Ohrid Food

It is without any air of pompousness when I say that I have traveled some and as those who know me, it is usually for extended periods of time. Towards the end of each trip, I cannot wait to get home, in my kitchen to hit the pots, pans and stove to whip up some good old Boerekos (South African cuisine).

South African food? Yes! I consider South African food the best in the world and attribute this to the influences of so many cultures that resulted in the so-called Boerekos (Boere=boers and kos=food). To put this in perspective, one has to understand that South Africa was founded as a halfway station between Europe and the spices of the Far East! Thus, influence #1 (the spices of the Far East … as someone said to me the other day in Munich: “The Indian nation gave us curry, but we had to show them HOW to prepare meat!”) Add to that the various indigenous peoples of South Africa (pap from the Blacks; bobotie and funeral rice from the Malayans; trifle and several other dishes from the Brits; various from the Dutch and French; add to that the various adaptations, and one simply has the best food under the sun!

So, what the heck has this got to do with Ohrid? Simple. The food that I ENJOYED in Ohrid is the closest to South African food. I have not figured out why this is the case, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Look at this:

Boerewors (sausage) is beaten by NOTHING. Imagine my surprise when I found this homemade sausage in Struga. I had to have it with chips (not French fries!) and an egg.

Vetkoek and mince (Fat cake and groundbeef). Where this originated from, I do not know and I have not been able to find this anywhere else in the world. Until this summer in Ohrid. I bought one of these (it looked so good) and when I bit into it, I realized that it was a vetkoek (maybe with a different shape). I went back to the bakery, bought some more (24 cents apiece), made curried mince and voila: Vetkoek and mince in Ohrid!

Ask any visitor to South Africa about koesisters and one will see such a glazy, far-away look in the visitor’s eye. That is exactly what a tulumba is. It is thicker than the koesisterand therefore not as crispy, but it is one and the same thing!

 

South Africa is also known for its vleisrolletjies en vleispasteie (sausage rolls and meat pies). The only difference between a sausage roll and a burek, is the shape!

A rainy day in South Africa is “celebrated” in front of a fire with pannekoek and coffee. Sure the French gave us crepes, but South Africans turnedthem into pannekoek/pancakes (no not American pancakes, those are crumpets!) with cinnamon sugar and butter. This combination is now widely recognized as the South African version. Look at this one in Ohrid with a banana inside and the whipped cream and chocolate drippings to add the POUNDS around the waistline!

The following pics reflect traditional Macedonian cuisine. The last one, OHRID CAKE is to die for. I have NEVER had a slice of cake like that. That recipe I must have!

I was very fortunate inasmuch that I was invited to lunch with a family in Ohrid. OMG! I was so embarrassed as I ate like a pig and could not move for three days. The next day I needed a Bloody Mary; no not for a hangover, but for overeating!

Pizza in Piran

I have always said that we, the US of A, make the best pizza in the world and I stand by that. The pizza crust in South Africa is like cardboard. The crust in Europe is OK, but they add, among other things, corn to theirs. And eat it with KETCHUP (have to admit, it is not too bad, but the mere thought is not very appetizing). The Europeans love their pizza. The worst pizza I have had in my life was in Levanto, Italy. Italy is also the place where I have had the BEST meal of my life. In Peschiera on Lago Gardo: spaghetti carbonara. Unbelievable.

When I stayed in Piran this past summer for a month, I made a serious attempt not to eat at the same place twice. I was pretty successful, until I discovered the Pizza place (name escapes me now) where I had pizza. I could not believe my eyes when I looked at the menu: pizza with an egg and fries! That’s right, egg and fries.

The BEST pizza I have ever had in my life. Went back several times (so much for the idea of only eating at a place once), directed several people to this place. Just look at the pic below (and do not be fooled, there’s some spike to the Fanta in the glass!)

 

 

Cooking in Piran

I did not have access to a kitchen in Piran. Every morning I would go down to Bonazza, order a coffee and “toast” (toasted ham and cheese to which I added an egg) for a few euros and after enjoying this luxurious breakfast, I would start working. I made a point of NOT eating at the same restaurant twice (except for Bonazza).

