Tag: travel

Adventures in Newcastle: Beautiful Views, Beautiful Tarts, and Beautiful Things Involving Goat Cheese

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip up to Newcastle upon Tyne for The Go Game and there were so many beautiful things to see in the city.

Beautiful Thing #1: The view of the River Tyne, including the Tyne Bridge and the Millenium Bridge, from the Viewing Box of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

And the reverse view of the BALTIC, an old flour mill, from the Millenium Bridge. If you happen to be anywhere near Newcastle, go see Damien Hirst’s fascinating exhibition Pharmacy and marvel at the view.

Beautiful Thing #2: The plum tart from the charming and brand new six-week-old BUEE Cafe and Bistro at Side Cinema.  I actually didn’t eat it; we went for the pecan pie and the raspberry cheesecake baked by the chef-husband of the proprietor-wife instead – more on that in a bit – but it’s a thing of beauty all the same.

Beautiful Thing #3: The goat cheese and roasted vegetable pizzaiola from Cafe Royal, a gem of a cafe amidst the shops of the city centre featuring artisanal bread from their own bakery.

So much to see in Newcastle and so much to eat! Let’s take a closer look at our two exciting foodie finds…

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Eat&Joy Maatilatori: A Market for Local Farmers and Producers in Helsinki

New cities are full of possibilities.  My first night in Helsinki, I spent several hours traipsing around the narrow historic streets and the broad tree-lined esplanades, getting a feel for this unfamiliar and exhilarating territory.  Exploring a cityscape in search of  quirky sights and unexpected urban landmarks to write a treasure hunt game often occupies my brain for hours until I realize that it’s gotten dark and it’s way past time for dinner.  But that brings me to the best part about traveling to new places – finding the most delicious and exciting local food to eat. And I was luckily enough to stumble upon the warm and inviting shopfront of Eat&Joy Maatilatori right by the central train station.  eat&joy maatilatori

Eat&Joy Maatilatori is a fantastic place that should exist in every urban space – it’s essentially a farmer’s market in a shop that sources local foods from all over Finland to bring to city consumers.  Offerings range from the very fresh (cheese and yogurt from nearby dairy farms, just-baked rye bread, fruits and vegetables) to the canned, jarred, and otherwise long-lasting (jams, jellies, chocolates, mustards, and more) as well as lots of baskets. Apparently Finland is big on baskets.

the inside of eat&joy maatilatori

Chatting with the man at the counter, I learned that Eat&Joy opened for a trial period beginning in June and after a successful three month stint,  would be opening as a permanent location just the next day.  The shop owners are dedicated to showcasing the best of small Finnish producers – some who might not otherwise reach a large consumer base – and apparently the public has responded with enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t be enthusiastic about Finnish riispiirakka, a palm-sized rye pastry filled with just-barely- sweet rice pudding?

riispiirakka

Especially when they’re place on beautifully designed Finnish tea towels.  As a brief segue…the graphic and textile design in Finland is, unsurprisingly, spectacular. I covet every single item in the Marimekko store and hope that someday my kitchen will be decked out in extremely expensive but oh-so-gorgeous tea towels and oven mitts and cloth napkins and tablecloths and I will be an enviable domestic goddess with pastries in the oven, decked out in a spotless Marimekko apron. Well, actually that’s not true.  I want to have a real, bustling, happy, full-of-life-and-love-and-food-probably-a-little-(lot)-of-mess kitchen. I don’t really want to live in the polished and gleaming perfection of the Marimekko store….

the marimekko store in helsinki

…or maybe I do.

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Street Food? So 2009. The Hot New Trend In Food Is Now Sailing Your Way…

Street food is big these days.  San Francisco has its Street Food Festival. New York has its street food Vendy Awards and its vendor turf wars. LA has taco and Korean BBQ trucks  so famous they’re getting profiled over here in London.

But I’ve just discovered the most exciting new movement in mobile food, coming to you straight from the South Harbor of Helsinki, Finland: BOAT FOOD.

this is sea food. boat vendors!

The smiling Finnish lady on the boat may not promote her whereabouts on Twitter, but she does a brisk business selling an array of smoked and fried fish off her quaint little craft. Despite a bit of a language barrier, she managed to convey her selection with broken English, pointing, and a bit of guesswork on my part: whole smoked whitefish, perch, and trout; burnished fillets of salmon;  and palm-sized morsels of fried herring.  I purchased a small piece of the herring with a very thin layer of crunchiness and a generous sprinkling of dill sprigs for the solid price of 1 euro.  It was the perfect street food snack: delicious, slightly greasy, very local, and ridiculously cheap.

fried herring from the boat vendor

Oops. Did I say street food snack? I’m still wrestling with the correct terminology for food sold from watercraft.  If we’re going for parallels, I suppose I should refer to the area about which these mobile food vendors hawk their snacks-on-the-go.  Food trucks move around the street. Food boats move around the water. But Water Food just doesn’t sound right. Sea Food? Ocean Food? Harbor or canal or river food? Bodies-of-water food? Although the exact nomenclature may leave something to be desired, I can’t get over the brilliance of this mobile fish snack vendor. Yes, I realize I have a somewhat overzealous love for boats.

