Yapping About Food

Valencia – Paella

Piggybacking on the first leg of my little sister's journey, I returned back to Spain for a second whirlwind adventure. Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos CordobaThis time time around, we started in Madrid, stayed one night in Toledo,Toledo two in Cordoba,Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba another in Ronda, Puente Nuevo Ronda a quick day trip to Gibraltar,The rock of Gibraltar followed by two nights in Malaga, Malaga an over night train to our last stop, Valencia, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias Valencia and finally back to Madrid for my flight home. Needless to say it was an aggressive schedule and had me regretting trying to keep up with my sister who is ten years younger than me.

Being the birth place of paella, both my sister and I made sure to visit Valencia this time around. We went with meagre expectations and were completely amazed at how much more Valencia had to offer. Valencia Old TownSurrounded by a bustling metropolis, the ancient streets of Barrio del Carmen show beautiful examples of the changing of Valencia from a Roman, to a Visigoth, to a Moorish, and finally to a Christian city. The Turia River that flooded the city in 1957 now lies dry, and is instead filled with parks and trails. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias ValenciaThese paths lead to the out-of-this-world-looking Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), and finally to the beach, where I discovered this post's inspiration.

After taking a walking tour around the city, we asked our tour guide where we could find the best paella in town. He recommended a place just around the corner from where we ended up and we were on our way. Here's a tip: don't ask a non-local where the best food is, especially when that non-local is a hungover Scotsman. Lesson learned. For our second attempt, we asked the people working at the hostel and they all agreed that we simply needed to go to the beach. Malvarrosa Beach Valencia

We took a bus ride out to the beach and picked the most crowded joint of the bunch. Casa Navarro Valencia Once we were seated, to celebrate my last day in Spain, we went all out. We ordere a pitcher of sangaria, paella and the fresh catch of the day (Langostinos). My sister and I both agreed, this was probably one of the best meals we ever had. Fresh Prawns Valencia The langostinos were so fresh, you could practically taste the sea--and that was only the start of the meal. The paella was absolutely amazing. All the clams, mussels, squid, and shrimp were just as fresh as the langostinos. Paella Valencia Each bite starts off like you were smacked in the face by the sea, then as the taste evolves, you can really savour the depth of flavour from the saffron and other spices.

We finished off the meal with a cafe solo, took a short walk on the beach, headed back to the hostel to pack up, before I left for Madrid to catch my flight home. I will always remember that paella--the last, and best, meal of my whirlwind trip to Spain.Valencia - Paella


Chicago – Deep Dish Pizza – Lou Malnati’s

Chicago Sky GateOnce again, I've had to take a hiatus from my blog. A new career, among many life events, has been occupying my time and I haven't been able to write as often as I would like to. But during that time, there as been many amazing eats--some so amazing that they've inspired me to write again.
Lou Malnati's Menu
Being a long-standing item on my bucket list, the most significant of these meals would have to be the Deep Dish Pizza that I had in Chicago's own Lou Manalti's. Yes, I've had authentic deep dish pizza brought back for me from Chicago before, but those usually ended up freezer burned, with a thick and dry crust. Therefore, I was determined to get the real deal.Chicago Lights
A group of friends and I planned a whirlwind weekend adventure to Chicago, so a deep dish pizza was obviously on our list of activities. After a beautiful architecture boat tourChicago Boat Tour and a quick visit to "The Bean" Chicago Inside the Beanwe hungrily made our way to the highly recommended deep dish pizza joint, Lou Malnati's. We ordered:
The Malnati Chicago Classic™

