The Dumpling Shack, Spitalfields Market

A Saturday in April, the weather is warm, and Andre and I head to Spitalfields Market to change things up a bit… The last few times I’ve been there, I’ve walked through the clothing and goods market, but only can remember seeing restaurants lining the exterior of the market, all of them, proper sit-down restaurants. This time, they had erected a new structure with a variety of different food stalls in the middle of the building, from dumplings and Burmese food to pastrami sandwiches and roasts.

We obviously went to try out the dumplings.

Andre went for the prawn wonton dumplings in Sichuan chilli oil. They were as expected and quite good, with thin, delicate wonton wrappers and spongy prawn fillings… the chilli oil was a nice addition that gave the dumplings a bit of a kick, though the oil itself had more of a steady, fragrant burn to it instead of a temporary kick.

I went for the pork and leek shengjianbao, their soup dumplings. I didn’t realise at the time that they were pan-fried, not steamed… they were not what I was expecting, but why not try them for a change?

So how are these different from the typical shao long bao that you have? Again, the basic answer is that they’re pan-fried instead of steamed. Oh, and they’re harder to ruin as you’re picking one up!

But like with the shao long bao, you place a spoon under the dumpling and take a delicate bite, being careful not to burn yourself with the steam or juice coming from inside the dumpling, then pour the broth from inside the dumpling out into the spoon and slurp it up.

Then, you put some vinegar in your spoon and dip the dumping in it to eat the rest… the pork filling was similar to what I’ve had in other dumplings, but the dumping itself was different (again, because it was pan-fried dough instead of steamed, thinner dough). I have to say, I prefer the dumplings I’m used to, but I liked the pan-fried dough, which was not cooked uniformly; some parts were browned and crispy from the pan frying, and some parts were almost slightly doughy and less cooked…

Still good, but to be honest, I was kind of wishing that Andre didn’t like his dumplings and that I could eat his instead.

So, next time, I’ll order an order of his dumplings, along with the dan dan noodles that other people had ordered… with thin egg noodles and minced beef on top, they looked really good!

Advertisements

Green Pepper Cafe, Varkala Beach, India

On Sundays, the cafe at Soul & Surf is closed, so we had to branch out (gasp) and go somewhere else for lunch. As we didn’t want to walk all the way to the North Cliff, where most of the restaurants are, we walked over to the Green Pepper Cafe near us. They have their own cliff views of the water…

Neither of us were super hungry, we ordered light… and got some vegetable pakoras and cauliflower pakoras… crunchy and slightly doughy on the outside, these were a treat!

Soul & Surf, Varkala, India

Even further south than Cochin and Alleppy, we headed to a beach town that used to be mainly (foreign) hippies twenty years ago. Since then, more Indian tourists are coming to the beach, as well as more regular foreign tourists, and the vibe of the town has changed some.

We found a surf and yoga hotel to stay at… located on the South Cliff of Varkala Beach, Soul and Surf has a lovely garden where you can hang out on lawn chairs, cushioned beds, or at tables in the cafe. Staring out into the water all day is pretty relaxing… and when you want to get in the water, you just walk down the stairs and onto the beach.

The cafe at Soul & Surf has a number of healthy options, including a mix of salads, plantain tacos,  quesadillas, or, the most popular… the fish tacos! I had these three times while we were in Varkala.

The fish tacos use a firm white fish (quite meaty!), slightly fried, with a light, delicious coleslaw and pomegranate seeds. Then, you have a pineapple salsa and raita/yogurt you can drizzle as toppings.

The portion is quite generous, after eating two of these tacos you’re pretty much stuffed…

Definitely worth a stop when you’re in Varkala, this is one of the coolest places in town!

Houseboat in Alleppy, Kerala

IMG_0643

From Cochin, we continued south into the backwaters of Kerala and spent a night on a houseboat. The houseboat we had booked in advance was fine, not luxurious but also not falling apart like some of the ones we saw… and though we thought that we had a boat to ourselves for the night, at the last minute (the boat was running late as they had miscalculated what we owed them, then took an hour to figure it out), they brought on a straggler (who had probably showed up last minute and they thought, why not add him to a boat already leaving?!) Annoying as we wanted the boat to ourselves, but he was good about leaving us on the upper terrace platform mainly to ourselves, and had a varied background that was interesting to talk about over meals.

For dinner, the boat provides you with cooked vegetables and a chicken curry. In the late afternoon, they stop off at a fishmongers and you can supplement the dinner with what ever fish or seafood you buy.

So… we picked up some tiger prawns that they grilled for us after putting on a spicy paste… and they were fresh, juicy and had a nice kick to them.

IMG_0674

Alongside this, Yoshi, our travel partner for the evening, had picked up some king fish, which they somehow cajoled him into buying at a size much to big for himself… so when they brought out both grilled fish and a fish curry, he begged us to have some… the curry was a thin and watery tomato and coconut-based curry that did the job…

IMG_0672

And then there was the chicken curry that came with our dinner… honestly, I didn’t even get to taste this, as I was already so full from the prawns, fish and veggies…

IMG_0671

The lentils, our injection of vegetable protein…

IMG_0670

And the vegetable dishes, an okra thorens (basically an okra stir-fry with coconut) that was almost as good as the okra stir-fry we had had at Oceans in Cochin and some deliciously-cooked potatoes in mustard seeds, curry leaves and spice. I have to say, this is my favorite way to eat potatoes, I usually find them quite boring unless they’re pan-fried or mashed, but this is a great different way to eat them that I also need to work on perfecting at home!

