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Giraffe meat and coffee breaks for all!

3 Mar
Yum'o'clock!

Yum’o’clock!

When I was in Hungary, I lived with ten other people. There was chaos, there was drama; there was fun being had at all times; but most importantly, there were coffee breaks. We had a coffee break every day at 10 or 11, and it included a side of fruit and a sweet. No matter where everyone was or how they were feeling, we got together for coffee and treats, dangit!

So much of the world revolves around these times of leisure and food intake, but for some reason, it’s not a thing in the U.S. And why not?! I think the working world would be much more productive if they got together in the afternoon to chat and drink hot beverages. But I digress.

One of those “hot beverage break” countries is Jordan. You guys might remember my world-traveling sister who brought me back awesome Middle-Eastern gifts last year.  Well, next she went to Jordan to volunteer at a tuberculosis hospital (no, I’m not lying, and yes, she’s the modern day Florence Nightingale). She said every day everyone got together for tea, and so she recreated the experience for our family.

Mysterious herbs no one can remember the name of.

Mysterious herbs and seeds.

The tea was actually from Jordan: strong, sweet and black with a hint of mint.  We had bread from the Arab market which we dipped into jam or olive oil. If you chose olive oil, you could then dip into some green herbs that tasted like salty wheat (in a weird, yummy way). The bottle the herbs came in is completely in Arabic and my sister can’t remember what it’s called, so we were all eating an unknown substance possibly containing death and/or giraffe meat (technically, anything COULD contain giraffe meat. You never know). But it was good, so…into my mouth it went!

In other news, she also got black, green and red olives, which I adored because my whole family hates olives and I almost never get to eat them.

Said olives.

Said olives.

There was food and there was tea and I still don’t know why America never got into tea/coffee time. I nominate that we start a movement in favor of it! Like:

#TeaTime4America (Oh. Well. Maybe not that one)

#GimmeABreak4Tea (What do you mean it makes you want chocolate?!)

#PeanutButterJellyTimePEANUTBUTTERJELLYPEANUTBUTTERJE… (what was I doing, again?)

Well, I’m still working on it. Suggestions welcome! 😉

You gotta do what you gotta do (food edition)

28 Feb

Alfonso was terrified. 

The king was at his inn. His inn! Alfonso’s hand shook a bit as he poured his homemade sherry into a mug. After all, it’s not every day that you serve royalty. He took a moment to compose himself. There was no reason to worry – after all, he made the best sherry in Spain! 

With renewed enthusiasm, Alfonso grabbed the sherry and headed out of the kitchen. Suddenly the door blew open and his heart plummeted. The lovely Spanish breeze had turned into a gusty wind that was whipping about the inn, also bringing wafts of leaves and dirt. Even the best sherry tastes like dirt when there’s dirt in it.

Then he saw it – the piece of ham left over from breakfast. Would it…could he…?

He did. So the legend goes, the innkeeper protected the sherry with una tapa de jamón (a lid of ham), and the king liked the idea so much that the ham started a tradition that still lives today. Tapas!

Nowadays in Spain, tapas are appetizers, not lids for your drink. But you can enjoy them with your drink as small snacks at a bar or eaten one after another to make a meal.

I want to go to Spain. I know, abrupt topic change! But I think after hours and hours of Spanish homework, I deserve to go to Spain and dine on tapas (and sherry 😉 ). So I’m practicing for when I go, making tapas between filling out papers in the past present subjunctive of Spanish. Always sticking to what the Almighty Internet calls traditional Spanish fare, of course.

terrible

Apparently when it’s between eating food hot or getting a good picture…the former is more important to me 😉

Here’s what you see: greens with grilled goat cheese* and vinaigrette; Spanish rice; marinated artichoke; and eggplant fritters drizzled with honey.

It’s all appears terribly unappetizing and suspicious, but dang, it was all pretty tasty! It was also pretty stressful, because I have a habit of overestimating my cooking skills (sure, I can stir that and mix that and cut those up at the same time!) and that little plate of tapas was a lot of work. But the satisfaction of eating a yummy meal you worked hard to make is worth it.

Thanks, Alfonso. You’re the best!

*goat cheese might actually be half baked/melted, because it was freezing outside where the grill was. No tengo vergüenza de él.