Made with Lou's lean sausage, some extra cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce on Buttercrust.™ It's authentic Chicago!
And after a short wait, our pizza arrived. Our server quickly went to work, cutting up and serving us our slices. I anxiously awaited everyone else to get theirs before we eagerly dove in.
Lou Malnati's Pizza
Amazing! The crust was light and flaky, the sausage rich and flavorful, with the tomatoes and sauce nice and tangy to tie it all together. I remembered how my old roommate would describe a true Chicago deep dish: "It's no longer a pizza, it's actually a pie.” After tasting it for myself, I would have to agree. Rather than try and build the pizza using a thick piece of dough, this pie starts with what more closely resembles a pie crust. A layer of sauce is added, followed by their own sausage, more sauce, cheese, then is topped with tomatoes. The finished product is wonderfully rich in flavor but still quite light in texture, unlike the thick and doughy imitations I've had before.
Chicago River View
At the end of the day, Chicago was a beautiful city and the deep dish pizza definitely lived up to my expectations. So much so, that I bought 6 frozen ones to bring home. : )

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1


Kinton Ramen

After my debacle at Momofuku, I was still craving a GOOD bowl of ramen and after doing a bit of research, Kinton was one of two places I had to visit. Being part of the Guu family of restaurants, I knew that Kinton Ramen had good roots and a strong potential to be great.
Kinton Ramen Toronto

Upon entering, I was greeted with the same enthusiasm that I've come to expect from a Guu joint. I asked to be seated at the bar, facing into the kitchen, so I could see my ramen being made. Memories of my favorite Vancouver ramen joint Kintaro suddenly came to mind. The ramen is freshly made and only cooked in batches of 8-10, so each bowl can be given extra attention.
Kinton Ramen the Kitchen

Keeping it simple, I went with a bowl of their miso ramen with a piece of belly pork. As I watched the chefs make my bowl of ramen, I noticed that each slab of pork belly was cut off a larger piece by hand, then flame seared using a flame thrower--this is an amazing touch! The pork after being simmered for several hours is already extremely tender, but the additional flame throw gives the outside a nice sear and makes the inside almost molten, when you bite into it.
Kinton Ramen Miso

Overall I was very impressed with the ramen at Kinton, it definitely lived up to the high expectations I had for it, and for sure was better than Momofuku. Next stop Sansotei!

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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Madrid: Mercado de San Miguel

Reina Sofia
Being told by everyone that Madrid is just another big city and not worth spending too much time in, my expectations were set quite low. This then made Madrid one of the most unexpected surprises during my trip.Madrid
Madrid was actually a very beautiful city with architecture rivaling anything Paris had to offer. There were several large turnabouts that had fountains in the middle, adding to the open feeling of the city. Madrid in the park
Museo del Prado and Reina Sofia are some of the most visited museums in the world and hold such legendary works as Las Meninas and Guernica. And of course there was Mercado de San Miguel.

Mercado de San Miguel is a market in the middle of Madrid that is housed in the original iron structure, built between 1913 and 1916. Mercado de San Miguel Toast
Privately owned, the market is set up as an obvious tourist trap with tourist prices to match--BUT I would still recommend a visit. Mercado de San Miguel Olives
The food here was extremely delicious, and walking around looking at all the different booths uncovered some interesting food finds.
Mercado de San Miguel Cheese

Some of the highlights: probably the best paella that I had during my time in Spain; fresh chips and pork rinds; amazing olive skewers; scallops on the half shell; and, of course, Spanish coffee. There was just so much to choose from, I wish we could have come back.Mercado de San Miguel Scallops

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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Seville: Tapas

Tapas Spain
Tapas--what other dishes could be more synonymous with Spanish cuisine? But something that most people don't know about tapas is they actually originated in southern Spain and have only started being served in northern cities recently because of such high demand from tourists.Croquettes Spain Seville

So, in my quest to try some, I chose Seville, one of the most southern and summery Spanish cities I visited.
Plaza de España Seville Spain

The reason that Seville felt so summery to me was that we had just spent 2 rainy days in Granada and now were treated to beautiful sunny days in Seville. Seville Alcazar outside

Walking around the beautiful gardens of Alcazar--smelling sweetly of jasmine--Seville Alcazar Gardenwhile we sunbathed on one of the alcoves at Plaza de España watching people floating around in row boats certainly added to that feelingPlaza de España Boats Spain
--as did the general orange, yellow, and pink color scheme of the buildings with Seville Orange trees littered all though the streets.Seville Spain

