calçots festival, by sight and smell. They were serving grilled Calçots, romesco sauce, baguette, sausages, and wine for 12 Euros. The festival had high top bar tables for people to eat while standing; some brought their own lawn chairs. It was fun to enjoy this open festival in the middle of the city. For “dessert” everyone got an orange.

The best friend and I made time to visit two markets in the city. Boqueria is the famous one with many tourists photographing the food. Although touristy, it is nice to wander and see Spanish products on display. The other market was relaxed and full of locals buying food for the evening. We bought olive oil, garbanzos and chorizo at the second market. For an authentic experience, visit one of the lesser known (to tourists) markets; I hear the prices are lower than at Boqueria.

This entire trip proved that Spanish people are warm and accommodating; and the culture lends itself to good natured and likeable people. That week we fulfilled our goal to eat well. I am grateful for a husband and best friend that helped plan one of the best birthdays, ever; I couldn’t have planned a better way to enter a new decade.

Thursday, July 10

Turkish in Nürnberg

I’ve mentioned that we really enjoy Turkish food around here and remembered I never shared the restaurant information we visit.

If in the mood for kebaps, slow cooked meat or Döner, Mevlana is the place to go. It is minutes from the Plärrer bus/ubahn stop.

For dinner we normally order a meze platter to share which includes tzatziki, beans in tomato sauce and baba ganoush. Then we share a main platter which is either a braised meat dish or kebaps. The kebaps (ground meat- lamb, beef or combination) are skewered and grilled and served with bulgur, rice and spicy pickle. The braised meat dishes come with a salad. For our last dinner we went crazy and got too many things. All good, of course. We ordered lamb kebap, chicken hot pot and manti. The hot pot is chicken with peppers and tomatoes cooked in a paprika sauce. Manti are dumplings made from dough and topped with yogurt sauce, chili oil and herbs (mint or oregano). Dumplings with yogurt sauce doesn’t sound appetizing but it’s superb. Ayran, homemade yogurt drink (distant cousin of Indian lassi- savory buttermilk drink), is a must. All in all, everything is delicious at Mevlana. On the go, Döner from their pick up window is great.

Also for döner the husband’s favorite is on Schlehengasse 31, next to Irish Castle Pub. (The restaurant is on the path coming from Plärrer ubahn station, underground, going into Altstadt- old city. The restaurant has changed owners, staff and name and the food has improved drastically. Look for the Irish Pub location on GPS or google maps and it’s next door.) The other that everyone loves is Atlantik döner on Karolinenstraße. They make their own bread and it’s different from most döners.

Now that I’ve shared all of our favorites, I am hungry.

Monday, July 7

Vienna or Wien

Vienna is one city that we thought was euphorically real. It exudes charm and romance from the people and its architecture. Even in the grim winter, the sun shining on buildings and old street cars made it special. It is classical with modern touch. I think Vienna is often overlooked because there are great cities surrounding it including Milan, Zurich and Munich. Other than the Vienna Opera, there aren’t obvious reasons to visit the city but I’ll give you four.

The farmer’s market is extensive. Not only is there farmers with produce and fruits but there’s also vinegar vendors selling various brews on tap, cheese vendors, seafood stall for brunch. The seafood was the most unusual we’ve seen to date. A restaurant set up a bar in the vicinity and sold oysters on the half shell. We don’t know if this is daily or during season but if given the opportunity I’d plan a meal of fresh oysters, if we hadn’t eaten already. The best part about this market was the stands and restaurants weave through a long narrow street (cars are forbidden) allowing customers to wander for an extended period of time and stop in for a bite when hunger pangs strike.

Sacher torte is one food associated with Vienna. It’s a chocolate cake with apricot jam all covered in chocolate ganache. We anticipated this long before arriving in Vienna and had done research on multiple cafes and restaurants serving the best torte. To our dismay each time we tried the torte we were disappointed. It was chocolatey and good; the tortes we tried (each night) had potential but since they were made in advance and sat in the fridge or cool space for extended time the refrigeration took away from the freshness of the torte. We still recommend trying Sacher torte in a café that has a reputation for serving the best ones.

Speaking of which, coffee houses are influential in the city to attract independent thinkers, artists, creative types to gather in a place that offers variety of coffees, pastries and some reading material including daily newspapers and magazines. We found each one to be lively and full of character(s). Most permit smoking inside, of which some offer separate non smoking rooms. Although the torte was okay, the cappuccinos and lattes were perfect. English is widely spoken in the city; we heard a lot of English conversations amongst the locals in the coffee houses.

