Caltagirone, Sicily

Caltagirone is located in approximately 70 km southwest of Catania, and it is just a 1.5-2 hour journey from the airport by pullman. I made a quick visit after Agrigento and before heading to Lipari in 2014.

Caltagirone is one of the Sicily’s ceramics centres producing particularly maiolica and terra-cotta wares, and its most famous landmark is the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, a stairway of 142 steps running up a hill to the church of Santa Maria del Monte.

From my window:

What makes the staircase most significant and beautiful is that each of the steps has unique hand-painted ceramic tiles with two or three different designs.

I have to go back to see Infiorita held during the last two weeks of May when the steps are covered by an enormous floral display, or/and Illuminata on the 15th of August in which thousands of candles are lighted up and decorate the Scalinata at night.

 

MUST STAY in Caltagirone

 Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo

View from B&B (source: Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo website)
Bedroom (source: Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo website)
Stunning view over the old town from the terrace

I usually have just some fruit for breakfast, but how could I have resisted????

I’m sorry to tell you this, but the B&B is located at the halfway up the Scalinata – just right off the stairs….. Your arm muscles might ache – like mine did – after carrying your luggage up steps, but it is worth staying at Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo!

 

MUST EAT in Caltagirone

La Scala

The owner of the B&B recommended La Scala at the bottom of the stairway.

Avoiding seafood as the town is far away from the sea, I ordered typical local dishes.

Antipasto 1
Antipasto 2

Loved their fresh pasta with wild fennel, salsiccia and tomato!!

Penne alla Scala (Primo piatto con pasta fresca con finocchietto, selvatico, salsiccia, pomodoro e mollica abbrustolita e ricotta fresca)

 

 

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Umeshu Matsuri – Plum Wine Festival in Tokyo

If you live or happen to be around in Tokyo this long weekend, why don’t you pop in Yushima Tenmangu, or Yushima Tenjin to sip umeshu, Japanse plum wine?

Umeshu (梅酒 : 梅 ume = plum, 酒 shu = sake) is made by steeping unripened Japanese plums in alcohol and sugar to allow the flavours to infuse. It is called plum ‘wine’ in English, but it is liqueur type of alcohol.

venue: Yushima Tenmangu, near Ueno

Over the weekend, the Umeshu Matsuri, Plum Wine Festival is held at the Shito shrine, which is famous for its beautiful plum blossoms in spring. Beer is nice – Oktober Fests are thrown here and there around this time of the year even in Japan, but it may be a good idea to try this aromatic, sweet and plesantly sour liqueur.

the leaflet and token coins

At the entrance, purchase 18 token coins for 1,600 yen (advanced ticket was 1,400 yen). 1 or 2 coins are required for a small cup of umeshu (about 30 ml/cup), but 3 for some or award winning ones. Okay, now you are ready to sip. Enjoy and find your favourit(s) out of 156 umeshus from sake breweries all over Japan.

made with distilled alcohol – from Hiroshima
made with sake – from Hyogo
made with sesame shochu – from Fukuoka
Kosher umeshu – made with sake – from a brewery in Kyoto (established in 1673!)
made with brandy – from Akita
blended with yuzu juice – from Wakayama
blended with gyokuro green tea – from Kyoto
nigori umeshu from my favourite sake brewery in Hyogo producing Kotsuzumi which I mentioned on Kinosaki Onsen post (left: more fruity and tastes like peach juice right: with plum pulp and full flavour)
umeshu hopping

If you find your favourit(s), you can buy it/them!!

I bought a bottle of 梅申春秋, Baishin Shunju from my fav brewery!

left: Baishin Shunju / right: Daku Daku


Umeshu Matsuri

Facebook page
Period: 6th – 9th October 2017
Venue: Yushima Tenmangu
Access: Nearest staion is Yushima on the Chiyoda Line. Take Exit 3 and the left, turn left at the first intersection and walk down about 30 metres. It’s on the left hand side.


Now that you’ve come all the way, why don’t you look around the site?

Tribute to the Shito deity: the first rice sheaves of the harvest are presented as offerings, called shinsen, to the kami, deity or sacred power of Shintoism during agricultural and other festivals.

Yushima Tenmangu(湯島天満宮)a.k.a. Yushima Tenjin(湯島天神)was originally founded for Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto in 458, and became one of Tenjin shrines in 1355 – Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto is the most famous one.

‘Tenjin’ is the name of Michizane Sugawara (845-903), a scholar and a high government official. Like other Tenjin shrines, Yushima Tenjin is visited by students to pray for passing exams and inscribe ema – small wooden plaques – with petitions for success in exams, esp. entrance exams.

Among lots of ema, you will find Michizane on a cow. A cow, a typical feature of a Tenjin shrine, is believed to be the servant of the deity.

In the precincts of the shrine, there is a bronze cow, which is known as nade ushi (a cow to stroke). People believe that touching or stroking the cow will cure physical illness, and that is the reason why its head  and forehead are so shiny.

You will also see plum trees in the garden and bonsai as well.

Tenjin is strongly related to plum because Michizane had always favoured the trees and blossoms (There is a legend about him and his tree, called ‘Flying Plum Tree‘),  so ‘plum’ became a crest of the shrines.

