Where to eat in Bologna (and why I gained 3 kilos in 3 days)


La Grassa, or the fat one, is the nickname of the Italian city of Bologna, lovingly named so by the rest of Italy, because of its, well fatty, cuisine. You could also call me the fat one, as I gained 3 kilos or about 6.5 pounds during my three days in Bologna recently.

So what is it that makes the cuisine of Bologna, the capital of the region of Emilia Romagna so good, that you just can’t stop eating while visiting. I’ll tell you what.

Mortadella.
The fatty sausage-meets-ham mortadella is one of Bolognas most famous foods. In Northern America, and probably in some other places too there is a similar thing called Bologna sausage, or ‘baloney‘. Mortadella is a sausage made of pork, with at least 15 percent of small fat cubes incorporated into it, which makes it remarkably delicious. Above is mortadella, salami, mozzarella, bread, cappuccino and some other breakfast stuff served at our hotel, Hotel Touring, which was pretty nice.
Hotel touring


Piadina.
These delicious quesadilla-y (sorry Italians) fried flatbreads are made out of a dough that includes lardo, which is pig’s fat. Okay, sometimes the lard is substituted with olive oil. Above is a piadina at nice wine bar Vineria Favalli, stuffed with bresaola (air cured beef), goat’s cheese and rucola/arugula.

Burrata.
A very delicious burrata cheese (sort of a runny mozzarella) served caprese style, meaning with tomatoes and basil. Maybe not that particularly Bolognese, but very, very good. This was at the same place as above, that is Vineria Favalli.
Vineria Favalli

Gelato. 
The first one is from Stefino, which makes both crazy ice cream flavours such as wasabi, as well as more traditional ones like the one above which was gianduia and raspberry respectively.
Gelateria Stefino


Gelato from Zanarini just next to Piazza Maggiore in the center of Bologna. Above are lemon and hazelnut flavours.
Caffé Zanarini


Cold cuts and tagliatelle al ragú at Trattoria Da Me Ancoranoi.
The dinner at to me highly anticipated Trattoria Da me was really something. We started with a platter of antipasti that featured an assortment of mixed cold cuts such as mortadella and salami, as well as deep-fried “crescentine” bread pockets, runny local cheese, pickles and fried onions. Mm-mm-mm.
Being a huge fan of the sacrilegious bastardisation of Bologna’s national dish, spaghetti bolognese, this was paradise to me. Tagliatelle al ragú is the original version of what is lovingly known as for instance spag bol in most other parts of the world, and the above version, which I had at Trattoria Da me is absolutely the best I’ve had. Including my own which I’m usually quite pleased with. The tagliatelle pasta was out of this world, the sauce was thick, meaty and very firm, and the parmesan cheese the natural binding-everything-together component. So. Good.
Trattoria Da Me


Pizza.
We had a fantastic pizza experience at Regina Sofia, just off Piazza Maggiore. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which actually was in an alley, adding to the Italian experience. The pizzas were ‘Napoli style’, meaning thicker and doughier than usual thin crust pizza. Above is a capricciosa with fior di latte (mozzarella-like, made with cow’s milk) cheese, cotto (cooked ham), mushrooms, artichokes and small olives. It was so good. As everything else in Bologna.
Pizzeria Regina Sofia


Aperol Spritz.
Our hotel, Touring, had a rooftop bar called Terrazza Mattuiani where you could watch the sunset, eat some snacks, aperitivo, and drink aperol spritz. The only problem is that you need to pay €10 if you’re a hotel guest (includes a drink and snacks) or €15 if you’re a walk-in guest. Worth it in my mind, but more expensive than most other places in the city we visited. They do lack the views though.
Terrazza Mattuiani

One of the arcades for which Bologna is famous. There is actually 40 kilometers of them around the city, protecting its visitors and residents from the elements. First constructed in the late middle ages, and adding a lot of charm to the strolling which hopefully removes some of the mortadella or pasta weight gained.


Lasagne verde and tortellini in brodo.
Finally, Bologna is also famous for two dishes we had at a fantastic little restaurant called Al Sangiovese. The first one is lasagne verde which consists of green (spinach) pasta sheets, bechamel sauce and ragú (meat sauce). The other one is tortellini in brodo, or small pasta pockets filled with minced pork and served in a flavoursome and quite light broth. A sprinkling of parmesan wasn’t to be turned down either. Both dishes were delicious, especially washed down with a nice glass of Sangiovese wine.

