Londontown, the Food Monday, Jan 11 2010 

Because this is (supposed to be) a food blog, I obviously need to go into much greater detail about the edible side of London. Because if you think Boyfriend and I didn’t take full advantage of all the delicious things there are to eat there, you’re sorely mistaken. When I lived in London during college, I was hardly a “foodie” (apologies to those who hate that term, but it’s just honestly the best one-word description) – I didn’t know how to cook, I was a very picky eater, and I was also pretty broke. In fact, my primary goal when eating out was to have enough money in my possession at the end of each meal to still go out drinking later that night. And friends, London ain’t cheap, so this lead to a lot of mediocre/unsatisfying dinners.

Plus, you have to admit, the Brits eat some…unique fare. Steak and kidney pie, for example, is something I will never get my head around. But black pudding? Love. I am nothing if not inconsistent.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to find out, three and a half years later, that London has some really superb food. I don’t mean that in the bitchy, elitist way it sounds – I just mean that I missed out on so much the first time because I was a poor college student. And while I may not be rolling in the dough as a 23 24-year-old workin’ girl, I had significantly more fundage to donate to the eating-well cause. And eat well we did.

Boyfriend had some very specific food-related goals in London (sound familiar?):

1: Indian food

Check – Brick Lane is quite possibly the most authentic Indian food in the city. I liken it to Chinatown in NYC – you turn a corner, and suddenly you no longer feel like you’re in London. The signs around you aren’t in English, the convenience stores sell completely different products, and everywhere you look there’s a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant boasting “THE BEST CURRY IN LONDON!!!” And even though it’s quite impossible that they all have the best curry, they each make a truly phenomenal (and cheap) effort. Boyfriend and I ate honestly the spiciest food I have ever had in my whole life; so spicy, in fact, that we had to order more rice halfway through the meal to cool down the inferno in our mouths.

2: Fish and chips

Done – We at in what we later realized was a chain bar/restaurant in Wimbledon. Oops. In all fairness, this was our last full day in London and we were running out of time. Plus, we’d attempted to make it to a specifically-recommended restaurant in Covent Garden on two separate nights (we were only there for four), and failed both times. It was now or freaking never.

3: Meat pie

Got it – OH MY GOD: my new most favorite place in the whole world is Borough Market. Coincidentally, we also went there on the morning of my birthday. This market, which only exists on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, has some of the most amazing food vendors I’ve ever seen: on one side of the alleyway is a stand selling decadent chocolate truffles in all shapes and sizes, while on the other, men stir huge woks of curry.  There are cheese and dairy vendors handing out tiny samples of cheese and displaying (through their own photos, narrated in handwritten captions) the journey they undertook to Switzerland to bring back this cheese.  There are butchers calmly slicing into hog legs that would, upright, stand half my height, and vats of mulled wine perfuming the crisp morning air.  Outside the market itself, there are restaurants, bakeries, coffeehouses, and even a wine bar – all well worth the trip to London Bridge.  Personally, we purchased a teeny little “birthday” cake for me (past its Christmas-themed prime, but delicious none the less), a bag of organic espresso beans (which was the result of a lengthy and very special tasting process), mulled wine, and a lamb and mint pie (that Boyfriend devoured instantly and went on about for hours).  Later in the trip, we returned to the wine bar, where the wine list was the size of a book…in other words, heaven.

4: Have tea

FINALLY ACCOMPLISHED – Please don’t judge me, but I neglected to do this the first time I was London.  I know, I know – it’s England! You must have high tea! Ugh.  I know.  But like I said, I was broke, and the best kind of high tea is not generally a cheap experience (This was no exception – it was probably the most expensive meal we had in London.  It was also our favorite.).  Because I hadn’t had high tea before, I was clueless as to where we should indulge.  Fortunately, Boyfriend’s parents had lent us their guidebook (in addition to my dog-eared, well-loved one), and had helpfully circled several possible teahouses.  So off we went to Knightsbridge where I led us to the place the teahouse should have been, but was not.  Frustrated, hungry, and ready to give up, Boyfriend opted to ask a neighboring hotel about the location of our teahouse.

Boyfriend: Do you know where the Basil Street Hotel is?

Concierge: Yes, of course.  It’s just down the street a ways, less than a block, on your right. And it closed five years ago.

Hey, thanks, bud!!

