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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

A weekend of eating in Helsinki with a visit to Ravintola Saaga

 

Last weekend I visited the Finnish capital Helsinki for a 70 year birthday party. Since Helsinki is such a short flight from Stockholm (approximately 45 mins) you can go straight from an (almost) full day work and still have a decent evening out. Many airlines fly this route so you’re usually able to score decent priced tickets during campaigns. We flew Norwegian and just barely had times to finish our sparkling wine before landing (not included in ticket). The only gripe is that Helsinki’s an hour ahead, so you’ll lose an hour due to the time difference, although you get it “back” on your return.

 

For our first night I was so lazy so I just scanned google maps for a good-rated restaurant near our hotel Glo Hotel Arts. I managed to find Ravintola Saaga or Saaga restaurant, which is a semi-fancy and sort of touristy Lappish restaurant. We started with a glass of sparkling wine topped with cloudberry liquor and some free nibbles from the kitchen consisting of reindeer jerky on rye crispbread with horseradish cream and pickled onion.

 

For main, fried sea pike with king crab from the Arctic Ocean, roasted butter sauce, cauliflower purĂ©e and crisp malt bread. I also had a delicious slow-cooked reindeer shank with mushroom purĂ©e as well as pickled mushroom, the picture of it in the dimly lit restaurant however, wasn’t as delicious.

 

For dessert we had iced cranberries in an ice bowl. The bowl was, as the name implies, made out of ice, which was a quite cool (sorry) feature. The caramel-liqourice sauce that came with it was delicious. The main problem with this dish was when the sauce started to cool (sorry) and was poured over the even cooler (sorry) iced cranberries. It of course did not defrost them as the general idea of the dish was, and that meant you had to eat frozen cranberries with cold caramel sauce for the last part of the dessert. Great idea though, and very tasty as long as the sauce was warm. Eat fast in other words.

 

We also tried the Lappish squeeky cheese with a pine-tar cream, cloudberry crumble and cloudberry sorbet. This was also a very clever and unique dessert with the tar flavour shining through the dessert’s different components, giving a tar-y smoky taste, contrasting the sweetness of the cream and sorbet. The cheese did not taste that much but had a nice texture.

Price for a meal €€+

Prices were semi-expensive, but not that bad considering Helsinki is a quite expensive city. We paid about €130 for 2 mains, 2 desserts, 2 glasses of sparkling wine with cloudberry liquor and a bottle of the least expensive wine on the menu.

Service was friendly but a little bit slow.

Website (menus and online booking in English available – through a form)

 

The rest of the trip was spent walking Helsinki (above is the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral) and attending the birthday party.

 

Where we stayed

We stayed at Glo Hotel Art a few blocks from the city center. The rate was about €90 and we had a very small but comfortable room with wifi, motorized bed, shower and flatscreen TV as well as breakfast included.

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Where to find the prinsessemla in Stockholm

The prinsessemla, or prinsess-semla, was recently invented. Now it has reached Stockholm and Konditori Vallmofröt in Hagsätra. The creation is a fusion between two classic Swedish pastries; the semla and the prinsesstĂĄrta (princess cake). Since both are heavy in their whipped cream content, the combination is a quite good one, with both’s main features remaining noticeable. I liked it very much, but it is indeed rich and you might want to share it if you want to stay awake post-fika.

Where to find the prinsessemla

Konditori Vallmofröt in Hagsätra. Click here to open their website (in Swedish).

Stockholm’s best semla?

During my early days of eating (eg. when I was a kid in one of Stockholm’s Northern suburbs) I did not really like the semla. The semla (one semla, several semlor) is a Swedish pastry, consisting of a soft, sweet pillowy bun that is filled with (hopefully) fresh whipped cream and almond paste. When I was younger, I found it too rich and without anything to really contrast the extremely sweet taste.

In my later years I’ve started to appreciate the semla however, and this season’s been my most semla-intense so far, with several semlor downed even before tomorrow, the 28th of February. As you may, or may not know, February 28th this year is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which also is semmeldagen or National semla day, in Sweden. This year I have found the wienersemla and it has brought my semi-new found love of semlor to a new level. Below are a few delicious one I’ve had lately.

The secret semla

Above is a hemla, which is short for hemlig semla, meaning ‘secret’ semla. The reason why it’s secret is, because the filling; whipped cream and almond paste, is hidden inside the bun. This one is from WienercafĂ©et.

The Danish pastry semla, Wienersemlan

Wienersemlan. My new favourite pastry, with a croissant-y or Danish pastry:ish bun (Wienersemla is from wienerbröd which is Swedish for Danish pastry) filled with whipped cream and almond paste. This one is bought from Magnus Johanssons Bageri. It is similar to a semla, and according to many not a real semla. So delicious though that it in my mind beats the traditional one (sorry traditional semla-lovers).

Semmelwrappen

Mention also to Tössebageriet’s delicious semla wrap, or semmelwrap as we call it. The traditional semmel bun has been smashed into a flat, semmel bun-flavoured wrap, which, like a semla, is filled with whipped cream and almond paste. Very delicious too.

What about normal semlor?