144 stairs Cafe in Tbilisi

144 stairs Cafe

Our first meal in Tbilisi was enjoyed at “144 stairs” close to the Nariqala Fortress of Tbilisi. You walk up a few sets of stairs before reaching the restaurant, which, justifying the semi-steep climb, offered amazing views over Tbilisi, and as far as the Caucasus mountains we visited a few days later (more about that trip below).

144 stairs had, apart from nice views, great food. Prices were decent and the Georgian white wine was cold. As we had just arrived we ordered a lot of food. The khachapuri, the Georgian cheese bread, sort of similar to pizza, was delicious. As was the Georgian salad, with crispy cucumber, sweet juicy tomatoes, mild onion and creamy walnut dressing.
Website

Pastorali restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia

 


Pastorali

The one place we actually went back to was a restaurant called Pastorali. Pastorali, like most (all) places we visited served tasty and affordable Georgian food. Located on the cozy slightly touristy Erekle II street, they served up the best Georgian khinkali we had during our trip. Khinkali are large dumplings, like my favourite dish in the entire world xiao long bao, they are filled with both meat and a spiced broth with a dominating flavour of coriander. You begin by sucking out the broth, then you proceed to eat the dough and meat, don’t eat the top though, that is used as a handle to hold the khinkali.

Apart from the khinkali we also had delicious Adjeri khachapuri (the famous cheese bread again, this time with a runny egg on top). We also had baked eggplant with mixed walnuts and pomegranate seeds as well as a Imeruli khachapuri which is a round cheese bread and with the cheese on the inside. Everything very delicious and prices were good.
Website

Barbarestan restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia

One of the few places that I had looked up in advance was newly opened Barbarestan. Founded only one and half year ago by the founder, according to him after finding the book of an old cooktress, Barbara Joradze, in a market and then re-inventing her old recipes with the best produce and ingredients, served with great Georgian wine. Something like this was the story, told to us by the very friendly manager, who actually walked around the restaurant with the actual book in a glass cover. There are a few tables outside on the street and on street level and several ones in the restaurants super-cozy wine cellar.

I wanted to try most things on the menu, but being one of the few pricier places we visited, we controlled ourselves slightly.

First up a mixed starter plate with different dips and GREAT flatbreads. The dips were: caramelized onions and walnuts; broccoli and walnuts; cheese and yoghurt, and finally an eggplant dip. So, so good with the accompanying Georgian red wine.

Of course I had to sample the fancy(ier) restaurant-version of a khachapuri. The Georgian red continued to work well.

Georgian meatball with potato puree and pomegranate sauce.

Our server pooring us wine. Amber in colour but still considered a white wine. A peculiar taste, but nevertheless very nice.

Barbarestan was incredible. Exactly the kind of restaurant I like. Great ambience, great food, not too fancy, but not too un-fancy either. Attention on food, drink and that everyone feels good. Loved it. Go there.
Website

5 days of food and adventures in amazing Georgia

Just got back from a five day trip to the amazing little country of Georgia (not the U.S. state) nestled between Russia and Turkey in the Caucasus. I’ve been wanting to go to Georgia for quite some time. The reasons for it being the scenic countryside, Tbilisi as a city, rumours of friendly people, and most of all; the Georgian cuisine.

We flew Air Baltic from Riga, which were pretty decent apart from the final leg on our return to Sweden when I got stuck next to a space-stealing seat neighbour on Air Baltic’s cramped Q400.

 

Tbilisi is mostly a beautiful city, as can be seen on the Old Tbilisi building above.

We also took a day trip to Northern Georgia and Mount Kazbek, about a three hour drive from Tbilisi. Due to two (!) flat tires, either by unfortune or lacking maintenance from our tour operator, the whole day took forever to get through. We were picked up at 9.40 am and was back in town around 10 pm. Nevertheless, the trip was actually worth it, despite most of the day was spent on the road.

Our first stop: Ananuri fortress, situated about 70 kilometers from Tbilisi.


The main attraction for the trip, apart from amazing mountainous scenery for a good part of the trip, was the Gergeti Trinity Church, situated at almost 2200 meters height, and still surrounded by massive Caucasus mountains towering over it. To get there we took a four wheel driven jeep from Stepantsminda to reach the Gergeti Trinity Church. After a 30 minute off-road drive we reached the church, and my god what a place it was. Probably top five of the coolest places I’ve ever been, and that’s despite that they, not sure how, actually has rolled up an ugly little food truck selling burgers just outside the beautiful church.