Finally the Technisches museum is a science museum with exhibits, experiments and video guides encompassing all things science and modern technology. The areas that are covered (that I can remember) are space, energy, transport, and locomotive. It spans over 4 floors. For geek and nerds this is easily the place to spend a whole day and we wished we had more than one day. It was by far one of the coolest museums we’ve visited in Europe.

Our hotel was in the city and convenient to many sights. With a well planned public transportation infrastructure it is hard to go wrong on a hotel within the city limits.

The food in Vienna is a combination of Hungarian and German with heavy helpings of pork, dumplings and potatoes. All appropriate for a chilly winter night.

Thursday, July 3

Northern Italy

Here’s to writing about some trips that hold a special place in our hearts because of the circumstances or timing. This was our first “real” trip after moving to Germany and it was special. God, you’re thinking, what is wrong with her for waiting 2+ years to write this? I am laughing at myself for putting it off for so long! But here it is. We decided to rent a car, first time, and drive to Northern parts of Italy and do a multi-city tour. The goal for the Italian adventure was food!

We drove directly to Milan and spent couple days there. It is large with various neighborhoods. The Duomo is opulent in all its glory, inside and out. Like the church men and women were dressed to the 9s for a day at the office or out for lunch. The designer brand clothes, shoes and bags attributes to Milan’s love of high fashion. This is causes for many street vendors selling knock off bags and sun glasses. Although I was impressed with their love of fashion it felt too concocted. Milan felt industrial and gritty from congestion, loud music blaring from apartments and graffiti. We were shocked to see so many Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans flocking to and living in Milan. The physical infrastructure for public transportation is dated but efficient.

We learned of the aperitivo culture in Milan prior to the trip and made plans to try it one evening. The concept is easy, buy a glass of wine, negroni, campari or mixed drink at a bar and in return the restaurant offers food. We stopped in at Napolitano for negroni and left full from delicious pizza. Many bars/restaurants offer this during happy hour to attract customers. The next night we had drinks at a local bar that had a lengthier spread with pasta salad, sardines, antipasti and other goods.

But we were saving room for heartier food. Trattoria Abele la Temperanza Restaurant also known as Da Abele is in a hard to find part of Milan but once inside is a welcome surprise. It offers three types of Milanese style risotto daily. We opted for two of the three options. The flavor was wholesome with fresh herbs and cheese; the one distinction we noted was Milanese Risotto is creamier, runnier than its dense counterpart. Be sure to arrive after 8 because they don’t permit diners inside until 8pm and after 9pm on a weekend it gets really busy so time it wisely. This risotto was one of the better ones we had in our time here.

Driving from Milan to the next stop we spotted a gigantic Barilla factory. We laughed that’s where the magic is “made” for all of us that use barilla pasta in a pinch. (Having lived in Nürnberg, I have bought egg pasta from my chicken/egg vendor; because supporting local rules! That and I trust their pasta is produced on a smaller scale than Barilla. Unfortunately I am not sure if I’ll have this luxury much longer.)

We checked into our bed & breakfast at Hotel Locanda del Mulino in Maranello after our stay in Milan. We planned to spend few days here and take day trips to Modena, Bologna & Parma. Mulino is like an agriturismo with relaxing style, spacious interiors and fresh breakfast for the guests. It used to be a farmhouse/flour mill and the design reflects that. The breakfast room is upstairs along with many rooms. There is a large dining room for the restaurant that serves dinner only. It is by far one of our favorite places we’ve stayed in.

The host recommended Ristorante Da Anna in Maranello for lunch, short drive from Mulino. It felt like walking into an aunt’s home that wants to treat you to all the food they’ve made. They offer a set lunch menu that includes primi, secundi & dessert. Few memorable dishes were the tortellini and gnocco with salume. Tortellini is filled with cheese and served in a broth. The gnocco is fried dough eaten with cured meats and cheese; the cured meats were of variety and tasty. This was the first time we’d tried this thing called gnocco with salume and we were converts. It was terrific and we looked for it on future menus. With a half carafe of local wine and this lunch was hard to beat on taste and price. Service and food were both wonderful at Da Anna.