Like last year, it was not long before I missed home-cooked food (my own), but it was something that I had to put up with this year. One day, while working at Bonazza (in between gazing at the incredible Adriatic in front of me), it dawned on me: “You don’t have a kitchen, but Bonazza does!”  Get my drift.

I approached the owner, Mentor, and told them that I would like to cook for them two days before I left, but would need the kitchen to do so. Of course he agreed.

I invited a few friends, paid for the booze and we enjoyed ……OXTAIL! (do not knock it before you have tried it). It is a tiresome process, so I am not going to print it here. It takes about 3 hours (for the meat alone). The Slovenes were skeptical, I urged them to take one bite, and, as is the case with Americans, the plates could be used as mirrors afterwards … that’s how clean they were!!

P.S. I do not braise/cook my oxtail, I bake ’em thanks to Paula Deen!

Chicken on a can!

When I arrived in Hvar city on the island Hvar, I was sick and tired of fast food, restaurant food, picnicking … all I wanted was a home cooked meal. So imagine my delight when I got to Luka’s Lodge and saw the incredible outdoor cooking area which was put at my disposal. Luka took me to the grocery store and I bought everything I needed for a beer butt chicken. Luka, his help and two friends were dumbfounded: they could not believe what I was doing to the chicken and watched in awe at this chicken perched over the beer can … may not be very attractive, but so delicious. Below, pic to the far left, you can see Luka’s help and friends who enjoyed some of the chicken.

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The guests pretended they did not see what I was doing to the chicken on the beer can. Even Puppy, the Dalmatian (yeah Dalmatians are from this region!) pretended she wanted nothing to do with the spectacle to the right!

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Browning away nicely. Beer butt chicken may take a long time (up to 3 hours), but if it is done right (like this one was), there is NOTHING to beat it!

There was a young couple from Canada (Adam and his girlfriend whose name escapes me) and I invited them to join me, to which she responded: “Yes please, beer butt chicken is what my Dad does all the time.” I served a potato and onion dish with it and we had a feast.

When one stays in hostels or in homes, it is possible to do this. One simply reaches a stage after some travel that one wants home cooking soooooo badly. The plan is to rent Luka’s cottage next year where I will have a kitchen at my disposal. I cannot wait … add to that the friends from South Africa … what more can one ask for? Afrikaans, South African food, private beach … OMG LIFE IS GOOD!

RECIPE

There is NOTHING to beat a beer butt chicken. It is easy, very easy, but takes a long time (up to 3 hours) and one has to follow instructions precisely.

You are going to need a chicken, a can of beer, a lemon or lime or potato, olive oil and spices ( I use a mixture of salt, pepper, curry, paprika, ginger, mustard … quantities do not matter, use your common sense. You are not going to use a cup of mustard and a pinch of salt, right? Obviously salt and pepper are going to be the main ingredients).

Method.

  1. Start a fire. Make sure that you have enough coals on the side, as this is a long process and you are going to need a lot of coals.
  2. Drink half the beer (only half, open another one if you want more!)
  3. Cover the chicken with olive oil and then rub in your spices, generously (do it on both sides).
  4. Shove the lime, lemon, or potato down the neck cavity (if it’s too big, cut it, but it has to be a TIGHT fit).
  5. Place the chicken over the beer can, that’s right, push the beer can up its butt. Place it on the grill as per the pic (let the legs support it and prevent it from tipping over; make sure that it ONLY receives indirect heat; i.e. no coals directly under it. Make sure that you add coals as and when required.
  6. Leave it alone. The best way to check whether it’s OK is to measure the internal temperature (165 degrees at the thickest spot) and let it sit for another 30 minutes once the desired temperature has been reached.
  7. If so desired, you can baste the chicken with an olive oil based marinade (you can use only olive oil if you are too lazy to make a marinade, or you don’t have to use anything).
  8. Don’t be in a hurry, this can take anywhere from up to THREE hours!

Serve with potatoes, bread, whatever tickles your fancy (if you have used a lime or lemon in the neck cavity, remove and squeeze over the potatoes). Bon appétit!