 

plum blossom crest in the blue circle

Strolling in the precincts, you might come across a wedding ceremony.

Would you like to try omikuji, sacred lot?

If the fortune telling is not a good one, tie it around branches of a pine tree or some such. If good, keep it in your purse or wallet!

Hope you enjoy umeshu and the visit.

See you!  S/he is cute, isn’t s/he?

 

More about Umeshu:
Umeshu seminar in London last year
Umeshu made with whiskey by Suntory produsing Hakushu, Yamazaki, Hibiki whisky

More about Tenjin, read the post of one of my blogger friends.

 

Sardine Escabeche and Croatia

The Nanbanzuke recipe I posted earlier this month intended to allude this Sardine Escabeche recipe.

I came across savur, a.k.a. ‘savor’ or ‘saor’, Croatian escabeche when I was making  my ‘To-Eat in Croatia’ list picking out the local dishes from Taste of Croatia. It describes savur that ‘Traditional way of preparing and preserving fish, usually sardines and anchovies, that is very popular in regions where ancient Venetian republic ruled but very similar recipe can be found even in distant Japan’, which attracted my interest on the propagation: the Portuguese  or Spanish dish was passed on eastward – e.g. to the Mediterranean regions, Philippines, Japan etc. as I mentioned on the Nanbanzuke  post (also spread westward to their colonies in the new continent as well, though).

Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to try escabeche in Croatia, so I made it myself referencing a recipe on the web and adding some changes.

 

 

Ingredients

(for 2 servings)

6 butterflied sardine fillet
salt and pepper
15 g plain flour
15 g  cornstarch
50 ml olive oil, to shallow fry

[Marinade]
100 ml water
75 ml white wine vinegar (acidity 6%)
60 ml white wine (I used medium bodied Riesling)
½ tsp caster sugar
60 g red onion, finely sliced
30 g carrot, julienned
30 g celery, julienned
3 small sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed and chopped
½ tbsp salted capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1 dried bay leaf
fresh rosemary springs
fresh sage leaves
1 tbsp juice of fresh lemon

extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
sweet paprika, to garnish (optional)
celery leaf or flat leaf parsley, to garnish (optional)

 

 

Method

  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper, and lightly dust with a mix of the flour and starch. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry over medium heat, skin-side down until lightly brown and drain excess oil. Set them aside in a wide non-reactive tray.
  2. Place the celery, carrot, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, bay leaf, rosemary, sage, fennel seeds, sugar, vinegar, water and wine in a non-reactive saucepan, bring to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, and pour over the fish. Set aside to cool completely, and scatter the lemon juice before place in a fridge. Leave for at least 2 hours or overnight to marinate.
  3. On a platter, top with sardines, garnish with the paprika and green leaves, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil when serve.

 


I tried as many dishes as I listed whilst in Croatia this summer and learnt that Croatian cuisine has received influences from neibouring cultures and the countries ruled the territory of Croatia throughout history. It has similarities with Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Turkish etc., but each region has its own distinct culinary traditions. I stayed mostly in Split and Dubrovnik, the coastal Croatia, and enjoyed lots of seafood cooked in traditional Dalmatian way.

Seafood Dishes

Brudet: fish soup served with polenta

 

Gulaš od Hobotnice: octopus stew

 

Škampi na Buzaru or ‘Skampi Buzara‘ @ Villa Spiza in Split – this place is getting very popular and takes no reservations. Go earlier to avoid the long queue, prob. by 7.00 pm at latest.

 

Crni Rižoto: black cuttlefish risotto @ Amfora near Gruž Port in Dubrovnik – loved the wild fennel adittion! Their Miso Fish Soup and Chilled Fennel Cream Soup looked nice.

 

Meat Dishes

Pašticada, so called ‘Queen of Dalmatian Cuisine’, served with potato gnocchi – meat dish but one of the most popular Dalmatian dishes.

 

I tried Ćevapčići in Bosnia Herzegovina where it is considered a national dish. Ćevapi or Ćevapčići is well known and eaten in all parts of the former Yugoslavia once under the Ottoman Empire. Next time Dubrovnik, I will try Taj Mahal (funny, it’s not an Indian restaurant!) near Lapad, not in the Old Town, to explore more about Bosnian food. Sofra in Zagreb was pretty good.

‘National Plate’ @ Sadrvan in Mostar – dolma, japrak, ćevapčići, lepinja, ajvar, đuveč, Bosanski Kolacic

 

Those I mentioned above were all nice, however, what I enjoyed more was the food cooked with bare minimum of seasoning and really brings out the full original flavour of ingredients.

grilled trout @ Plitvice Lakes

 

The octopus salad at Konoba Menego in Hvar Island is highly recommended. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, especially the caper! They don’t sell their homemade capers, unfortunately…. Instead, they advised me to find ones preserved in vinegar at farmers’ market. Their cheese and dry-cured ham platter looked yum.

octopus salad @ Konoba Menego

 

In Dalmatia, fresh seafood grilled over open flame is superb. It is simple, but tastes different as it is cooked with fresh olive oil and Mediterranean herbs over olive tree or grapevine wood fire, which gives it deep flavour. So the grilled meat and vegetables are flavourful, too.