I’d like to buy the world a….Vimto?

27 Jan
mmm...?

The can of Suspicious.

So, I have a sister who goes to international markets and brings me home mystery drinks. Go ahead – be jealous. Now we can get on to business.

What the heck is Vimto? That was my question when I was holding a cold can of it last week. The writing on the can didn’t help – the name was in English, but the description seemed to be in French (“a bubbly, fruit-flavored beverage”) and there was also some sort of Arabic symbol (translation: no idea).

Undeterred by my ignorance, I took a sip. It was…interesting. It tasted like the color maroon, like a mix of sickly sweet berries you might find on a bush in a lonesome desert oasis. It wasn’t quite cough medicine, but it wasn’t far off, either.

A quick google told me that Vimto originated in the U.K. The berry flavor comes from grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants. The drink has had some interesting advertising history: check out this commercial. Maybe it’s a British joke, because I don’t understand a thing.

Vimto is popular in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, and apparently it’s drunk a lot during Ramadan. So that explains the Arabic on the can. This particular Vimto can was made with “Sparkling Canadian Water,” so I’m guessing that’s why there’s French as well.

I can’t say I was too enthused by Vimto. I think part of this is because I love sugar. Vimto is sugar-free and makes up for it with a cocktail of “intense sweeteners.” I’m also not used to blackcurrant, and grape flavoring is not my favorite!

In the end, I’m glad to have drunk Vimto. It was an experience. It’s not quite Coke, but if I was dying of thirst and it was the only drink available, I’d “shlurple the purple!”

I found the burek!

25 Jan

I have long bemoaned the lack of Eastern European food in Nashville.

We’re pretty international, but really people just eat a lot of Asian and gyros.  My sister and our friend call ourselves the Sketchy Restaurant Club…we’ve had Thai, Middle Eastern, El Salvadoran, Indian, Greek, Japanese…but there are definitely unrepresented parts of the world. There ain’t no Finnish restaurants, or Kyrgyz, or even Russian ones.

But lo and behold, Nashville has gained an adorable little Eastern European place called Euro Grill. Although, they seemed a little hesitant to proclaim their true identity, as the sign says, “Mediterrainian Food” [sic]. I understand, guys. Some people need to be tricked into discovering their true love of feta-filled pastry.

Apparently the restaurant’s been open since 2010, but when I got back from Eastern Europe in 2011, I looked everywhere for Balkan food and couldn’t find it. I finally got wind of Euro Grill last year, and this was my first time going.

I was a little excited.

I was a little excited.

Not only was there legit food, but most people in the place were speaking a variant of Croatian/Serbian. There were tiny coffee cups, guys wearing sweat pants and Nikes, and a group of men playing darts basically the whole time we were there. It was literally a piece of Eastern Europe in Tennessee.

And I loved it. You will see me again, Euro Grill! (and Serbia!)

Hungarian-ish chili for the chilly

20 Nov

Yesterday, when I was hurrying to my car after class, a freezing wind whipped my face. It instantly reminded me of wintering in dear old Budapest, which obviously made me think of piping hot, comforting Hungarian chili. I lived with a team of eight in Hungary, and this was one of my favorite dishes to cook for us because it’s pretty easy and consistently yummy. I have fond memories of gathering around the table with people from several nationalities and eating chili with hot paprika and mountains of bread.

Technically, the chili’s not totally Hungarian. I learned to make it from a Polish woman who combined recipes with her Macedonian husband to make a masterpiece influenced by their life in Hungary. However, I made it yesterday and strengthened the authenticity of my meal with stuffed peppers, which are a Hungarian staple. I’m not posting the picture because things like stuffed peppers and red beans look disgusting without the perfect lighting. 

I will post this picture of myself in Budapest, double-jacketed. My friend didn't quite understand the concept of focusing!

I am posting this picture of me in Budapest with bad lighting, though…If you look close, you can see I’m wearing two coats.  Because it was COLD.

Hungary will always be cold to me. My short stint there was from January to March, and my poor Texan friend and I would walk around shivering and wiping away frozen tears. Even though I’ve been back twice in the summer, it’s the bone-chilling winter that sticks in my memory.