Mount Kazbek, 5074 meters tall as seen from the Gergeti Trinity Church.

 

The following day, back in Tbilisi, we visited the Dry Bridge Market where everything from Soviet memorabilia to knives, old army surplus, wine jars and cutlery are sold. A fascinating place, for me perhaps more for the ambience than the actual shopping.

Jack London restaurant Tbilisi
After the shopping, more food was needed. The name Jack London did not sound too promising, but the menu looked nice and the food on the other diner’s plates did too.

We ordered a sulguni cheese (the cheese used in khachapuris) stuffed kabab and chicken shashlik, both served with mild raw sliced onion. The fries at this place looked great, I still regret not having them.

 

Since I try to visit as many new and different countries as possible, I of course had to visit neighbouring Armenia. Through Envoy Tours, we booked a “de-tour to Armenia” that took us through the green Lore region of Northern Armenia. I had not really understood just how beautiful Armenia would be with its rolling green hills, canyons and monasteries, some of them constructed in the 10th century. That’s pretty old. During our tour we visited Sanahin and Haghbat (or Haghpat) monasteries situated along the Debed canyon, both of them Unesco World Heritage sites and built somewhere around 966. We also briefly visited the old factory town Alaverdi with abandoned factories, train cars and cranes. Felt like something out of a zombie movie, very cool. Our last sight of the trip was akhtala fortress-monastery which was as old and cool as the two previous, but not a UNESCO world heritage site. Finally, before going back to Georgia and Tbilisi we stoped for lunch at a local family’s home. Sat down around a table with mile-long views of the valley and mountains below the 12 or so of us were served delicious home-cooked Armenian food. We started with a couple of vegetable dishes such as a carrot fritter, different pickled vegetables, bread, cheeses, spinach fried with eggs and fresh vegetables from the area. For main we had a great grilled pork, served with raw sliced onions and thick deep fried potato slices. An excellent meal in an equally excellent setting. Also bonus points to Envoy Tours for including this stop instead of just feeding us in a touristy place somewhere along the way.

A very cool tour that was quite affordable and with a great flexible and knowledgeable guide. You can find Envoy Tours website here.

Then it was time to fly back, but not before cashing in my drink voucher I received upon checking in at Mercure Tbilisi Old Town which’s sky bar was to be the last we saw of Tbilisi before heading back home.

So in summary, wow, what a place Georgia is. It’s beautiful, the food is amazing, the prices are low and you can go to an off the beaten track country like Armenia over the day. Now I’m really keen to keep exploring the rest of the region. All the good restaurants we visited are posted after this post. To just keep on reading to get inspired to visit one of my new favourite countries. 🙂

Homemade Spaghetti alla Gricia recipe

This weekend, I tried the last one of the four pastas of Rome. The four pastas of Rome is carbonara (egg, guanciale/pancetta, pecorino, black pepper), Amatriciana (guanciale/pancetta and tomatoes), Cacio e Pepe (black pepper, pecorino) and the Pasta alla Gricia, with pecorino and guanciale/pancetta.

Pasta, or spaghetti alla Gricia is sort of a cacio e pepe with added crunch from crispy fried guanciale, or pancetta. The proper pork to use is guanciale, which is air-dried pork cheek. But when not in Rome, you can substitute it with pancetta, or in worst case bacon (preferably un-smoked).

What you need for Spaghetti alla Gricia (serves approximately four):

One package of spaghetti (I use Martelli or De Ceccho)

300 grams of guanciale/pancetta/bacon, cut into cubes, strips

2,5 deciliters/one cup of pecorino cheese

1/2 deciliter (1/4ish cup) of strained pasta cooking water

Black pepper

Salt

1. Add the pork to a cold pan and put on heat. This will make the fat render and make the pork crispier. I sometimes add a garlic clove to this to slightly flavour the pork (discard when done).

2. Cook the spaghetti until almost al dente, the pasta will cook some more in the sauce. Save the cooking liquid as indicated above.

3. Grate the pecorino cheese as finely as your grater allows. Mix about half of it with a couple of tablespoons of water to a smooth ‘sauce’.