grilled sea bass @ Miličić Winery

 

Lady Pi-Pi, one of MUST places in Dubronik, offers delicious BBQ food at reasonable price considering to the location (within the Wall), a great view over the Old Town and good atmosphere under the grape trellis. They don’t accept reservations, so I avoided dinner time and dropped in just before lunch time (breakfast is served until 11:00). I had to wait a bit for a table to be ready, but there wasn’t a queue.

left: my lunch – grilled squid @ Lady Pi-Pi

 

You absolutely must try peka while in Dalmatia! Peka is a slowly baked dish with meat or seafood along with vegetables in a pot or tray, but it is actually a method of cooking, and also a dome or bell-shaped ceramic or metal lid. The dish is also called ispod čripnje, or ‘under the bell’ – food cooked under the bell-shaped lid in fireplace.

dome-shaped peka -(souce: Travels with Tricia)

The lid is covered with hot coals while the ingredients are being slowly cooked in their own juices under the ‘bell’. That is why they are moist and flavoursome. It is said that it probably is the oldest way of food preparation in the Adriatic, even Mediterranean area – according to some archaeological researches, the artifacts of peka was found in the layers of Bronze Age.

It may be a primitive way of cooking, but the result is more than satisfying!! Even the potatoes accompanied by were moreish!

fireplace for peka @ Miličić Winery

 

I wish I could have joined sunset tuk tuk tour followed by dinner at Konoba Dubrava, one of the most popular peka places in Dubrovnik! Unfortunately, it was not available for just one person…. Anyway, I had a chance to try some, which was divine!

peka @ Miličić Winery

 

Some locals I met while in Dubrovnik dreamily said octopus peka is scrumptious and much tastier than meat one. It was too late to notice some restaurants near Polače Port in Mljet serve octopus peka – little time was left until departure back to Dubrovnik…. Peka usually needs to be ordered in advance and takes some time to be prepared. Stop by and ask restaurant staff before you visit the Mljet National Park if you make a day trip to the island.

octopus peka (source: Croatia Travel Guide & Blog)

 

In Dubrovnik, I rented a holiday apartment halfway between the Old Town and Gruž Port – less expensive and much quieter than staying inside the Wall. There are very frequent bus services to/from the centre until late, however, it was just about 20 minute walk and very safe even at night. I sometimes walked down for a glass of wine or a scoop of ice cream enjoying cool evening air after dinner at the apartment.

There are fish and green markets near the port, where I popped in almost every day to get some fresh fruits for breakfast, and vegetables etc. for my cooking. I cannot recall well, but I think the mussels were about 15-20 kunas per 1kg.

my cooking: mussels cooked in Pošip (Croatian white grape variety) wine
Also made my lemony pasta with ricotta filled raviori instead of adding the cheese (click here for the recipe)

 

Dalmatian cheese and dry-cured ham also are a must, which I shall mention when I write about Croatian wines.

 

 

Sicily and Lemony Ricotta Fettuccine with Tomato & Pistachio

This Fettuccine recipe is adopted from the Raviolini al Limone I enjoyed whilst in Enna for the Holy Monday last year.

 

Raviolini al Limone @ Centrale

 

Instead of ricotta filled ravioli, I used fettuccine and added the cheese into the sauce. Also scattered with ground pistachios to make it Sicilian!!

 

 

Ingredients

(for 2 servings)

200 g dried fettuccine
2 liter water
2 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil
400 g fully ripe tomato, finely chopped
200 ml water from boiled fettuccine
100 ml heavy cream (whipping cream, fat 35%)
2 tbsp ground pistachio (pistachio powder/flour)
100 g ricotta cheese
2 tbsp juice of lemon, freshly squeezed
a few pinches of lemon zest (organic unwaxed), freshly grated
ground white pepper (to taste)

flat leaf parsley  (to sprinkle)
unsalted pistachio, roughly chopped  (to sprinkle)

 

 

 Method

  1. Bring a large pot of the water to the boil. Salt the water and cook fettuccine until 2-3 min short of ‘al dente’. Reserve the cooking liquid for the sauce.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Put in the tomato and fry for a few minutes stirring consistently.
  3. Transfer the fettuccine into the pan and add the cooking liquid. Increase the heat to high and mix well by stirring consistently for 1-2 min or until the liquid thickened. Make sure it doesn’t get dry. Add some more cooking water if required.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium. Pour in the heavy cream and pistachio stirring constantly as it thickens. Add the ricotta, lemon juice and zest, season with the white pepper and toss it well. Once mixed, turn off the heat immediately. Taste it and add salt or some more lemon juice if required.
  5. Plate the pasta, and sprinkle with the chopped pistachio and parsley.

     

    Calascibetta – view from Enna

MUST VISIT whilst in ENNA

 Villa Romana del Casalea large and elaborate Roman villa or palace located about 3 km from the town of Piazza Armerina, Sicily. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD. (source: Wikipedia)

the Great Hunt

the ‘Bikini Girls’
the Giants

The Villa is famous for so-called ‘Bikini Girls’ mosaic, but for me, the most impressive one was the Giants.

The mosaic with the Giants shot by the arrows of Hercules is one of the most expressive in the entire residence. The figures are isolated and emerge clearly from the white background, heightening the drama of their poses.