That afternoon we toured a Lambrusco winery near Mulino. It was a learning experience because we’d never heard of or tried Lambrusco until then and were surprised. The wine is made from grape of the same name; fruity, light, bubbly red wine that’s easy to drink on cool, sunny days. We hadn’t heard of a red bubbly wine until this tour. It doesn’t have much body and can easily be drunk with a pasta meal; our experience was having it with cheese, cured meats and breads. (I hear Lambrusco is making a comeback in US.)

Dinner on our first evening was at the hotel Locanda del Mulino. We ordered a salume platter, salad, pasta, cacciatore with rabbit and Tiramisu. The meal is cooked with love and rustic due to its country setting. In my notes I’ve written salad with greens with balsamic was amazing so I suggest ordering the salad with dressing. One would be hard pressed to find a restaurant like this in one of the nearby cities. The price is hard to beat so if given the opportunity to go back to Mulino for dinner, I’d do it in a heartbeat. (I just learned it’s a Michelin Star restaurant, deservingly).

Modena is the smallest of all three towns in the area with a main square and church. It was a brief visit to the town because of two planned things. A Balsamic tour with a local producer. After arriving we were introduced to the owners’ college aged daughter for the tour. The neat part of this tour was it was at someone’s home. The family produces balsamic vinegar and ages it in their home attic. She explains to us in great detail the production and the various aging periods to make it aceto balsamic vinegar. The family produces less than 100,000 bottles which is small by mass production standards. The longer the vinegar ages the more in depth its flavor. Traditional Balsamic vinegar produced in Modena gets the seal of approval from the food police and is assigned DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or protected designation of origin. In another words, only vinegar produced in this region can be called Aceto Balsamic of Modena.) The DOP seal permits the producers to sell in a special bottle, for distinction. She explained the other balsamic vinegars on store shelves are cheap and do not have the distinctive taste profile. We enjoyed one particular vinegar and bought a bottle, at a hefty price because of small production. These are used sparingly in dressings. The woman suggested we try a drop or two with vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Knowing that Ferrari test drive site was near us in Emilia Romagna, we visited for the husband. I can’t attest for the experience because I did not go with him but he said it was thrilling. A co-driver is assigned to each car and the husband said his co-pilot encouraged him to drive faster, faster, as fast as he could. Sweet. For those that love driving, fast, this is a must. And for the rest of us, it’s a good way to catch the sun in a parking lot. Like the balsamic, this is a pricey car ride.

In between the tour and test driving we went to Hosteria Giusti for lunch. The meal consisted of pizza, gnocchi with 4 cheese and gnocco with salumi. The gnocco was freshly fried and served with cured meat, decent, and the pizza was superb however the 4 cheese gnocchi was below average because it didn’t taste homemade. Rated highly on my list to try, after a lunch there I’d say the food was fine. If you find yourself in the area, it’s a good place for a meal, otherwise try somewhere else.

I’d scheduled a Parmigiano tour the next morning in the outskirts of Parma. The tour started promptly at 10 with details of cheese making in the region. The tour walks through each stage of Parmigiano making process and finishes with a tasting of 12 & 24 months aged cheeses. There are few local organizations that plan, schedule and offer tours and we highly recommend taking these tours, if time permits. The best part is they are free. (We bought couple cheeses because they were addictive!) The cheese also has DOP distinction.

The city of Parma has some sights including the Cathedral & Baptistery. If in the area visit these sights but know that the Cathedral is ordinary. Ducal Park with Palace of the same name is nearby for visit. For an enjoyable stroll in the afternoon this is the place to visit. We did not visit the Palace but I imagine with few hours it’s a valuable tour. We stopped in at Trattoria del Tribunale in the city. The lunch menu was straightforward; veal and gnocchi with pesto and eggplant to share. The veal was moist and good-quality and the gnocchi with pesto was excellent.

Our final stop was Bologna. It is a university town and has a small city feel compared to others we visited. The city hall sits in a large square with many street performers and gelato vendors. Speaking of Gelato we enjoyed a scoop at each instance possible. Bologna’s charm is the university, oldest in Europe and for that there are students everywhere.

We ate at Osteria Dell’Orsa. We noticed all the servers spoke fluent English and quickly realized the students must visit for meals. We ordered a Panini and Rigatoni with Pomodoro and Ragu. The food was delightful.

For a food lover’s dream Emilia Romagna region is the place to visit. It is rustic, offers charm of the Italian countryside with small towns, produces and exports some of the best prosciutto, balsamic, and cheese. Looking back on the decision, we think it was a good idea to stay in one place, Locanda del Mulino, and take trips to various towns nearby. We’ve taken trips where we traveled to each city and although fine this is much better. We were doing the right thing, on our first trip, and didn’t even know it. Aaah hindsight!