4. When pork is crispy, turn off/lower the heat and add the al dente spaghetti into the pork and fat pan (remove some of the fat if desired). Toss around and then add the pecorino mixed with water as well as the reserved cooking liquid.

5. Stirr until the liquids almost has reduced and the pasta is covered in silky cheese sauce. Add almost all the remaining pecorino, salt and black pepper and give a final toss before removing from heat.

6. Serve immediately topped with the remaining pecorino cheese.

Enjoy!

Two really good tonkatsu restaurants we visited in Japan

One of my favourite Japanese dishes is tonkatsu. Tonkatsu or panko crusted deep-fried pork cutlets is a dish similar to a schnitzel with juicy pork covered by a crunchy panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) crust. 

During our recent trip to Japan, we had tonkatsu twice; once at Wako, where we went last time in Tokyo, and once at Maisen, a place I’ve been reading about a lot and what usually show up when you google “Tokyo’s best tonkatsu”.

Wako tonkatsu in Kyoto Station
We went to Wako in Kyoto Station, situated on the upper floors of the Isetan department store inside the station. Bonus trivia is that you can go outside from the restaurant floor where Wako is and up a couple of stairs/escalators to reach a nice rooftop area with views over Kyoto, although with a wall in the way of proper photos.

At Wako we opted to try one of the more expensive premium versions of pork for our tonkatsu. I believe the cost was around 1800 jpy, meaning roughly $16. According to the staff, it was juicier with a higher fat content and hence slightly more expensive. After a round of frosty beer mugs, our tonkatsu arrived. Since the tonkatsu came as a set meal, which it usually does in Japan, we also got rice, pickles, cabbage slaw and grated daikon radish. The tonkatsu pork cutlet was, just as advertised, nicely fatty and soft, as well as the breading crunchy. A nice thing with tonkatsu is that it, when done properly, lacks almost any excess oil. So given the relative healthiness of the sides, it doesn’t feel that bad to eat. Despite being a couple of hundred grams of deep-fried fatty pork. Wako’s tonkatsu is a really nice one and in my mind well worth a visit.

Price ($$) and website
We paid roughly 2500 yen a person with premium pork tonkatsu set meals and a beer. Website with sample menu in English (scroll down to Kyoto and then Wako JR Isetan for address): click here.


Next place to enjoy tonkatsu was, as mentioned above, the legendary Maisen or Mai-Sen. We went to their outlet close to Tokyo Station in Daimaru shopping mall, located on the 12th floor. Bonus trivia for this place is that the view from the restaurant floor’s restrooms is quite spectacular. We went quite late, so we could snap a few sneaky restroom pictures since no one else was there.

Bathroom views from the restaurant floor of Tokyo Daimaru shopping mall.

Anyway, the food. As per usual, we ordered a round of beers and a set meal each, opposed to Wako, this time with fillet instead of loin, meaning slightly less fatty meat and also a slightly smaller amount. I think it was 100 grams of fillet instead of 150 grams of loin, for the same price. The tonkatsu was served with rice, miso soup and cabbage slaw with a tasty lemony yuzu dressing. Once again, the breaded pork was not at all oily from the deep-frying. The meat was slightly less juicy compared to Wako, but that did not really matter as the crust was so crunchy and delicious. It actually felt more balanced than with the premium high fat content-pork tonkatsu at Wako, since it was almost overwhelming with both fatty pork and being deep-fried.



Katsusando from Maisen. Tonkatsu in white toast bread. Good stuff.

Maisen’s katsusando – tonkatsu sandwich at Tokyo Foodshow
Another thing we tried and that you probably should too if you like tonkatsu is Maisen’s katsusando. Katsusando is a tonkatsu sandwich, which means sliced cold tonkatsu in a white bread sandwich with some tonkatsu sauce spread on. We had Maisen’s katsusando that we bought at Tokyo Foodshow in Shibuya, a whole floor of food where different outlets sell their different types of food and where you can both pick up take-away as well as dine in at a couple of communal stand up tables.

Price ($$+) and website
Maisen is slightly more expensive that for instance Wako, and we paid about 1600 yen a person for one of the cheaper set meals on the menu. Maisen’s website, only in Japanese. Address (google maps link).

Kobe beef dinner at Gyu-an Ginza


One of the best meals of the trip, and probably one of my best meals ever was enjoyed at Gyu-An in Ginza, Tokyo. Gyu-An specialise in meat, as in good quality stuff, such as wagyu beef and the world famous kobe beef. After quite thorough research we decided that Gyu-An felt most bang for the buck for our relatively tiny kobe beef budgets and we managed to score a reservation with the help of our hotel concierge a few days later.