The dying Giants have powerful bodies with reddish brown skin and are called serpent-footed because their lower limbs end in the form of sinuous snakes.

As in the central field, Hercules is not shown in the scene, which instead depicts the result of his vanquishing of enemies who dared challenge Olympus.

 

 

How to get to Villa Romana del Casale

1. to Piazza Armerina 

  • by Pullman (intercity bus) – arrives at Piazza Marescalchi
    from Enna and Palermo – by SAIS
    from Catania, Catania AP, Caltagirone – by Interbus

2. from Piazza Armerina to Villa Romana del Casale

  • by local bus: Villabus (1st May – 30th Sept. only)
  • by taxi: leaves from Piazza Marescalchi (main bus station)
    If you cannot find any taxies, try the bar at the piazza/near the bus station. They have the phone numbers and will probably call for you if you don’t speak Italian (so I could manage to take a taxi!!). Make sure to book for return. The return fare (both ways) costed about 20 euros as of March 2013.

Click here for more access tips

 

MUST STAY in ENNA

This newly opened B&B, P&G Design is run by the same owner of Bianko & Bianko I mentioned on my post, Chickpea & Almond Biscuits and Sicily. She kindly sent me the information for my future visit to Enna.

P&G Design (source: Booking.com)
breakfast (source: Booking.com)


MUST EAT in ENNA

Centrale was recommended by the owner, whose restaurant tips never disappoint me 🙂
Antipast al Buffet is a MUST as well as Raviolini al Limone!!

Antipast al Buffet @ Centrale

 

Croatian foods will follow later on….

Croatia 2017 – Digest

I had never travelled to any seaside resorts during the peak season, so I was really amazed!! and learnt how Europeans (and others) spend their vacance, which was a good anthropological study 😀

Although fed up with the crowds (and prices!), I had a wonderful time in Croatia – enjoyed stunning views, encounters, swimming, sunbathing… and food + wine, of course!!

Before departure, I had asked one of my blogger friends for some tips.
Thank you, Martina on Crunch Crunch Away! !

 

Plitvice Lakes National Park

I advise you to take Entrance 2, not 1 if you visit the park in the high season, otherwise you would waste more than one hour to go through the entrance like I did.

 

Split

I recommend the views over Split from the Marjan Park rather than from the Bell Tower of Saint Domnius – I am fearful of heights!!

View from Marjan Hill

Trogir

Half day trip from Split by boat and local bus on my way back

Omiš

Half day trip from Split by local bus (I’d love to try rafting in the river next time. )

Three island hopping by speedboat:

I was really looking forward to seeing the Blue and Green Caves. I waited for the tour while in Split, however, all were cancelled because of strong winds. As a Marphy’s Law, it went back to normal on the very day I left the city  😦

Heading to Milna for morning coffee – Brač Island (Try Milna Pekara for nice local bread.)
Paklinski Islands or Devil’s Islands
One of the highlights of my trip – Hvar Habour and Paklinski Islands from Spanjola Fortress

 

Dubrovnik

Lots of unexpected things happened in Split almost ruined my holiday but, thank goodness, Dubrovnik saved me!

To avoid (human) traffic jam on the Ancient City Walls and the long queue for the cable car, stroll early in the morning, then head to the top of Srđ Mountain!

Mostar 

Joined a tour group from Dubrovnik and visited Mostar.

‘The historic town of Mostar, spanning a deep valley of the Neretva River, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town and during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mostar has long been known for its old Turkish houses and Old Bridge, Stari Most, after which it is named. In the 1990s conflict, however, most of the historic town and the Old Bridge, designed by the renowned architect Sinan, was destroyed. The Old Bridge was recently rebuilt and many of the edifices in the Old Town have been restored or rebuilt with the contribution of an international scientific committee established by UNESCO. The Old Bridge area, with its pre-Ottoman, eastern Ottoman, Mediterranean and western European architectural features, is an outstanding example of a multicultural urban settlement. The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar is a symbol of reconciliation, international co-operation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.’    (source: UNESCO website)

View from the Minaret of Koski Mehmed Pašha Mosque –  Stari Most after reconstruction completed in 2008. On the way to Mostar, I saw some remains of buildings destroyed during the Bosnian War.
He is collecting 25 euros from passersby to jump…
into the river from the Old Bridge, about 25 metres high above water level.

If you plan to visit this pretty old town or Montenegro with a guided tour from Dubrovnik, choose one in a mini van or/on weekdays, otherwise it would take really long – 6 hours in the high season – to clear the border(s).

Mljet 

Last but not least, Mljet is the best highlight of my trip. I didn’t see Odysseus Cave, but the national park was marvelous enough to satisfy me. Walking around the salt lakes, dived into the water whenever/wherever I wanted. I highly recommend the small lake where the waves were calmer, the water looked more emerald green and there were few tourists. I loved the tranquility and calmness floating on the gentle waves. It was so peaceful and soothing, which brought me back to childhood as I brought up by the sea, that I almost fell asleep!!