Two teahouses and twenty minutes later, we were finally seated in front of a pair of dainty mugs, sipping our Earl Grey.  And when, moments later, our waiter brought out our three-tiered tray of sandwiches, scones, and desserts, we were thrilled.  Not only was everything so petite, beautiful, and delicious, it was also much more elaborate than I’d expected.  Honestly, I couldn’t think of a tea sandwich beyond egg salad, cucumber, and water cress, but the variety we were presented with was much more diverse: there were curried sandwiches, and ones involving ham and horseradish, as well as a lox and cream cheese one that I left for Boyfriend’s enjoyment.  Our scones were perfectly buttery, and both he and I have a newly discovered love of clotted cream.  Literally the only reason I didn’t bring some back was to save my hips.

5: Drink all the cask ale/Guinness he could

Heck yes – Listen.  Have you ever been to Europe?  If you have, did you notice the taps at the bars?  Many British taps are, unlike American taps, reliant on actual human labor to pump them – not CO2 or carbonation or anything else (Look, I’m not a science major.  I just know the beer tastes better. Look it up.)  I cannot tell you what a difference this makes.  Guinness, especially, is far, far superior in Europe.  This is the primary reason that Boyfriend did not want to come home: there is nothing more satisfying or relaxing than having a pint of perfect Guinness at a dark, cozy corner bar when the weather dips into the 30’s.  It’s just…true.

So the verdict?  London has amazing, amazing food – especially if you know where to look.  And if you don’t know where to look, find the nearest corner pub, have a pint, and chat up the bartender.  Chances are you’ll find a real gem.

Oh, one more thing: someone send me some clotted cream and McVities, mkay?  Please?

Londontown, the Intro Wednesday, Jan 6 2010 

When I came back from studying abroad during my junior year of college, the most popular question I got was “What was your favorite city in Europe!?”  Up until this week, I’ve always answered that it was Rome.  Now that I’ve been back to London, though, I can no longer honestly say that.

I’m not sure why I never thought of London as my favorite city.  Maybe it’s the same as being asked about your favorite city here in the US, and neglecting to even consider your hometown.  Maybe the romantic notion of my little European weekend getaways blinded me to the fact that the city I had adopted as my temporary home was really the one closest to my heart.

When I returned to London last week, Boyfriend in tow, it was like seeing an old friend again.  I was worried that I would forget my way around, or that nothing would thrill me as it once had because, well, I’d seen it all before.  But, ironically, the opposite happened: I remembered the way to bars and sites we’d frequented during my time there (with no map and no address to confirm my instincts).  I found new parts of the city to love, and did things I’d never done before.  And even though we stayed on the opposite side of the city from where I’d lived for all those months, stepping out of the Paddington tube station was like coming home after years away.  I marveled at the changes and regaled Boyfriend with stories of the memories while we wound our way through the city, making new ones.

We discovered that the Tower Bridge is even more beautiful up close, and that climbing to the top of it will afford you a gorgeous view of the city.  We sampled every cask ale we could get our hands on in every dark, corner pub we could find.  Boyfriend learned of the superiority of European taps and European Guinness, and will forever be ruined for the crap we have over here in the States.  We ate the spiciest Indian food I’ve ever eaten on a little street called Brick Lane in East London, and, a few blocks over, found out how and where Jack the Ripper did his dirty work.  We toured the majestic greens of Wimbledon, where a tour guide sold us, hook-line-and-sinker, on the fact that we’ll need to return one day to see the tournament in action.  And at the end of each day, dead on our feet from 12 hours of touring this great city, we tramped back to the north end of Hyde Park, crawled into bed, and whispered to each other in the dark how happy we were that we were able to take this little vacation to London, together.

London, Baby! Wednesday, Nov 11 2009 

london

I may have mentioned once or twice (or every chance I get) that I studied abroad in London during my junior year of college.  It’s also on the list of places Boyfriend and I want to visit in our lives, and, soon, it will be first of those eleven to be crossed off!

See, Boyfriend and I decided about a month ago that it’s time to do another vacay.  The trouble was, with us living in two different cities, and him having four (yes, four) jobs and a full courseload, we didn’t really have many opportunities to plan such a getaway.  Fortunately, even Masters programs get holiday breaks in December, and Boyfriend was planning to grace me with his presence for a semi-extended period of time.  Rather than loaf around the tri-state area, we opted to, um, fly to Europe.  Perfectly natural conclusion for a 6-day period, yes?

