Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Cafe Slörm (Berlin)

Good honest coffee, good ambiance, and good people. What else do you need from a café? This café, situated in Prenzlauerberg, Berlin, faces Danzigerstrasse, with small wooden coffee tables, chairs and stools outside - hard to miss because you’ll always see a few people there reading a book, chatting with friends, or just there enjoying the coffee. Despite facing a major road, it’s very quiet. Small and dainty, inside is filled with gorgeous vintage furniture like 70’s bar stools. It’s.. hipster but unpretentious. Both the baristas and the diners are down to earth people. It’s a place where you can chat with the baristas, and my goodness they’re good people.

Once I went, and upon paying, I couldn’t find my wallet. I told the barista, Stefan, that I would run back home and grab it and that I would be back in 10 minutes. The barista looked at the ready-made coffee and insisted that I drink the coffee first, as it would go cold. I could have just run away afterwards, but no, I left the coffee home and ran back home. I ran back in the speed of light but after 10 minutes of turning my house inside out I could not find my wallet. I ran back to the café and the barista was there with my wallet. “We tried to get in contact with you to let you know you left your wallet here but there was no number inside or anything.” My jaw dropped. See, I’m Chinese and Italian, I come from populations that are used to robbing people blind. If this was in Italy or China, the barista would have kept the wallet and that was that.  Plus he's cute as well, which is always a plus. 
 This place has one of the best coffees I’ve had in this town. It has a very relaxing and friendly atmosphere, with few things on the menu so the point is coffee. They have cookies, scones, cupcakes and some sandwiches, that don’t appear to be particularly enticing, but looks can be deceiving.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Citrussy Olive Tapenade

I'm now the girl in the office that makes all kinds of dips and spreads.

So despite being in Berlin, all my colleagues are Italian, and there's nothing I hate more than cooking for Italians.  Italians are so...conservative. I'm sure you know.  It has to be done just this one way, the way their mother does it.  No changes, no creativity, they want authenticity.  So forget trying to cook them anything remotely Italian at work.  Therefore I make spreads.  I've made my guacamole, hummus and last Saturday I made this tapenade for them, and they liked it.  See, don't make pasta for Italians, make something totally not Italian and they'll try it.

Plus I don't have much in my kitchen and I borrowed a food processor from the office so it's one of the few things I can make. 
 This is a..more refreshing tapenade because of all the citrus notes.  Lots of lemon zest, lots of orange zest, and not so much garlic and anchovy fillets. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Cashew Stroopwafel Truffles

Homemade truffles may be the best gift for people - it requires minimal kitchen equipment, ingredients, and effort, yet they yield a high return.  They are dainty and delicious -- and therefore are considered as very thoughtful gifts.

You can do the classic chocolate truffles with a mixture of melted chocolate and cream, with the optional extra flavoring like spices, zests and whatever you want.  These are made with cashew butter and stroopwafel pieces and are coated in dark chocolate - so they're actually quite healthy, as are most of the things I make.  The stroopwafels lends its nice burnt caramel flavor to the earthy cashews and the bittersweet chocolate resulting in just the most amazing truffles. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Zia Maria (Berlin)

You're in Berlin. So many Italian restaurants, so many pizzerias, so difficult to choose. Well, if you happen to find yourself in Prenzlauerberg, I strongly recommend this place. Thin crispy Roman pizzas with a range of choices when it comes to toppings. Sold by the slice, the menu is neatly divided into meats, seafood and vegetarian pizzas. With slices ranging from 1.50 to 3.50, you would usually eat 2 to 3 slices for a meal as they’re quite large. They also have 4 different salads that come with the most amazing rosemary flatbread. They also have a child- and waistline-friendly fruity tiramisu that’s caffeine and alcohol free with the custard as a mixture of mascarpone and yoghurt. Havent tried, but it’s intriguing.
They have two branches in Prenzlauerberg. It's a very casual restaurant with simple decor and a relaxed atmosphere. They sometimes do art exhibitions there or have live music, altogether with long wooden tables that you share with others and a good pizza, it's a good place for a meal.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Feta-Tahini Green Beans