Benedictine monastery on the Isle of St Mary in the middle of Veliko Jezero (the Great Lake)

My photos cannot describe the beauty enough, so I uploaded below:

About 1.5 hour ferry boat trip from Gruž Port, Dubrovnik to Polače, Mljet (140 kn for return). The entrance fee to the  Mljet National Park is 125 kn (incl. bus and boat fares in the park), but worthwhile paying.

Mljet National Park
Timetable: Gruz – Mljet

 

Lessons learned :

Next time on, I will avoid travelling in high season (and the places Game of Thrones were filmed – is it the reason why Isle of Skye was full of tourists last year? Nay, it’s not the filming location, isn’t it?). And next time in Dalmatia, to keep away from the major towns/cities and stay in a smaller and quieter village or island.

 

Anyway, my culinary adventure stories shall follow.

 

 

Lemon Lentil Soup and London

We have reached May already…. April has gone without any posts – things have been too hectic here to do blog hopping (sorry guys!) and posts.

This lentil soup is a copycat from Gaby’s Deli, a Jewish restaurant at Leicester Square, London. Not sure if I could succeed in copying it…. Or rather I should say I just tried to imitate their recipe, however, I like mine very much.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ginger root, freshly grated
¼ tsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh coriander stalk, finely chopped
100 g onion, finely chopped
70 g carrot, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
650 and 150 ml water
4 tsp no sodium vegetable bouillon (adjust according to the package instructions)
200 g dried red or yellow lentil, rinsed
1 tsp dried mint leaves
½ – ¾ tsp fine sea salt (adjust according to the package instructions)
1 juice of fresh lemon

fresh coriander leaves, to garnish
slices of lemon, to garnish

Method

 ( For 3 -4 servings)

  1. In a large saucepan, put in the olive oil, ginger, garlic and coriander, then fry over low heat stirring consistently until fragrant. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes but not brown. Spoon in the turmeric and cumin powder, and carry on until fragrant. Add the carrot and fry for further one minute.
  2. Pour the 650 ml water into the pan, stir in the lentil, bouillon, salt  and mint, and increase the heat to bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cover to simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender.
  3. Purée the soup in a food processor or a blender until completely smooth. Let it sit for overnight if possible.
  4. Return the purée to the pan with 150 ml water and reheat over low heat. Pour in some more water if too thick. When boiled, add the lemon juice and simmer for a few minutes. Taste it and add more salt and/or juice of lemon if needed. Remove from the heat.
  5. Serve the soup in bowls and garnish with a slice of lemon and coriander leaves on top.

When in London, I pretty much enjoy Middle Eastern food. Below are the restaurants and shops I have tried:

Gaby’s Deli
Once it was forced to close, but fortunately still there! It’s no-frills but I enjoy their food and atmosphere. I pop in for a quick meal or when I’m away from home for a while and eager for vegetables.

Lentil soup (source: Yelp)

 

Honey & Co.
Very popular restaurant at Warren St. Booking is a must.

 

Mr Falafel

 

Hummus Bros

 

And I tried my blogger friend Kay’s recommendations last year. Thank you Kay for the posts, Yalla Yalla and the Barbary !

Yalla Yalla

At the corner of Green’s Court, found a nice Italian deli, Lina Stores and took away a cannolo.

I’ll definitely go back for their fresh pasta!

 

The Barbary

Halva ice cream

 

Restaurants and shops on my list:

Ottolenghi
Honey & Smoke  – Thank you Kay for sharing the review
Berber & Q – Shawarma Bar
Maroush
Karma Bread Bakery
Pilpel
The Good Egg

Let me know if you have any recommendations! Also if you happen to know where I can purchase a bottle of Arak, Israeli anis liqueur.

 

If you badly want tons of Halva…

It’s a Greek restaurant, but try the Greek Larder at King’s Cross when Whole Foods Market’s tiny package cannot satisfy you! They would happily slice some for you  – I bought about 500 g 😀

The Misteries of Trapani – Good Friday in Sicily

Easter is approaching again…. As I posted last year, I travelled around in Sicily during the Holy Week of 2016, and saw some religious traditions: U Signuruzzu a Cavad du in CaccamoHoly Monday processions in Enna and so on. After Etna, I moved on to the western part of the island for the Holy Thursday Procession in Marsala and Processione dei Misteri di Trapani on Good Friday.

The Processione dei Misteri di Trapani or simply the Misteri di Trapani (in English, the ‘Procession of the Mysteries of Trapani’ or the ‘Mysteries of Trapani’) is a day-long passion procession featuring twenty floats of lifelike wood, canvas and glue sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion, a passion play at the centre and the culmination of the Holy Week in Trapani.

The Misteri are amongst the oldest continuously running religious events in Europe, having been played every Good Friday since before the Easter of 1612, and running for at least 16 continuous hours, but occasionally well beyond the 24 hours, are the longest religious festival in Sicily and in Italy. (source: Wikipedia)

Programme for Holy Week 2016

 

The Misteri are an artistic representation of the Passion and Death of Jesus through twenty sculptural groups, including two statues of the Dead Jesus and of the Lady of Sorrows. They were granted in trust, by deeds, by the Brotherhood of St Michael the Archangel, which instituted the rite in the late 16th century, to the members of the local Guilds in exchange of the promise to carry them during the passion procession every Good Friday. (Wikipedia)

At 2 pm, the procession commenced from Chiesa del Purgatorio accompanied by the local marching bands.