But I’m certainly not the only one who likes boats  (T-Pain does too!). Boats make people happy and so does mobile food and more people should put the two together.  And there would be plenty of opportunities to sell…come to think of it, all of my favorite markets are located by bodies of water. The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market in San Francisco is on the Bay. Pike Place in Seattle is on Puget Sound. Here in London, Borough Market is on the Thames and Broadway Market is on Regent’s Canal.  Clearly, it’s time for all these markets to get with the program and adopt the newest market and mobile food innovation of the future.

Anyone else know of any boat food vendors? Or want to donate me a boat to kickstart this new movement?  I am accepting all generous offers and in return you can come snack on my boat.

Bodies-Of-Water-Food, your time in the spotlight has come.

food in finland, part three: the beautiful market square of helsinki

beautiful buildings and market square

I absolutely adore markets. I love farmers markets with overflowing stalls of freshly dug, dirt-spattered vegetables and sun-ripened fruits.  I love prepared food markets with sizzling grills and enticing smells and people shoveling food into their mouths on the street corner.  I love talking to producers and sellers and seeing what people have made and grown and created and trucked all the way in from the countryside in the middle of the night to sell to people as the sun rises.   I love how the identity of the location, the culture of the area and the possibilities of the landscape all come together in the items sold for consumption and enjoyment.

Unsurprisingly, I loved Helsinki’s Market Square.  Bags still in hand, I serendipitously stumbled upon this maze of bright orange tarpaulined stalls on my way from the central train station to my hotel.  Entranced by the brand new and exciting foods and the absolutely incomprehensible Finnish signage, I had to tear myself away to go check into my room and get some work done, my heavy suitcase bounce-bounce-bouncing forlornly against the cobblestoned streets as a reminder of all the tasks at hand.

But not to fear – over my three days in Helsinki, I returned multiple times daily to conquer the as-yet-undiscovered foods of my edible explorations. Next to the old world of blueberries lay the uncharted territories of mistletoe-red lingonberries and mango-bright cloudberries…

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food in finland, part two: a market picnic on the islands of suomenlinna the sea fortress

finnish cheese and smoked reindeer on suomenlinna island

As if the Old Market Hall in Helsinki weren’t amazing enough on its own, it can also boast of a beautiful location just on the water overlooking the South Harbor. Enormous cruise ships loom as tall as skyscrapers and as large as city blocks, dwarfing the little local tugboats and ferry boats that zip through the harbor and around the coast and islands. In the helpful visitor’s centre just by the Market Square I bought a 24 hour travel card that included unlimited travel on the trams, buses, and most excitingly, the ferry to the islands of Suomenlinna. Let’s be quite frank -  I will never, ever, fail to be highly entertained by being on a boat

Of course lots of rye breadwhen setting off on an island adventure, one must always think ahead to provide sustenance for the daring and dangerous trip ahead. Unlike most other stranded islanders foraging for coconuts and dead bugs,  I had the luxury of departing from a ferry stop a mere four minutes walk from the Old Market Hall so I stocked up on Finnish treats for the voyage.

I started with a mini loaf of classic Scandinavian rye bread (100% ruis!)  and bought some strong Finnish cheese that I can’t even begin to pronounce but is spelled viinitarhurin.  Brushed with wine and aged for six months, the cheese reminded me a bit of a comte or gruyere with its smooth slices crumbling into nutty shards.  Add a bit of  deep burgundy colored and intensely flavorful Rudolph the delicious cold-smoked reindeer and it’s a ridiculously adorable little Finnish sandwich of love.

love is bread, cheese, and reindeer meat

Snacks in hand, I boarded the ferry for the 15 minute ride across the harbor to Suomenlinna

the ferry to suomenlinna island Read the full article »

food in finland, part one: the old market hall in helsinki

whitefish with rose pepper on rye bread

Thanks to the Old Market Hall in Helsinki, I started Thursday morning with a stunningly good Americano and an open-faced sandwich of whitefish, rose peppercorns, and fresh sprigs of dill on rye bread that looked like Christmas and tasted like the ocean.  Thanks to the Old Market Hall,  I purchased a variety of traditional Finnish delicacies and ate them on an island with a historical sea fortress and the only combination lighthouse/church in the world. Thanks to The Go Game,  I’m in Helsinki staying just a few cobblestoned streets from the Old Market Hall. Sometimes I have the best job in the world.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games and market-hopping as I’m just coming off  some intense work weeks with no time even for blogging!  And running on startup funds means a lack of finances to take advantage of the Michelin-starred gastronomic temples to Nordic cuisine sprinkled around the Finnish capital. As several locals mentioned to me, food is pretty expensive in Helsinki. But I most enjoy simple (and delicious) pleasures and am soul-satisfyingly happy buying a loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese and sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean and the Helsinki skyline. I don’t need  long-stemmed wine glasses and 80 euro tasting menus to experience Finnish food…not that I’d turn it down if someone offered. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