As we arrived Gyu-an, after a stroll through the neon lit Ginza district of Tokyo, they couldn’t find our reservation, and I had a few seconds of panic, before they found us a table, and my greatly anticipated steak dinner was, fortunately, a go. While prices are decent given what you get, there is still a considerable price for a meal, depending how you look at it. To have some reference, and to save some money, the two of us decided to share a slightly less pricey wagyu steak set menu as well as the swankiest of the kobe sets which meant you got 200 grams, 100 grams each of kobe fillet and kobe sirloin. Included was a couple of starters, a tiny dessert (below) as well as coffee or tea. Drinks were extra but was relatively decently priced.


We had a couple of starters, but the only really exciting one was this incredibly delicious beef sushi with a thin, fatty piece of beef covering the rice. A great bite that like the beef was washed down with house red.


The matsusaka wagyu beef was just a tad less delicious than the kobe beef. Hadn’t I had the kobe beef, this would’ve been the best steak I’ve ever had. Extremely flavourful and tasty with a great tender texture.

The steak of steaks. Kobe beef fillet and sirloin. Not really sure which one I liked the best. The fillet was of course a bit leaner and softer than the sirloin, but that was barely noticeable given how tender both were. The fat in the kobe beef is not at all chewy, but rather melts in your mouth. The best comparisson I’ve been able to make is, to think of how you bite into a ripe mandarin orange and how it kind of bursts with fruit juice when you bite into it. This was like that, only that the fruit juice was kobe beef fat. It was incredibly good. It was also incredibly rich, and it was almost a struggle to eat everything given the two starters, rice, soup and salad that you are also served. No doubt this was the best steak I have ever had. My expectations were really high. I’ve been eating some really good meat the last years, churrasco in Brazil, grilled bife de chorizo in Argentina and great French steak au poivre. But this beat them all, easily.


For dessert we were served three perfect strawberries. Although it is almost insulting calling this a dessert in normal cases, we were so full that we did not really mind. And the strawberries were in fact extraordinarily tasty.

Price and location
We paid roughly $280 for our two steak meals (one wagyu at 8500 jpy, one kobe combo at 15500 jpy), a caraff of red wine, and water. The restaurant is located in Ginza, easily accessible with a couple of subway lines.

Delicious sushi at Musashi kaiten sushi in Kyoto


The best sushi, and unfortunately one of the only times we had any during the trip, was at Musashi Sushi in Kyoto. The sushi is served kaiten style, which means the chefs make sushi and then put it on a conveyor belt which diners are conveniently placed around, and then you make your pick as it passes by you.

At Musashi, you can also ask the chefs to make you special ones if your favourite is constantly taken by the couple just before you. I’m not saying that this in fact did happen, just that it could have. 🙂


We sampled lots of different sushi at Musashi, for instance ones with roasted beef, melt-in-your-mouth fatty tuna belly, lobster in mayo, tuna and quail egg yolks and grilled unagi eel sushi. Everything was really delicious, the beer was as always served ice cold in iced beer mugs and the prices were quite good too. Your check is calculated by the number of plates of a certain colour you have on your table.


Lobster salad sushi.

Steak sushi.


Grilled sweetish unagi eel sushi.

Great ramen at Kairikiya in Kyoto

After finding our Air Bnb accomodation, food was on our minds. After some searching, our first meal in Kyoto was a delicious bowl of ramen at Kairikiya in central Kyoto. The place is part of a chain spread over Japan. We had a bowl of miso ramen, karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and fried gyoza (dumplings). Everything was very delicious and was celebratory washed down with an ice cold glass of Japanese beer. A very nice thing in Japan is that the beer always during our trip came in frosted glasses.


Delicious gyoza served on the side.
Miso ramen with pork, green onion and perfectly cooked creamy eggs. Delicious.

Kairikiya’s ramen was maybe not the best I’ve ever had (I will post about that one soon), but nevertheless a really tasty ramen. We went for lunch, and the place was almost full so we were not alone in enjoying the place.

Price and place
Located in central Kyoto. Prices were quite low. Around 1000 jpy per person for a ramen bowl, a couple of shared sidedishes and a beer.
Click here for website with menu (in English).