Seville was also the site of one of my more memorable and probably more authentic tapas experiences. Seville Meat PlateHaving spent a week in Mexico earlier and being in Spain for 5 days now, I had picked up some passable Spanish. Simple phrases like caliente, pico, manchada, and of course uno mas cerveza--only what's important right? :) Seville Tapas Menu

Well, enough to order food, anyway. Being closer to what tapas started off with, the restaurant was a mostly standing bar with a list of the tapas quickly jotted down on a chalk board. Having managed to scrounge up some seats, my family sent me over to the bar to order up our tapas. And with what Spanish I did know, I was able to a pretty good job.Seville Tapas

A couple from Seattle who I had struck up a conversation with at the bar, thought I was actually fluent!

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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Soma: Old School

I know I've done a post about Soma before, but being master chocolate makers, they come up with new products all the time and this one definitely deserves the mention. At $9 a pop, an Old School chocolate bar has become a recent guilty pleasure of mine. Just how does one justify $9 for a chocolate bar?

As the name alludes to, this chocolate bar takes it back to basics. Two ingredients, partially ground cocoa beans and organic cane sugar--nothing more, nothing less. Its simplicity is what makes it so delicious. Being the most important part of the bar, each batch is labeled with where the cocoa bean originates from, as well as what type of bean they used.
Old School Chocolate from Soma

Rather than being packed tightly, Old School also crumbles in your mouth as it melts. This creates a light texture to counterbalance the richness of the chocolate. Honestly, it has to be one of the best chocolate bars I've ever had and is probably what keeps me coming back despite its $9 price tag.

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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Rome: Gelato, gelato, gelato and… gelato.

Gelato, gelato, gelato. As I said in my Florence post, I had gelato 6 times while in Italy--well, from 6 different places anyways. Now, let's get started as there's a lot to cover...
Misc Gelato
The first place we went shall go unnamed, as it was a mistake : ( After having dinner on our first night there, we wanted to get some Gelato A.S.A.P! So we found the closest place there was and ordered some. 9 Euros for giant servings of gelato that was actually kind of gross.

Having learned our lesson from the night before we did some research and found a few places. The first was Giolitti.
Giolitti Gelato Rome
Giolitti is famous for being the first ice cream parlor in Rome and recently for a visit from President Obama. I got the Pistachio and Hazelnut and what massive step up it was from the night before! It was certainly better than anything I've had in Toronto.
Giolitti Pistachio & Hazelnut Gelato Rome

Next was Il Gelato Di San Crispino of Eat, Pray, Love fame. Though avoiding the crowds, we chose not to visit the exact shop Elizabeth visited in the book.
Il Gelato Di San Crispino Rome
This was one of my sisters' favorite stores--which I suspect the book may have something to do with--but I wasn't too big a fan.
Il Gelato Di San Crispino Inside Rome
Though, I suppose it could of been my choice of flavors. After having the heavy hazelnut and pistachio, I wanted something refreshing and got lemon. Feeling adventurous, I decided to combine that with Basil.
Il Gelato Di San Crispino Lemon & Basil
What I didn't know is that the lemon was custard based rather than just the juice. This made it heavy like a lemon meringue pie, not the light and refreshing flavor I was looking for. The Basil was interesting too, also being custard based, and the floral basil became almost soap like.

My fourth gelato was in Florence. While there, I finally got the lemon I was looking for, and at the time was my favorite gelato... but there were better things to come.

Ciampini was our fifth, sixth... and even 7th gelato :) . Clearly, yes, Ciampini was the favorite across the board.
Ciampini Gelato Rome
This is where we discovered some of our favorite flavors: the hazelnut was as good as Simply Italian's back home, if not better; the dark chocolate was super rich and simply divine, with little bits of dark chocolate throughout; chestnut that was a plain gelato with little bits of candied chestnuts mixed in; and my personal favorite yogurt that tasted like a really good plain tart yogurt, which was a nice counter balance to all the other heavy flavors we had.
Ciampini Gelato Rome Flavors
Here's a picture of my sister on our third round of gelato. We originally had our own but loved it so much that we ordered it again twice. And even so, she's still double-fisting, trying to get as much as she can before any of us get to it.
Ciampini Gelato Rome Nicole