IMG_0669

Watching the sunset from our perched terrace, we watched other houseboats float by and find docking places for the evening… and watched the electric-colored sun sink into the horizon…

IMG_0662

Brown Bread Bakery, Varanasi, India

It’s already New Year’s Eve, and we’ve made our way to Varanasi. Varanasi, on the Ganges River, is a holy city that people come to for religious ceremonies and to cremate their family members.

After strolling along the Ganges all morning, we stopped at the Brown Bread Bakery for some lunch… you can’t miss the signs as you walk along the Ganges, as they are posted every five feet… but once you climb the stairs up into the city from the ghats and actually try to find the bakery, it’s a bit harder… you pass peoples’ homes (clothes drying in courtyards, next to chained-up buffaloes) until you finally get to a busier road, that has has signs for hostels, yoga classes and… there we go, bakeries.

The Brown Bread Bakery’s claim to fame (apart from a nice rooftop restaurant) is that it has a huge cheese list, of many cheeses made nearby (South Asia, from Nepal, the Himalayas, Auroville near Pondicherry). So, of course, we looked through the two pages of lists of cheese and ordered!

And, well, they basically didn’t have anything that we asked for. So after a few tries, we gave up and asked if they would give us a selection of cheeses that they do have available…

When it came, it was clear that we had three similar cheeses, one plain, one with chili flakes, and one with herbs…. okay… so not exactly the variety that we were expecting! And when we ordered our bread, same thing, they didn’t have the multi-grain or the rye bread on the menu, but would give us the bread basket, a mix of their best breads, which they thought that we would enjoy…

And it was all fine. I enjoyed the cheese with the chili flakes and the salty, meaty texture of the black olives. The brown bread in the bread basket was also pretty good… the rest we could have taken or left.

And then came our pizza… we got one with mushrooms, Italian ham and mozzarella… when it came, I’m not sure it was really mozzarella, but hey, it did the job. Not the best pizza I’ve had, but it filled us up and was a change from the curries and tikkas we had been eating for the past week.

IMG_0489

The cool thing about the Brown Bakery, really, is that you’re sitting up on a rooftop. You’re caged in, as there are many monkeys that like to rooftop hop and would be only too happy to  come share your food, but sitting four flights up above the city really is a cool view. You can see people out on their rooftops as well, hanging laundry, hanging out and playing, or shooing monkeys away.

And the kites… it seems like there are at least forty of them in the sky at any time… We spent a while watching the kids on the rooftop next to ours try to launch their kite into the sky, a patient give and pull to get the kite up and weaving through the air…

Then, we headed back to the river for en evening cruise, to see the same city we’d seen from land and during the day at night, which culminated with us spending in time of the same funeral pyres we had seen up close during in the day, but now by night.

IMG_0533

7a Arte Alfacinha, Lisbon

Visiting a new neighbourhood in Lisbon that is up and coming with antique shops and galleries, it was 3pm and we still hadn’t eaten. We were famished, so decided to stop anywhere that was open… and found a large restaurant on the side of the road that still seemed open.

We walked in to a huge room… which had two other tables still eating. The room was quite funny, with large, banquet-like tables and decorations that made it look like the square in a small village.

Interesting… They were still serving food, so we decided to stick around and try it out. For EUR 13, you got to eat as much from the buffet as you wanted, then the dessert buffet. It was a lot of food.

I can see this being a perfect place to come for long, lazy Sunday lunches with a big group of family and friends.

But the buffet itself was surprisingly good (obviously, when you show up  and they have a buffet, you start off a bit wary… ), there was a good selection of meat, chicken and fish dishes, in all sorts of different sauces, a few vegetable dishes, and a salad bar (with empanadas and other starters as well).  Really a good selection!

And, funnily enough, all of the dishes were labelled in Portuguese, French and English.

This was round one for Andre.

Afterwards, the dessert buffet… with cakes, flans, and a really enticing (large) bowl of chocolate mousse. We served ourselves a few times… when local, you have to try out the local desserts, right?

El Al and the White Villa, Tel Aviv, Israel

Back to my trip to Tel Aviv, quickly… the flight over actually had quite good food… I took El Al and was not especially excited by the packaging and set-up of the dishes…  I mean, see below… lots of plastic and not great plating… but you know, the food was delicious. I had originally ordered the fish dish, which they ran out of by they got to my row, so I could choose between the chicken curry or the veggie mezze… and the flight attendant strongly suggested I go for the mezze, so I did.

And they were really good, different peppers, vine leaves and cabbage, all stuffed. Served on a bed of tomato roughly chopped base and slightly herbed and spiced, these were really good! A small jar of harissa and another of tahini acted as good dipping sauces on the side.

The next morning, at my hotel, the White Villas, I was treated to a delicious breakfast… labneh, fruit, a salad,a mni gazpacho soup with small mozarella balls in it, and lots of bread served with olive oil, nutella, and jam. YUM.

Then, it turns out that there is also hot food included in breakfast… the first day, I had to try it, as all the hot options sounded so good… I wanted to get the shakshuka (we are in Israel after all), but the lady suggested that I wait…

In her words, if this is your first shakshuka in Israel, don’t eat this one, as it’s kind of fancy… go into a hole-in-the-wall, shitty place and order one there first, an authentic one! Haha, I appreciated the honesty.

Instead, I got the two fried eggs served on a bed of sauteed greens and onions, and oh wow, was it delicious. Topped with some cheese (kind of like a fontina, but with more salt in it, and lots of black ground pepper.

I was disappointed that this dish wasn’t bigger, as it was SO good. The greens were varied and really fresh, so had a nice taste, especially with the sweet red onion. And the cheese melted over the eggs… yum.