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Note two things here. 1: SIZE of the fire and 2: it's INDIRECT heat. It is necessary to keep a fire going on the side in order to replenish smoldering coals. The colder the coals get, the closer they can be moved to the chicken (even underneath), but if the coals are too hot, the chicken will catch fire (dripping of fat) and you will have charcoaled chicken! The fire to the left is a wonderful source of indirect heat.

Unspoken Code

Michel wrote this piece for his blog at Clubhouse@Myparistrips.com and I “lifted” it with his permission. I will be back in Paris this summer and as I have told y’all, I did not have a good time. After having read this piece, I was wondering: could have been my fault? Thanks for this Michel, I will let you know how the second visit to Paris went.

waiters-with-cocktailsIn French culture and customs, there is an unspoken code in communicating with your waiter. For instance, everybody knows that to indicate you’re ready to order, you close your menu and lay it face down on the table. Your waiter will immediately pick up on that. Imagine not giving this signal to your waiter but instead giving him the attitude for “ignoring” your table. Let me just take a wild guess that you’re not going to be the best of friends! Just a hunch… But you don’t have to know all the ins and outs of French culture and customs to get along with your waiter. To get your waiter’s attention just seek eye contact and raise your hand or index finger.

French social customs are adamant about one thing: Interacting with a person without first exchanging greetings is ill-mannered. Having lived in either French or American cultures my whole life, I know first hand that one thing we do in America without thinking anything of it is for example, to go up to a gas station attendant and just blurt out “$20 on number 4” without a simple hello. Not everyone does it, but it is common. In France, it’s an impolite and flagrant lack of respect, and one that workers in the service or hospitality industry, such as waiters, are particularly incensed by.

Your waiter will be even more annoyed by you if you assume he understands English and start barking orders. Although many of them have at least a basic french waiter serveurlevel of English skills, picture how you would feel if you were a waiter in Hometown USA, and a bunch of impolite French tourists came in, insisting in ordering a meal from you, loudly and in French! I’m willing to bet that you too would be a bit miffed…

In keeping with French culture and customs, don’t expect your waiter to make frequent stops at your table, asking you if everything is okay a hundred times. They consider this pestering you during your meal. As professionals, they take pride in having a pretty good idea whether everything was served okay or not.

When you’re ready for the bill, it is at your leisure that you decide it is time to go. Simply get your waiter’s attention and they will accommodate you. They will never rush to present you with a bill, as in French culture and customs it is considered poor etiquette.

There are a few exceptions, for instance in cafés. Here, you may only be in for a quick cup of coffee, so the waiter might place the bill on your table right away and update it later if you decide to order something else.

Once again a case of ethnocentricity … how many times haven’t we talked about this? I found this on the internet after I have had a conversation with a friend who told me that he will NEVER go back to Paris because of the rude people and waiters. I hope he reads this and ask himself: Could it just be that I am to blame?

What a meal …..

When we were in Cesky Krumlov (remember the place where we stayed with Jen and Suzanne) we were supposed to go out to a restaurant one night. My friend and I were sitting in the beautiful garden, sipping wine, when J & S arrived and told us that they did not have money to go out … “how much do you have?” I asked. “No more than 15 euros for both of us.”  I told her to give me the money and to follow me. I contributed 15 euros for my traveling companion and I, and we went grocery shopping … now, I HATE shopping, except grocery shopping in Europe. We had a blast. We bought so much stuff, you could not believe it. Yeah, you guessed it , we bought a lot of wine and beer too.

spaghettiwine-lg-63555269860l_bread_productsOnce we got home, I opened another bottle of wine and got into the kitchen. I cooked the spaghetti (I like mine soft, not el dente) for about 12 – 15 minutes. While the spaghetti was cooking, I grated some cheese, and ham (yes one CAN grate ham). I mixed the grated cheese and ham with a little bit of heavy whipping cream (yoghurt will work too, if you can’t get cream) and once the spaghetti was ready, I drained the water, and mixed in the cheese, ham and cream mixture, and kept on stirring until the cheese melted.  After I dished up for each of us, I sprinkled some more grated cheese over the food. Add to that the wonderful freshly-baked bread that we bought and, voila, we had a wonderful, though inexpensive, meal. The wine complemented the meal.