That’s what I thought.  The truth is, I had my heart set on going long before we were committed.  Not only will this be our first trip outside of the country together, it will also be Boyfriend’s first time in Europe (he studied abroad in Australia, so he’s done the South Pacific) and my first trip back since I left in December 2006 (woo, I’m getting old).  And – bonus – we’ll be there on my birthday, which happens to be New Year’s Eve.  I’ve spent New Year’s in New York and Boston, so I think it’s time to branch out a little (fine, a lot) and see what the festivities are like across the pond.

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london3london4

 

 

 

 

 

Since I lived there for a few months, Boyfriend is letting me plan everything (Does he know me or what!?).  Now, blogosphere, a favor: I don’t want to miss anything when we go.  I think I’ve pretty much got the attraction side of things down – Boyfriend is not a museum person, so we’ll be forgoing that in favor of the London Eye, a Jack the Ripper tour, the New Year’s Parade, ice skating at the Tower of London, and, of course, Harrod’s (to name a few).  We also wanted to do a brewery tour, but, sadly, it looks like all of the tours are on hiatus between Christmas and New Year’s.  But the last time I was there, I was far from being a “foodie,” and I feel like I missed all of the great food the city has to offer.  We’ll definitely be checking out Burrough Market (How did that get overlooked the first time!?), and eating some killer Indian food down Brick Lane, but what else is out there??  Bear in mind that neither of us has hundreds to drop in fancy restaurants, and that we’ll be there for only about four days.

So what should we eat, do, and see in the great city of London!?

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Europe Memories Wednesday, Jul 1 2009 

 

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

I adore traveling. I know there are those who fear flying, hate security lines, can’t stand packing, blah blah blah, but I love it – even the airplane part. One of my absolute favorite things about traveling is the chance to try new kinds of food.

As I’ve already mentioned, I lived in London for three months while studying abroad, and I think it was during that time that I really started to enjoy eating good food, because there was a chance to eat something new or different literally every day. Not that this food was always the most…refined, but most of it was undeniably delicious.

There was the night that my flatmates and I vehemently argued about what a “Smartie” was, which ended with me Google-imaging “CANDY SMARTIES” and the Brits running to the grocery store on the corner to buy me their version of the same candy (like big M&M’s instead of the chalky little candies we have here). Or the first time I was handed a red beer (cider, beer, and concentrated black currant juice) and fell in love.

Big Ben
Big Ben

In Dublin, I unknowingly ate blood pudding every morning for breakfast and loved it – I didn’t actually find out what it was until years later. I tried Guinness, one of the best beers ever, for the first time at the Guinness factory, and Jameson for the first time at the Distillery. The only two foods I ate in Brussels were frites and Belgian waffles (Literally. I got one out of a vending machine before I even picked up my baggage). And I swear to you, my life was not complete before espresso, gelato, Peccorino cheese, and gnocchi in Roma. Or crepes in Paris. Or brie. Or McVities (I still kick myself for not bringing these home with me).

I’ll stop there, since I’m now starving and to be honest – I just ate lunch.

My point is, travelling, for me, is not just about seeing the sites or not having to work for 4 days (but still, yay for that) – it’s about experiencing the culture of another country, city, or region…and my favorite way to do that is through food!

Why am I yammering on about travelling? Because next week Boyfriend and I are off to New Orleans! We’re going for four nights with another couple and can I just tell you how incredibly excited I am!? Since I’ve never been (and because I’m a nerd and was an English major in college), I bought a book about NOLA to make sure I did everything I wanted to in the short time we’ll be there. Boyfriend was with me when I started reading the book:

“Is that your New Orleans book?”
“Yeah…”
“How did you read that much of it already?”
“I didn’t…this is the section I started with.”
“It’s the food part isn’t it?”
“Um. Yes.”

Venice

Venice

Needless to say, Cafe du Monde is on the to-do list for the beignets (even though I’m not a big fan of donuts in general) and cafe au lait, and I’m sure the boys will eat more than their fair share of muffalettas and po’ boys. And man, am I excited to eat some Jambalaya and drink Sazarecs. I’ve been taking restaurant and bar recommendations from anyone who will give them, and in addition to my travel guide, I have a lengthy Word doc listing everything that isn’t in the book. I don’t think we’ll be sleeping much in those four days and I know we’ll come back broke, but ready or not,

NEW ORLEANS, HERE WE COME!