We drove to Venice after few days. Venice is a city built on the waterways and canals. It has neighborhoods reachable by water ferries. The water ferries are their public transportation like the trains and buses. The main train (Mestre) station and the airport are on mainland Italy, 30- 40 minutes from the island. There is another station, Santa Lucia, in Venice city center. We drove to Mestre and parked our car for few days, bought tickets and boarded the train to Santa Lucia. Be sure to punch the tickets before boarding. Along with everyone else, our tickets were checked on board. A group of 4 Americans and we didn’t punch our tickets so the checker asked for bribe money. He insisted if we didn’t pay him then we would have to pay 100 euros per person at arrival. Baffled by this all of us accepted and chose to wait until we arrived for the consequences. When we departed the train, no one was checking and all of us walked through the gates without penalty.

We departed the station with a water ferry towards our hotel, Bed & Breakfast Al Tramonto Dorato, Castello 2143. It arrived at Arsenal Water stop, 100 meters away. The host was expecting us so when we rang the bell, he greeted us with our names. How nice! The interior style is eclectic with unusual pieces in the living room. Our room was decently furnished but the bed was uncomfortable, too hard for our taste. The best part of this bed & breakfast wasn’t the breakfast or the room but its location. Not only does it have view of the water, it is very convenient to the tourist sights and public transportation. Because of the location, we enjoyed a sunset on a bench near the b&b. (The drawback to the view of the water is it’s location. The day we checked out of the B&B, a large cruise ship parked nearby drawing cruise tourists. We were thankful to have left when they arrived.) Speaking of wine, there are many wine shops in Venice that sell on tap; if you have an empty 1.5 liter bottle bring it otherwise the wine shop will provide one, for a small price. The wine we bought for each night was 2 Euros for 1.5 liters. Cheap! Just ask the locals “Como Vino?” and they’ll point or take you to the wine shop that sells wine on tap.

We stumbled upon Cà D'Oro alla Vedova accidently in an alley; we were looking for another place and saw the sign on an awning. We ordered wine, meatballs, squid in black ink sauce over polenta, spaghetti with clams, garlic and parsley sauce. The meatballs were made with seafood and unforgettably delicious, the squid was perfectly cooked in the sauce and the spaghetti with clams was satisfying. The polenta could’ve been freshly made but overall everything was so good, no complaints. We ordered 1/2 liter of house wine, chardonnay, also good. Daily they offer 2-3 antipasti, 4 primi, 4-6 secundi and 1 dessert. We were overjoyed after lunch to have found this place, especially since the total bill for all was 32 Euros.

Our first full day in Venice had a rainy start and unfortunately it was a downpour. Everyone had the same idea as us to visit the Doge Palace. Everyone crowding in lines, trying to stay dry was hellish 45 minutes of waiting. However once inside it was worth the visit. The Correr Museum has vast pieces of art and is worthwhile for art lovers. When we’d finished the museum tours, it was the afternoon and we found ourselves basking in the Venetian sun. San Marco Square is ideal to get a gelato and people watch. There are many people that feed the pigeons too, but I won’t talk about that. Ok, I will. Don’t feed the pigeons people! The Basilica gets many visitors so they’ve created a queue for all tourists and it was irritating to see the church in a line but when in Venice…

Venice is the place to get lost in small alleys and roads; we I often found myself admiring the small shops and architecture in the hidden streets. The husband isn’t fond of getting lost, on purpose.

As we were walking to a dinner restaurant, we found a wine shop that sold wine on tap. We bought Pinot Nero & Prosecco for 6.20 Euros. That is the price of 3 liters of wine. Unbelievable. The wine shop owner recommended Vesuvio around the corner for dinner. The host offered us a menu to consider then suggested they had fresh fish and seafood for the day. Hungry and convinced, we sat down. He suggested bruschetta, sardine in saor, sardines that are topped with pickled onions, and ½ liter house wine to start. Then we opted for Branzino to share. The sardines were not fresh and the pickled onions didn’t help on taste. The bruschetta was average. And even though the fish was fresh, we were blown away by the price on the bill. The fish was 7 euros/100 grams. The 1/2 liter wine was 8.20 euros and they charged 10% service charge. It is tourist places like these that leave a bad taste in our mouth, pun intended. As many times as we had eaten out in Italy that week, we’d seldom seen a service charge or if there was a service charge, the food more than made up for the charge. Sadly dinner here was horrendous.