The statues are taken around Trapani by the portatori, volunteers who carry them on their shoulders and walk with a particular step called nnacata, rocking sideways.

  

Stood still for about 5 hours to observe all the 20 statues!

The procession continues throughout the night…

even in rain…. (shower the following morning)

finale

retiring into the church 24 hours after (about 23 hrs in 2016)

 

The people

Pâine de Casă & Khachapuri

The recipes that I’m posting here today are Romanian and Georgian origin.

I’ve never been to Romania, but the Pâine de Casă, Romanian bread, from my favourite bakery in Japan has attracted me for many years. (It should probably be called pâine de cartofi, or potato bread, rather than homemade bread.) I had always wanted to try to bake the bread with soft, moist and chewy texture, and finally did it recently. After a few baking attempts, it came out sooooo good!!

The pâine de casă along with khachapuri wasn’t photogenic at all, so baked another one 😀

Another recipe is of khachapuri (Adjaruli type), Georgian cheese bread. I didn’t know anything about Georgian food, but a meal photo that one of my blogger friends posted grabbed my heart – my ‘stomach’, I mean ‘appetite’, to be precise – and I had been hoping to make the cheese bread since I had tasty one in London. When my pâine de casă experiment went well, I wondered what if… and I was right! The pâine de casă filled with melted cheeses topped with a runny egg and butter turned out to be a perfect match – much better than the one I had in London 😀  Trust me! My khachapuri would never disappoint you!!

Ingredients

for the dough 

180 g floury potato (for 150 g mashed potato)
150 ml lukewarm water
1 tsp instant dry yeast
150 g strong white flour

60 ml lukewarm water
1 tsp salt (for khachapuri bread; add ¼ tsp more for pâine de casă)
200 g strong white flour (plus some for dusting)
100 g strong wholemeal flour

for the filling (for 2 khachapuri)

100 g grated fresh mozzarella
80 g grated Samsø cheese
80 g crumbled feta cheese (I used milder)
1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
2 egg yolk
20 g butter

Method

Pâine de Casă

  1. Place the potatoes in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook until tender but not falling apart. Drain well, peel the potatoes and mash thoroughly.
  2.  Dissolve the yeast in the 150 ml lukewarm water, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Put the 150 g mashed potato in a bowl, pour in the yeasty water, and stir with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the 150 g strong white flour and mix well to form a sticky dough. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave the dough sit overnight.
  3.  The following day, dissolve the salt in the 60 ml lukewarm water, pour in the dough and stir well. Spoon in the remaining flours and knead into the dough. The dough should be too sticky to work with, but do not add any more flour. Cover again with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about 1 – 2 hours until doubled in size.
  4.  Preheat oven to 220°C. Punch down and knead the dough for a few minutes in the bowl. With floured hands, shape into a round loaf and place it on a floured baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until well risen and crusty on top. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Khachapuri 

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Combine the cheeses with the yoghurt and set aside.
  2. On a floured surface, divide the pâine de casă dough into two equal pieces, and shape both into a ball. Spread each piece into a circle about 25 cm in diameter. Roll two opposite sides of the circle towards the centre so it ends up have a boat like shape. Then pinch the corners together.
  3. Put half of the cheese mixture in the middle and repeat with remaining dough and cheese. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until the crust becomes golden brown. Make a well in the centre of each khachapuri with a spoon and drop one egg yolk into each well. Return to the oven and bake for another few minutes. Cooking time may vary depending on your oven, but the egg yolk should still be bright yellow and runny. Remove from the oven, place 10 g butter on each bread and serve immediately. When eating, mix the cheese and egg with a fork.

 

Little Georgia in London

 I learnt khachapuri from the Wife of Bath’s travel story in Georgia. Unfortunately, there is not a Georgian restaurant in Tokyo – some Russian ones serve ‘the sort of’ dishes though – so I had decided to try a Georgian restaurant in London.

Then popped in Little Georgia in Islington – walked up from King’s Cross Road, about a 20 min walk, not from Angel, the nearest tube station. It was Thursday night and the place was 80% full, so I reckon the restaurant is quite popular. It was a bit pricey for me, but it is normal in London and costs more for one person. Anyway, the food was good and satisfactory.

(source: TripAdvisor)
(source: Time Out London)
khachapuri with Georgian wine
Ask for khinkali (Georgian dumpling ) – it’s not on the menu.

Next time in London, I will try breakfast or lunch at the original Little Georgia Cafe in Hackney, a cafe with BYO policy.

Little Georgia Cafe (source: Miranda’s Notebook)
mezze platter of salads (source: Miranda’s Notebook)

 

Kinosaki Onsen Hot Spring Town

As I mentioned last March on this blog (Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs Resort), a friend of mine and I made a visit to another Onsen place. It was just before the New Year’s Eve and Kinosaki was ready for the 2017.