The last place I had gelato in Rome was at Grom. Grom was arguably my favorite gelato place and not only because they make some pretty amazing gelato, but because plastered all around their shops are their Grom Loves World philosophies. Motivated by the respect of the environment and the eco-sustainability, they follow the production of their ingredients closely, ensuring the best quality and efficiency standards are met. Even all their utensils are biodegradable.
Grom Rome
One touch that Grom did offer that others didn't was a nice dollop of fresh whipped cream. This definitely helped push Grom up in the ranks for me. The whipped cream was light, refreshing, and a nice break between bites of gelato.
Inside Grom Rome
Being my last gelato, I went with pistachio as a classic, and dark chocolate just to see how it could compare to Ciampini's
Grom Rome Pistachio and Dark Chocolate
The pistachio was amazing, much better than Giolitti's. The dark chocolate was equally as good, though Ciampini's was still better. The chunks in Grom's were much larger, and the gelato had as rich of a chocolate flavor.

Reading all this really makes me think, "Oh yeah! That's why I gained 25lbs when I went to Europe..."

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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Vancouver: Santouka Ramen

Vancouver Sunrise
The recent influx of west coast Japanese restaurants has made me super excited! Starting from Guu a few years ago to the recent additions of Hapa and Kintaro Ramen, the deliciousness of the Japanese food in Vancouver is finally making its way to Toronto, filling a much needed gap.Santouka Ramen Vancouver
One franchise that I'm very excited to have in town is Santouka Ramen. Santouka Ramen is one of many local Vancouverites' favorite ramen joints and was a very close second for me purely based on Ramen. It was, however, moves ahead with the addition of some pretty amazing side dishes.

A franchise that has come to us all the way from Japan, Santouka's history is quite simple. Santouka's founder Hitoshi Hatanaka was disappointed with a recent bowl of ramen that he had had and decided that he could make a better bowl himself--and that he did. With locations scattered all around Japan, the U.S.A, Vancouver, and now Toronto, he must have been doing something right. Toroniku Kara Miso Ramen at Santouka Ramen
The broth used in Santouka's Ramen is unlike any ramen I've had before. Using a Tonkotsu base, pork bones are simmered for 20 hours before adding all the other ingredients. This makes the broth have a super rich, velvety, almost oily flavor, but never overpowering.

The second half of the equation for me were Santouka's side dishes, my personal favorite being the Ikura Gohan. A very simple dish, it's just salmon roe served over a bed of rice, topped with some pea shoots and tamago. For me, the key was to eat this dish using chop sticks. Miso Ramen and Ikura Gohan at Santouka Ramen
Yes, a spoon would probably be more efficient, but using chop sticks allows only a few of the roe ball in each bite--as well as picking a few shoots and strands of tamago--making for the perfect mix. Using chop sticks is also more delicate, keeping more of the roe balls intact and allowing them to pop in your mouth rather than in the bowl.

Man, writing this post has made me crave some Santouka :) . They better hurry up and open up here or I see a trip to Vancouver in my future.

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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Florence: Cantina del Gelato

Ponte Vecchio bridge Florence
Tying gelato to just Florence is a bit unfair as I had gelato 6 times while I was in Italy, but it would be more of a crime to leave this beautiful city out of my blog due to a lack of good food to report on.Florence Arno River
Sadly, I only went to Florence as a day trip--with a tour group, at that--so our only meal in the city was at a bland tourist-safe restaurant. Actually, the gelato I had in Florence was probably the one of the best I had in Italy--I'll go over the ones I had in Rome in another post.