I’ve never disliked my greens. Growing up, I was used to simply blanched or sautéed vegetables seasoned with some garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Or often my Chinese mother would steam vegetables and just add a drizzling of sesame oil and salt – and it’s delicious. There was no need of hiding spinach in pies and forcefully accompanying it with strong flavors to mask that of its own. I was an easy child on the dinner table. I remember not liking peppers and mangoes (both of which I love now), but in general, just like now, I would eat everything you put in front of me. The only problem I had was, after dinner, I had to sleep. It didn’t matter if we were in a restaurant or a guest’s home, I had to sleep. And I couldn’t just fall asleep on the table, no, I required a couple of chairs pushed up together so I could lie down and sleep properly. I made the biggest scenes if I couldn’t sleep -- if arrangements could not be made for me to lie down and rest....At least I ate everything. 

Here’s a simple dressing you could do with your greens. Steam or blanch them, and dress them with a mixture of tahini, feta cheese and olive oil. These were actually the only condiments I had and what a beautiful discovery.

Friday, 12 July 2013

District Mot (Berlin)

I have never been to Vietnam, but this is how I had imagined it to be.  Bare wooden tables with bright colored plastic stools right on the streets.  On the tables - utensils in recycled cans, sauce bottles in cheap baskets, toilet paper in plastic boxes which you use as napkins.  The service is awful as, amongst many reasons, the waiters don't smile.  Yet despite all this you don't mind.  District Mot is bringing you the streets of Vietnam.  As soon as you enter the restaurant - no actually, as soon as you approach the area, you're hit with the most intoxicating olfactory experience.  Spices, meats, oils, herbs - you just can't get enough. 
The menu is filled with exciting dishes like grilled chicken feet, fried silk worms, and "everything from the piggy stewed in coconut milk" if you're feeling adventurous, and some more tame things if you're not.  You do see the conventional phos and rice paper rolls but also dishes that don't often appear in Western Vietnamese restaurants like stir-fried sweet corn and deep-fried sweet potatoes.  However, perhaps the BBQ dominates as the most popular dish.  Bright vibrant ingredients laid out on a bamboo basket, and you're given a small grill to cook yourself. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Summers in Southern Italy as a child.  I would look down my grandmother's balcony to watch her brother fan away the flies that swarmed over the tomatoes.  Thinly sliced tomatoes orderly arranged in a single layer on a rack, drenched in salt and slowly soaking in the scorching sun.
I never got to see the final product or remember his name really.  These tomatoes dried in the oven would probably never taste the same as those - it lacks the Italian sun, and the love and sweat in the effort of fanning away the flies, but hey these are pretty damn good.

You can even cure them afterwards! See here

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Omelet Noodles with Tomatoes and Peppers

What? Omelet noodles?  That's right.  Make paper thin omelets, roll'em up, cut into strips and you've got omelet noodles!
I'm desperately trying to make my breakfasts more interesting.  We all like having eggs for breakfast.  Poached, scrambled, hard-boiled, sunny-side up - and it doesn't end there.  You can be so creative.  There are dozens of books written just on eggs.  That's why whenever I do my little vegan phase (started out as a challenge, now I do it for two weeks every couple of months), cutting out eggs is always the most difficult part. I really find that it is the most fascinating ingredient.  Other than being a star on its own, it can be emulsifies, thickens and lightens other ingredients.  It's where the true science and magic in cooking is. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Via Lattea (Berlin)

There are almost 20,000 Italians in Berlin - that makes them the third largest immigrant group in Berlin, after Turkish and Polish.  Other than the bad driving and the loud chatters, the Italians have also contributed to the Berlin food scene - there are Italian restaurants and delis and shops everywhere.  It's fantastic, and it's not just your general pizzerias and trattorias, you get authentic regional foods.  Via Lattea, for instance, is a Puglian restaurant.

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