If you want to have a traditional proper semla however, the picture at the top of this post is from a breakfast dessert tasting of semlor the other day. The right one is a traditional one and was really delicious too. It’s like the wienersemla bought at Magnus Johanssons Bageri in Hammarby Sjöstad.

Update: A great traditional semla (pic above) can also be found at Ă„lvsjö Konditori, just outside central Stockholm. The semla is one of the better I’ve had.

Sunday waffle fika at Ă„lskade Traditioner

 

Just got back to the Sunday couch after a sugar-rushy fika at retroish cafĂ© Ă„lskade Traditioner on Södermalm in Stockholm. 

Ă„lskade traditioner translates to “beloved traditions” in Swedish, and serves for instance savoury as well as sweet waffles, cakes, semlor, Swedish classics such as meatballs, Bullens pilsnerkorv (sausages) and herring. The place is located on trendy Södermalm and was packed with a Sunday fika crowd. The service was friendly but sort of chaotic with my waffle arriving a few minutes after being ordered, while my fika companion’s waffle arrived together with my latte 15-20 minutes later, after we asked the staff where it had gone. The waffles were delicious and prices decent fortunately.

 

Savoury club sandwich waffle with chicken, bacon and extra avocado.

 

Nutella waffle with whipped cream, strawberry ice cream and fresh strawberries. Reminded me of the ‘pancake cakes’ I had as a child.

Banana split waffle. Also very good.

Price and website

While not exactly inexpensive at 95 kronor for a nutella waffle, prices are still pretty good considering the area as well as quality. A tasty latte was 40 kronor.

They do not have a website, but their Facebook page has some info about location etc.

Dough – how to make the perfect homemade pizza

Pizza. One of my, and many others’ favourite dishes. I am probably never as happy as when a pizza meal is approaching. A couple of years back we decided that we wanted to be able to make as good pizzas as from pizzerias or pizza restaurants. 

We started with the tomato sauce, and then the toppings, before we realized it mainly depended on the dough to get that pizzeria quality homemade pizza. After probably five years of making homemade pizzas we were getting somewhere. Here is what we found out:

My 5 tips for making great pizza at home in summary:

Use a pizza or baking stone

Use good quality flour

A very hot oven

Put the pizza high in the oven, close to oven’s heaters

Watch the pizza all the time

Use a baking stone or a pizza stone

One of the tricks is using a pizza/baking stone. We bought our at Urban Deli in Stockholm, but I think you can get it in most places around the world. It’s basically a portable stone that you put in your oven to more or less mimick the effects of cooking a pizza in a masonry oven. Importantly, you will cook the dough from below to get that perfect crust.

Use a good recipe and good quality flour

We use this recipe, from the nowadays legendary hipster pizzeria Roberta’s in Brooklyn, New York. Tipo 00 flour can be a bit hard to find, but really adds to the texture, flavour and end result in my mind. In Stockholm we buy tipo 00 flour at Cajsa Warg on Södermalm.

What you need (approximately three medium sized pizzas or two large)

153 grams Tipo 00 flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon)

153 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons)

8 grams fine sea salt or regular salt (1 teaspoon)

2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)

4 grams extra-virgin olive oil (1 teaspoon)

Tomato sauce

A kilo of peeled fresh good quality tomatoes (make a cut in the skin and cook in boiling water for a minute to lose the peels) or a can of a good brand crushed tomatoes

5-6 cloves of finely chopped garlic

Olive oil

Salt & oregano

1. Heat olive oil in a cooking pot. Add garlic and fry until soft. Be careful not to colour.

2. Add tomatoes, cook for 30 minutes. Add water if needed. Season with salt and oregano.

How to make the pizzas

1. Combine flours and salt in a large mixing bowl.

2. Stir together 200 grams (a little less than 1 cup) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil in a small mixing bowl. Then pour it into the flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, about 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.

3. Knead the rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 or 3 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for at least 1 hour, but preferably 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it from the fridge 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)

4. To make the pizzas, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares. You can also use a rolling pin.

How to cook the pizzas

I put my pizza stone on maximum heat in my oven for about three hours so the stone is really hot. Follow instructions for your particular stone and oven though. Take care here to not do something risky, I would not want you to burn down your house. We have our pizza stone on a regular oven tray for easy handling. The idea though, is to get both stone and oven as hot as possible to minimize the pizza cooking time. We set our oven on 275 degrees fan-heat and grill. You need to watch the pizza all the time because they cook and hence burn fast. Set an alarm if you tend to forget stuff like me. 🙂

1. When the stone is ready. Put on a pizza, smother with tomato sauce, add your toppings such as mozzarella, salami, prosciutto, vegetables or whatever you fancy.

2. Put the pizza stone as high up in your oven as (safely) possible. I use the grill/broiler to get maximum blast from above meanwhile the pizza stone does the same from below. Again, important to watch the pizza as it bakes in about 2-4 minutes and burn very fast. Remove the pizza when it starts to get deep golden spots on the edges.

3. Serve immediately, and don’t forget to put the pizza stone back in the oven if you’re making another pizza. Red wine is very recommended, or a cold beer for that matter.