Shimekazari : traditional Japanese New Year decoration or wreath hung over the front door to keep evil spirits away and to welcome the Toshigami, the deity of the New Year
Kadomatsu (Gate Pine) : another New Year decoration to welcome in good fortune for the New Year – normally set up on either side of the front entrance to the house

Kinosaki Onsen is one of the most well-known hot spring resorts in Japan. One of the reasons is that it appears in At Kinosaki (1917) by Japanese writer, Naoya Shiga  – there still exists the ryokan, Mikiya where the author stayed. In the short story, the main character visits Kinosaki Onsen to recuperate from injury.

Not for recuperation, but I used to dip in the hot spring in winters when I was a resident in Kobe (Arima Onsen in Kobe is my another favourite). Kinosaki is getting popular among foreign tourists – but still less compared to Hakone, Kusatsu etc. – although it is far from Tokyo, and even from Kyoto or Osaka, it takes about three hours.

map from Independent

Whether it’s popular or not, you would surely be charmed once you visit the onsen town along a willow-lined river. Walking down the high street with old-fashioned shops, restaurants and amusement arcades, you would feel the ambience of good old Japan.

The top attraction at Kinosaki is sotoyu meguri, ‘public bath stroll’ although every ryokan has its own bath. There are seven public bathhouses in town, and in the evenings, people enjoy onsen hopping from one to another in yukata outfit and wooden geta sandals – also some in early mornings as well.

Sotoyu meguri is enjoyable, but you should be mindful of yuatari, bath dizziness, which may cause your blood pressure and heart rate to rise temporary. To avoid yuatari, we didn’t bathe too long or longer than our body can handle, and didn’t try all the seven bathhouses – just two or three a day at most is enough! – and had two at night and one in the morning.

Below are the seven along with the sotoyu meguri map:

 

 

① Satono-yu
② Jizou-yu
③ Yanagi-yu
④ Ichino-yu
⑤ Goshono-yu
⑥ Mandara-yu
⑦ Kouno-yu

The weather forecast expected snow for the days, however, we had some rain and occasional sleet or hailstone instead. Our bare feet in geta sandals miserably got soaked and frozen on the way to the baths, so we had to defrost them in the hot spring 😦

Other than that, we relaxed in the hot springs and enjoyed hopping (and a bottle of German wine afterwards 😀 )

Kinosaki Onsen promotion video

 

MUST EAT & DRINK at Kinosaki

Seafood from the Sea of Japan

Onsen tamago again (Read my Kusatsu Onsen Hot Springs Resort). Buy nama (raw) tamago and cook your own in a hot spring well!

(You can make onsen tamago – not in a hot spring though – at home! Here is the wonderful recipe.)

Takeaway Ohagi/Botamochi at Chikara Mochi.

(from left) cinnamon daifuku, shio (salt) daifuku, ohagi/botamochi

Kinosaki Beer from a microbrewery in Kinosaki.

The beer is good, but I would like you to try Japanese sake, Kasumitsuru. If you visit Kinosaki in winter, try Kasumitsuru Shiboritate sold only for winters.

If you drive to Kinosaki or can afford a one-hour taxi drive from Kinosaki, visit Kasumitsuru Brewery, where you can join the guided tour (booking is necessary) and try some samples.

Sake brewing at Kasumitsuru Brewery (in English)

To be honest, I prefer Kotsuzumi from adjacent province, Tamba. There are variety of Kotsuzumi, and among others, I like Akino Hiyaoroshi most. Unfortunately, this one is also seasonal product and only available in autumn months.

Visit the liquor store, Sakamotoya in Kinosaki where you can find the drinks I mentioned above and buy not only bottled but also a glass (glasses 😀 ) of sake at the counter.

crab crab crab crab

In winter months, from November to March when Matsubagani crab is in season, many, especially from Kansai region (I used to be the one of them), head to Kinosaki for Matsubagani cuisine – kani sashi, yaki ganikani suki/kani nabe etc.

However, Matubagani is pretty expensive. If you find less expensive ones or dishes, they are not Matsubagani but crabs from Russia.

Kani suki, crab hot pot (pic from Mikiya website)

If you would like to enjoy sushi, sashimi, Matsubagani and other seafood dishes in high quality, dine at Orizuru, one of the best restaurants in Kinosaki. Reservation is a must.

Orizuru

As you can easily imagine, the bill would come out quite…, but their lunch menu is more affordable. I popped in the restaurant at lunch time after seeing off my company who headed for Izumo Grand Shrine, and took away a bento box of kani chirasi, scattered sushi with crab meat.

kani chirashi (1,400 yen)

If you are Wagyu or Kobe Beef lover, Tajima Beef is a must!

 

How to get to Kinosaki Onsen

By bus (Zentan Bus)
From Osaka (nr Umeda Station) or Shin Osaka (departs from nr JR Shin Osaka Station): about  3-3.5 hour journey
From Kobe (nr JR Sannomiya Station): about 3 – 3.5 hour journey

By train (JR)
Click here for further information.
Hyperdia – timetable and route search

 

Where to Stay in Kinosaki

http://visitkinosaki.com/lodging/inn/

 

More options: minshukua kind of bed & breakfast or guest house usually run by family – a bit away from the central Kinosaki but more budget

Hashimoto –  We wanted to try this minshuku but had fully booked. (Not sure if English-speaking available)

Or stay in KasumiShibayama etc. small towns by the Sea of Japan and visit fish markets!