Rialto Bridge is the other sight that draws tourists. The bridge is one of the most photographed sight after the San Marco Square and church. In addition to the bridge there is a fish market nearby that attracts the locals and the tourist photographers interested in seeing fresh seafood on ice, like me! And like many tourists we attempted to find a Gondola ride because when in Venice… The prices were pretty excessive, 80 Euros for two and therefore we decided not to do it. This is a personal choice and we don’t regret our decision.

That evening was our last night in Venice so we enjoyed the scenery. After a disastrous dinner the previous night, we were determined to find a better place. We found one on a street, on one of the canals, full of bars and restaurants. Most importantly, it was far from the tourist sights meaning the place for locals. We were greeted by an older guy who spoke to us in Italian and quickly realized we weren’t locals. We started with ½ liter of house wine and salmon crostini and sardine in saor, gave it one more try. The crostini was great but the sardine in saor wasn’t our favorite because again the pickled onions overpowered the fish. Then gnocchi with crab & parsley and boiled shrimp for main. The gnocchi was the best gnocchi we’ve ever had in our lives because it was light and fluffy. It literally melted in our mouths. The shrimp was fresh and simply made. Overall this trumps our dining experience in Venice especially the friendly service. I am sad, however, I don’t have a name for this place to share. The only tip I can give is to go to an area filled with locals, away from the sights and when you find yourself surrounded by Italian speaking locals, you’ve found a good area or restaurant.

The next morning we visited Muraro for ½ day by taking a ferry from Venice. It is a scenic island on the water. It is the biggest off of Venice and known for glass making and blowing. We witnessed an artist in action at a studio. The prices on each piece are expensive as is the case for handmade products. For lunch we went to Ostaria on Campo san Bernado for fresh seafood. There were mussels & clams in tomato broth, calamari because I wanted it, badly, and Bolognese with pasta for the husband. Overall a fantastic meal in what seemed like a tourist-herded island. Venice is beautiful and deserves 3-4 days, a luxury we didn’t have however we will be back again!

Our final destination was Verona, a small town with Italian character. Verona is known for two things- owning the building that Juliet (from Romeo & Juliet) grew up in and an amphitheater. The Juliet home, be warned, gets many visitors and is overcrowded. It also doesn’t help that there’s a statue of Juliet in the courtyard and the tradition to rub/touch her breast (started by some crazy person) still exists so every few seconds a tourist touches gropes the statute’s breast, for good luck in love. Where do they come up with this stuff? Verona is small enough to spend an hour or two wandering the streets because we found some old restored buildings.

Dinner in Verona was an interesting experience. We started at Osteria Sottoriva for a primi of chicken wings, horse meatballs, and ½ liter of Prosecco. We also ordered filled pasta, I can’t decipher the name on my notes, so try it if seen on the menu. It was egg pasta filled with ricotta & mushrooms; the filling was flavorful but the pasta tasted like a thin omelet; we weren’t crazy for the pasta. We don’t know how horse meat is supposed to taste but this was an ordinary meatball but the food in general was good. The vibe at this restaurant is wine bar, cool (as in hip) and relaxed. There is outdoor seating on the sidewalk and high tops inside.

We proceeded to La Tigela to find it packed with high school students. Known for their gnocco and salumi, we were certain that is all we wanted for dinner. Sadly, we were turned away and had to keep looking for gnocco. We then stopped in 6 different restaurants to check for seating and were turned away from all. It was Saturday night at 8pm so I imagine the entire town was out with their friends and family for dinner. We finally found a place that had many open tables and decided to stay because we were starved. Our last meal in Verona Italy was at an Indian restaurant. As I felt that night, I am still appalled by this fact. Even though we were bummed of the outcome, we were happy to be at this place because the food was spicy and homey in some ways.

Driving from Verona to Nürnberg is only 5- 6 hours on a good day. The drive is filled with natural scenery and plush greenery along the Alps. The mountains have picturesque small towns with churches and some areas are covered with vineyards.

Writing about our trip almost 3 years later, I am brought back to the food and sights of Northern Italy. We will always remember the gnocco we tried for the first time and (the husband) often reminisce of eating fried dough with prosciutto as a snack. Or that Venice will remain one of our all time favorite cities.