the old market hall in helsinki

Let’s  get back (figuratively) to the Old Market Hall, which I went back to (literally) every day I was in Helsinki. Our client fortuitously selected a starting and ending location across the street from the Market (also known as the Vanha Kauppahalli) and I was on my way to check out the venue when I walked by the Hall, idly glanced in a window, and noticed an abundance of hanging sausages. Unquestionably a detour was in order…
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chicken coops, award-winning bread, and buffalo milk at the organic food festival

saturday was a pretty eventful day.  chris and i got up at 6am, hopped a train to sunny bristol, ran a Go Game at igfest, then jumped out of a plane and parachuted straight into the organic food festival. okay, that last part is entirely untrue. but we got asked about 20 times if we had skydived directly to bristol, clad as we were in our unbelievably attractive trademark orange jumpsuits while wandering around the largest organic showcase in europe.

entering the organic food festival

it was one of those magical instances where the forces of nature align at the precise moment to allow for our attendance at the festival.  not only did it happen to be in the right city at the exact time we were already traveling there for work, but the massive marketplace of food activities was situated about 20 feet from our game location. ridiculous. thanks to the organic foodie gods smiling upon us, we got to tour the many stalls of farmers, bakers, ice cream makers, olive oil producers, brewers, and so much more.  most importantly, we got to eat lot of stuff. delicious stuff. stuff like this clown smile of cheese from the bath soft cheese company.

the bath soft cheese company

i am going to make my way to Bath (pronounced bawwth) just to eat more of this cheese.  sadly i don’t remember the name, but i think it might just be the fantastically named Wyfe of Bath, described on their website as ’succulent and bouncy.’  ahahaha. are they taking the piss? did chaucer write their copy?  hilarious.

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amsterdam, part four: the greasy underbelly of the city's food scene

oh so much mayonnaise

mmm…nothing like a blanket of mayonnaise to stimulate the appetite. lest you think tastes in the city of amsterdam are so refined as to produce only plentiful cornucopias of fresh produce and traditional artisan cheese wheels, i thought i’d share some photos of the darker side of the city’s gastronomic offerings.   if you despise the deep-fried, cringe at cholesterol, and fear fattiness in full force, shield your delicate eyes from the following gallery of wonders.

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amsterdam, part three: dutch hockey stadium food for the win!

fresh fruit cups at the stadium

in the wise words of the irish legend eoin flinner, the food at wagener hockey stadium in amsterdam is ‘absolutely savage.’  i don’t know if it’s a dutch thing or a european thing or we’re-not-in-kansas-eating-deep-fried-anything-anymore thing, but i’ve never seen food like this at a sporting event.  sure,  i’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for a good old fenway frank and garlic fries are part of the fun at A’s and 49ers games,  but i was seriously impressed by the freshly made sandwiches and the bountiful displays of fruits and vegetables. check out the mozzarella and tomato caprese sandwiches on huge baguettes below:

mozzarella tomato sandwiches at the hockey tournament

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amsterdam, part two: a quest to experience all the city's local (and legal) specialties

what’s the first thing you think of when you think of amsterdam? what’s a specialty the city is known for that makes travelers from all over the world flock to this metropolis of canals and churches? what famous item is wrapped up in the identity of this global destination and truly makes amsterdam amsterdam?

obviously, it’s the raw herring. if that’s not what you were thinking of, it should be.

fresh herring in a bun

discovering local foods is one of my absolute favorite things about traveling. it’s a great excuse to talk to people, to make new friends with random strangers, shopkeepers and restauranteurs, to learn new things about food and culture and identity, and to sample some delicious and often deliciously weird things along the way.  sanne, one of our very gracious dutch hosts, recommended we try the fresh herring, which has generally been lightly salted or brined to conserve.  for you history buffs, apparently herring has played a major role in the historical and economic development of the netherlands dating back to the 14th century. unfortunately, we forgot to follow up with a recommendation for a good place to get the herring. luckily, the fantastic foodiefest street of haarlemmerstraat came through for the win as i randomly walked by a classic herring vendor on a bridge right near the apartment. turns out that stubbe haring is actually considered one of the best herring wagons in town. success!

stube herring for the win

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