Maruya – I have stayed here many years ago. The place was cosy and comfortable, and I remember they served good Matsubagani cuisine. (Not sure if English-speaking available)

Kasumi Tourist Information: http://kasumi-kanko.com/index.php

Accomodation in Tajima province: http://www.hyogo-tourism.jp/english/accomodations/hi_tajima.html

 

Bolo Rei – King’s Cake and Lisbon

Bolo Rei, or King’s Cake, is a traditional Portuguese cake usually eaten around Christmas, from 25th of December until Epiphany, 6th of January (This reminded me of my Kutia, Ukrainian Christmas Eve Pudding.)

Bolo Rei is a sweet rich fruit bread – rather than a cake – baked with raisins, various nuts and crystallised fruits. Also included is a dried fava bean, and the tradition dictates that whoever finds the fava has to pay for the cake next year. (Wikipedia)

As you can easily imagine from the name of and fève in Galette des Rois for Epiphany, Bolo Rei is originally from France although it looks like Frankfurter Kranz. (Click here to learn more about Boro Rei from a video.)

I didn’t know anything about Bolo Rei, but a Postcrosser in Lisbon gave me a recipe on the web, and it has stood by to be posted here since last August!!

My Bolo Rei with postcards from Postcrossers in Lisbon and my Portugal postcard collection.

The first try didn’t work out that much – the dough turned out to be hard rock buns 😀 so I changed plain to strong flour. Also altered some ingredients, quantities and process but I basically followed the recipe.

Ingredients

For the dough
85 g assorted crystallised fruits, to chop if necessary
35 g raisin
2 tbsp port wine
1 tbsp rum

35 ml lukewarm water
1 tsp caster sugar
½ tbsp dried yeast
50 g strong white flour

50 g butter, room temperature
50 g caster sugar
1 egg and 1 egg yolk, whisked

100 g strong white flour
100 g plain wholemeal flour
25 ml lukewarm milk
½ tsp lemon zest
½ tsp orange zest
20 g sliced almond
20 g walnut, chopped
10 g pine nuts
(optional: a dried broad/fava bean)

For the topping
1 egg white
crystallised fruits of your choice

For the glaze
50 g icing sugar
25 g honey (I used orange blossom honey)
2 tbsp water

Method

  1. Soak the crystallised fruits and raisins in the port wine and rum for 1-2 hours. Drain well and set aside.
  2. Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the lukewarm water, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Tip the 50 g strong flour into a bowl, and pour in the yeasty water to mix. Knead by hand for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Pour in some more water a little at a time if required. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a bowl, and cover with a damp tea towel or clingfilm. Allow to rise in a warm place for 60 minutes or until it has doubled in size. Remove the dough from the bowl, and punch down gently to degas. Shape into a ball, place back in the bowl and cover again and sit for 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg a quarter at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flours until just combined and stir in the milk to mix well. Then add the yeast mixture to the dough making sure it is evenly blended together, using your hand and create a sticky dough. Put in the zests, nuts and soaked fruits (and a fava bean). Lightly mix until all the fruits and nuts are evenly covered by the dough. Cover with a damp tea towel or clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 190 C.
  5.  Knead the dough for about one minute. Scrape the dough on to a greased baking tray, shape into a round loaf (about 20 cm in diameter) , and make a hole in the centre. Brush it all with the egg white. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes. Cover with aluminium foil if the surface becomes too brown. Remove from the oven, brush the top surface again with the egg white and decorate with cristallised fruits. Put back into the oven, and bake for a few minutes (Do not burn the fruits!). Carefully lift out and place on a wire rack.
  6. To make the glaze, put the icing sugar, honey and water in a small pan over low heat. Stir until completely melted and slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and spoon over the cake.
So far I have received two postcards from Lisbon, which are my faves.

Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe, dear Postcrossing friend in Lisbon. I’m sure to make this again whether it’s Christmas/Epiphany or not!

 


I have been wishing to revisit Lisbon…. Night Train to Lisbon, both the novel and the film, added fuel to the wish. Once I planned train journeys from Nice to Lisbon via San Sebastian but it hasn’t come off yet.

What I enjoyed most in Lisbon are:

city views from above

trams

tram-3

and steep slopes of narrow streets and alleys. Above all, the slopes up to the B&B I stayed at. Whichever the labyrinthine alleys I took, I could go back to the place, which was really fun!

 

MUST STAY in LISBON

Casa Costa do Castelo is located at the foot of Castelo de São Jorge, or Saint George’s Castle, which offers gorgeous views by day and night.

A Room with a view

 

MUST EAT in LISBON

I happened to find Fonte das Sete Bicas when exploring Alfama. It is a small family run restaurant  like a trattoria, and many locals were in for lunch. You can enjoy dishes at reasonable price – I paid 8 – 9 euros for one course with bread and salad, a glass of wine, dessert and coffee (as of 2009)!

Cozido à Portuguesa, Portuguese stew with several kinds of meats and vegetables.
pudim flan

According to Tripadvisor reviews, their fish dishes look also nice.

At another restaurant, Sardinhas Assadas, Vinho Verde and Vinho do Porto satisfied me a lot…. Must go back to Lisboa!!