Florence has been ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. One look around and you can immediately see why: The Florence Cathedral is the third largest in the world and is covered in white marble bordered in pink and green--simply jaw dropping sight;Florence Cathedral
the famous Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia are home to historical pieces of art like Michelangelo's David and The Birth of Venus;David Florence
and a stroll along the Arno river towards the Ponte Vecchio bridge has some of the most breath taking views you will ever see.
Florence Ponte Vecchio bridge

Luckily, we were given a few hours of free time to explore on our own. We quickly found the gelato place with the highest rating and bee-lined directly there. Cantina del Gelato FlorenceTucked away on the opposite side of the of the Arno is the unassuming Cantina del Gelato.
Inside Cantina del Gelato Florence

I got the stracciatella and lemon--both were extremely delicious! Lemon and Stracciatella Cantina del Gelato FlorenceThe stracceiatella was nice and creamy, with ribbons of fine chocolate crackling throughout, while the lemon was also extra refreshing after the long walk we had finding the place. Plus, the waffle as a topping was a nice touch for contrast of textures.

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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Prague: Langose

Prague Old Square Open
Here we have another post from Prague, this time about one of the more interesting food finds of my trip--and definitely the most interesting tour that I've ever had. Rather than join the regular Sanderman tours that I usually take, which I highly recommend ), I followed my hostel's recommendation and joined a local walking tour that was run by a local Czech woman, for "a more personal tour from someone who has lived in Prague,"
Prague Old Square
I arrived at the Old Town Square to the designated meeting point, and found a middle aged woman, who looked mildly disheveled, but was holding the umbrella that corresponded to the tour group I was looking to join. I asked her if she was the guide, which she quickly confirmed. I realized at this point, that I hadn't had anything to eat and probably wouldn't last the 4 hour walking tour. So, I asked if I have time to get some food, but she told me I didn't have much time. I originally wanted to get a sausage, but the line was too long so I settled on Langose. Langose is just fried dough brushed with garlic butter, and topped with cheese and a bit of hot sauce.Prague Langose
Surprisingly, it's actually very delicious! They're hand made at the booth from balls of dough that are stretched out then deep fried. The Langose is nice and crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside--but what really made it so good was the garlic butter.

Getting back to the story, after I got back from grabbing a snack, our tour guide told us-- there were 3 of us at this point--that we were moving locations. We moved over to the atomic clock, suspiciously close to another walking tour group. I quickly realized what she was doing--she was stealing customers.Prague Atomic Clock
People would come up and ask if she was the walking tour guide and she'd just say yes. Only after the other tour group left did she tell us that she wasn't part of the other group. She proudly told us how it was false advertising when the other group advertised "free walking tours" when they expected a tip after, and added that she was honest by naming her tour "Tips walking tour".

The tour promptly went downhill from there.Prague down the steps

She told us that even though she was born in Prague, she escaped to Switzerland during the communist era and only returned recently. After learning that a pair of ladies on our tour were from Switzerland as well, she struck up a rapport and spoke almost exclusively to them, other than muttering a few words to the rest of us every so often.Prague up to the castle We'd awkwardly run into the other tour group at most of the stops, which she'd try and avoid then complain about after they had left.

The crowning point of the tour had to be at Prague Castle, where we stopped to watch the changing of the guards. Before the changing she told the rest of use to watch out for "those shifty Japanese", as she pulled her eyes with her fingers to make them more "Asian". She told us how they like to bud in front to get a better view, and to give them a firm kick if they tried. I couldn't help but stand there slack jawed in disbelief and wondered if she realized I was Asian.Prague Changing of the Guard
Yet, this gets better. As the changing of the guards started, we heard our tour guide yelling at someone off to the side. She proudly told us afterwards that a Czech woman had tried to get in front of her, to which she asked, "Where did you get your tickets?" The woman then told her to screw off--which our tour guide replied to with a hearty "F__K off, and die on the side of the road."
Wenceslas Square Prague

The others in our group couldn't wait until the end of the tour to ask the rest of us if we thought was equally horrible, so we all went and complained about her many quirks over a beer afterwards. I actually ended up taking the other "free tour" the next day, which ended up being MUCH better. As much as I avoided getting her in my pictures, I do have a shot of half of her showing us the peeing fountains and at Wenceslas Square. Look for the bright green.
Prague Peeing Fountains

- Donnie the Foodie
- Follow: @yapperb1

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