For dessert we had chocolates and incredible cookies. For our 30 euros, we bought all of this, plus the wine, beer and some more goodies for breakfast the next day. Food is cheap in Europe, much cheaper than what we pay and if one knows the basics of cooking, there is NO excuse why one should not eat like a king at a pauper’s price!

P.S.the best meal I have ever had, was in Italy in a village on Lago Garda. Spaghetti Carbonara. I shall never forget it as long as I live!

Het eethuisje Bon Appetit

That strange name is Dutch for: The Restaurant (eatery) Bon Appetit.

Many years ago, I was visiting Amsterdam and was looking for a place to eat. I discovered Bon Appetit. It was empty. And, when I say empty, I mean we were the only two customers in the place. It belonged to a mother (Freda) and her daughter (Marja). I befriended the two ladies, had one of the finest meals of my life in this (so I discovered from my conversation with them) brand new restaurant that served meals that were reminiscent of Grandma’s incredible cooking. Comfort food. We went back the next night, and this time there were 4 people other than us in the restaurant. At my suggestion, we started “I was here and enjoyed myself” wall on which patrons wrote messages.

I went home, referred a lot of people and they all came back and said: “I am so glad you told me about that place… it was incredible.” Two years later I was in Europe and on my way back home, I realized that the Bouvier World Show was scheduled in two weeks’ time.

You guessed it. I arrived back home and two weeks later I was in Amsterdam to attend the Bouvier World Show. Of course, I had to go to Bon Appetit.  I could not believe my eyes … the place was not only packed out, there was a waiting line! Marja came to me to inform me that it would be about 20-25 minutes before they could attend to me (she did not recognize me, as the light was behind me). I responded with a very unusual (at least for the Dutch) Afrikaans word. She looked up and yelled; “Godsverdomme, is mijn vriend uit Afrika! Moeder!” (God damnit, it is my friend from Africa! Mother!)

dutchFood 001dutchfood2dutchfoodOf course they found a spot for me. And I watched this spectacle of one after the other coming in, eating, and leaving. In the wee hours of the next morning we started to talk. Freda, Marja and I. “How did all this happen?” I asked. They told me that a famous TV personality came to dinner, was so impressed and plugged the restaurant and in no time business was booming. They thanked me for all my referrals and showed me the wall … at the top was my message and the pic of Krisjan, my dog. The wall was full, in fact they had started a third wall. We had a wonderful time, they would not accept one penny from me. It was a teary goodbye around 4 in the morning.

Two years later I went back. The place was gone. Nobody knew anything about it. As for me, I could not even tell you in which part of Amsterdam it was located. Something that I thought about in 2008 when I was, once again, in Amsterdam. As I have written so many times on here: Friendships come and friendships go.

European bakeries

If someone would hold a gun to my head and say, “Choose only ONE thing that drives you insane about Europe … one thing that you look forward to every time you travel,” I will respond: “The bakeries!” I still have to find a bakery in our country that matches those in Europe. I can spend hours there, simply gazing over the produce. The owners, I am sure, have become used to Americans visiting, as it takes us so long to make up our minds.

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There is a wonderful, and huge, bakery outside the Dom Kirche in Cologne. Every day at 5, when people quit work to go home, they sell the unsold goods at half price. Y’all should see the lines!

I missed my bus stop in Dubrovnik and got off at the next one, only to discover another great bakery. Needless to say, henceforth, I always got off at the next stop. The bakery in Antwerp was owned by Middle Eastern people and the goods reflected this … amazing stuff. Walking in Amsterdam, I found a bakery that sold custard slices (I am not even going to attempt to try and explain that).

However, the best bakery was the one in Levanto. It felt like forever before we made our choices. We sat outside and devoured it in no time … rushed back and ordered more, much more. The owner, in her disbelief, said in something in Italian. I am sure it was something like” “Good Lord, these men are either hungry or pigs!”

P.S. When a student went to Europe to play soccer, I urged her to go to De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam and LOOK at the cakes there. When she got back, she told me, she did one better: she BOUGHT a cake! Pieces of art

Saving money while …

… keeping your belly full

The purpose of this site is to demonstrate to students (and others) how to travel through Europe on the cheap. I have already shown how one can sleep for very little money, even for free … now it’s time to show how travelers can save money on food. My experience is that young people, especially men, eat a lot. If one does not spend one’s money wisely, eating can cost a lot and make a major dent in the budget.