Perhaps it’s fitting, because the Hungarian people are sort of wintery, too. When you get to know them, they’re beautiful and witty and mischievous. But at first glance, Hungarians are very different than the natives of my hometown of Nashville. Cashiers avoid eye contact, public transport is hushed and secretive, and pedestrians return smiles with puzzled grimaces.

Budapest is a sprawling city with gorgeously imposing architecture and striking inhabitants. Overall, my experience there was chilly, but there were glowing spots of warmth. The elderly man who laughed at me, scandalized by my atrocious Hungarian. The woman on the bus who insisted on telling me her life’s story in a language I knew 15 words of. The group of boys in my English class who made me paper flowers for Women’s Day.

Even cold people can be happy.

My friends and I braving the sleety Gellert Hill.

This chili gives me that warm feeling. When I eat it, I imagine Budapest from far away, a gray-tinted city without much detail. Then I zoom in and begin to see details – a woman waiting for the bus here, a child dipping his finger in the Danube there. I zoom in closer as the colors become more vibrant, and I find a group of people sitting around a table in the outskirts of Buda. It’s cold outside, but they’re laughing and sharing a huge pot of Polish-Macedonian-Hungarian chili.  If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, I don’t know what will!

Ja volim kafu mnogo! (I love coffee a lot)

24 Aug

Everyone knows I love coffee. It’s one of my “things.” Everywhere I go, I search for high-quality and unique coffee. Thus I’m a little ashamed to admit that for the better part of my two months in Belgrade, I didn’t spend much time looking (the bus costs money, okay?!).

Thankfully, the last week I was there, a friend told me about a micro roaster downtown. A place that sells WHOLE BEANS (virtually unheard of in Serbia). A place that, by his description, looked like one of the “destroyed warehouse” coffee houses so popular in American cities.

So obviously I spent some time on my very last day searching for it. My friend Nina and I waltzed down the streets of Belgrade with a shady GPS and flamboyant attitudes, searching for the illusive Pržionica. Our search led us down a shady block in the less trafficked part of town, and we almost gave up.

Luckily we persevered until we saw a couple men under a yellow awning, sipping coffee and exhibiting perfectly the carefree Serb spirit I’d come to love. We entered the café and my breath caught – it was everything I had hoped for it to be!

There was a personal pour over station…

hghh

There were seats made of burlap…

hhh

(old coffee bean bags!)

There was the name of the place in Cyrillic on the wall….

Plus beautiful Nina!

Plus beautiful Nina!

There was an awesome chalkboard menu….

I might have had a slight crush :)

And the extremely nice barista 😉

And most importantly, there was coffee. And it was good.IMG_3719

Do what the Serbs tell you

10 Aug

ImageY’all, bask in the glory of this gyro. It’s the best gyro I’ve ever tasted, hands down! So yes, as I revealed in my last post, at the time of consumption I was excited to eat anything besides pizza, but this gyro’s loveliness went way beyond that.

Exhibit A: SUPREME MEAT. Serbs reign supreme at cooking meat (their most famous dish is, simply, “grill”). I got the pork, and it nearly melted in my mouth.

Exhibit B: FRENCH FRIES. Need I say anything else? Why, all other gyros in my life, do you not have french fries in you?! WHY. You are stealing magic away from people’s lives.

Exhibit C: CURRY MUSTARD. If you examine the above picture closely, you can see a yellow substance in between the luscious meat and the lettuce. There lies the best mustard I’ve ever encountered, just the right mixture of spicy and sweet, with just enough curry to make you feel exotic and adventurous.

While ordering my wrap, I also learned a lesson in Serb culture. I asked for a bit of spicy-looking red stuff on my gyro (because I am both spicy and adventurous), but the Gyropolis guy shook his head at me. “You don’t want that,” he said, his tone foreboding.

“I really like spicy stuff, though!” I countered, being my naturally defiant, try-everything self.

Being a typical Serbian, though, the guy grimaced and gestured toward another topping option. “The mustard goes well with pavlaka.” (a sour cream-ish condiment).

I considered my options. I could demand the red stuff and possibly get it, or just go along with the guy. Serbs are very adamant about what [they think is] best for you, though, so I acquiesced to his request and forwent the red stuff. And my gyro was perfect. So just in case you are ever in Belgrade and happen upon a Gyropolis, I’m not telling you not to get the red stuff, but…you probably won’t have the option anyways!