Breakfast
05_BREAKFASTNot wanting to sound like your mom, this is the most important meal and also the one that can be the cheapest. All you have to docontinental bf is to go to a local grocery store and buy the stuff from there. Get a dozen of eggs, loaf of bread, butter, milk, bacon, juice, tomatoes, and you can cook a hearty breakfast for less than $3 (which will cost you nearly double that in a restaurant).

Preparing eggs: you can fry them in the butter that you have bought, you can boil them (10 minutes), or you can beat some eggs with milk and make scrambled eggs (you don’t have to worry about utensils as hostels supply these … all that is expected from you is to clean up. Mom is not going to be there to do this!) Fry thick tomato slices in butter until translucent and you have a wonderful side dish. Cooking bacon is easy, simply follow the instructions. Serve the foregoing with fresh bread (or toast) and voila, one full belly at a fraction of the price it would have cost you in a restaurant.

Elsewhere you will find a recipe for French Toast. It is easy and inexpensive to cook. One does not have to be a cordon bleu chef to perform the basic duties in the kitchen. And remember: you could always do the European version … continental breakfast with bagels, bread, cheese, etc (this will cost you even less and anyone can prepare this kind of breakfast, however, it is not as filling!)

Lunch
Now, if you are innovative, you could boil some extra eggs, peel them and mix them with mayo, salt and pepper and make some wonderful egg salad sandwiches for lunch. During the day you will pass a market where you can buy more stuff (cheese, cold cuts, fruit) and you can have a wonderful picnic in a wonderful setting. Add a bottle of wine to that and you will see what I mean.egg_salad_sandwich_1cold-cuts

Dinner
You can do the same for dinner (prepare your own food) or you can, like I do, eat out. You have to treat yourself some times, don’t you think? There are wonderful, inexpensive restaurants all over Europe. They are normally hidden in the back streets … this is where the locals come in. Ask them where the places are where you can eat without breaking the bank.

P.S. Over the next few weeks I will post some easy, yet tasteful recipes, to help you still the hunger pains at a fraction of the cost in a restaurant.

Picnicking abroad

One of the most exciting ways to enjoy food, is to picnic. Now, many think of picnicking as being seated at a table, with a gingham tablecloth, basket of fruit, etc. You know, the Martha Stewart visual. You will be hard pushed to do that in Europe because you will have to cart all the goods with you.

This is how I do it. In my backpack you will find at all times: a Tupperware container with a small cutting board, salt and pepper, serrated knife, corkscrew/opener, tablecloth and dishcloth inside. There will also be a paper towel roll, cup and TP. The foregoing is the minimum that one should have for a picnic. Once I start out for the day, I find the local market where I normally buy: Cold cuts, cheese, tomato, bread and a bottle of wine. These items seldom cost me more than $10 and it is enough for two. I may add fruit or some pastries, depending on my mood. The meat and cheese go into the Tupperware container and I set out for the day. BTW, in many countries one can buy bread by the slice. On the other hand, the bread is so cheap and delicious, that it will not go to waste. If you would rather have a beer with your lunch, you can always buy some at a store closer to lunchtime … that way you will ensure that it is cold.

Picnicpicnick1As you can imagine the stuff in my backpack does not weigh that much, so it is no big deal carrying that on your back. Around lunch, or whenever I start to get hungry, I will start looking for a place to eat. Most of the times it will be in a park (although I had an incredible picnic in a cemetery in Berlin … but I must admit, I did not know it was a cemetery!), sometimes it will be at the side of a fountain, anywhere that tickles your fancy.

The rest should be obvious. You spread the tablecloth, put the stuff on there, cut if you have to, and enjoy. Word to the wise: make sure that there are no signs prohibiting picnics … it has reached my ears that Rome has banned picnicking in tourist places.

Picnicking is a great way for filling your belly when your wallet is getting on the thin side. Finally, do not leave a mess. Remember how your mother raised you and that you are a guest in another country. Happy picnicking!