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. 🙂

Japanese style curry at Curry House CoCo Ichibanya in Shinjuku

One of the days in Tokyo we had been walking for ages in the rain. We were cranky, tired and hungry. That is usually not an ideal situation to start discussing where to eat. We stood outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building when it struck me; “Curry, I want Japanese curry”. After a quick look at Google maps, it was almost to good to be true, we were a block from one of the higher ranked curry places in Tokyo, the interestingly named “Curry House CoCo Ichibanya” which is part of a chain with the same name. After a approximately 30 second walk, we found ourselves in a small curry smelling paradise.

Japanese curry is a gravy like sauce flavoured with curry, served on top of rice and usually paired with some kind of deep-fried protein. We opted for deep-fried chicken with our curry which came with pickles, rice and mentioned curry sauce. The food was hot, savoury, crunchy, salty and just plain delicious. Price was really good too, and we left a lot happier.

Price ($) and website
I honestly can’t remember more than it was very affordable. They have an English website with a menu that you can find here. We had lunch at their Shinjuku location close to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (that by the way has free entry) and the Park Hyatt Hotel. Shinjuku station’s main hall is a 5-10 minute walk away.

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).

 

Back to Japan!

8 years ago, I first visited Japan, and immediately loved it. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since, but it took that my brother moved to Kyoto to force me to lift my butt, enter R2D2 and bring myself to the land of riding suns, fantastic food and great people.

The trip started with a short but decently nice flight with Lufthansa from Stockholm to Munich. At Lufthafen Münich, aka Munich Airport, we had to visit Airbräu in Terminal 2, the world’s only airport brewery. Delicious weiß (wheat) bier und a pretty good veal schnitzel with German potato salad were enjoyed.

Then it was time to board R2D2. All Nippon Airways has somekind of a deal with the Starwars franchise, meaning a couple of their planes are Starwars painted. 

The onboard experience in Ana’s economy was decent enough. We flew the semi-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner which had onboard wifi (I paid 22 usd for wifi use for the duration of the flight. There were a couple of less expensive options too), a decent personal screen with eg. live tv (for instance with CNN and Japanese NHK premium). Leg room was also fine, and the food decent. Above is dinner, I chose the ‘Western’ option which was a beef curry with steamed rice. Everyone had the same starters which was cold soba noodles, pasta salad with parmesan, bread and a small mixed leaves salad. Food was quite good, given being on a plane of course. All drinks and food were complimentary.

Then, touchdown in the greatest city on earth, Tokyo! It was cold, rainy, dark, and beautiful, in a blade runner kind of way. We checked in to our tiny 9 square meter room at Sotetsu Frésa Inn and went out for food.

The first place we ran into on the street outside our hotel, Yotteba, advertised great chicken wings and beer. Cold as we were, that sounded too appealing to resist.

Edamame, served cold by unknown reason.

Spicy, quite delicious lightly fried chicken wings.

 

Delicious gyoza!

Stay tuned for more delicious Japanese food adventures and travel. Make sure to also follow me on Instagram for the latest updates. Arigato gozaimasu!

Lunch at Bobergs Matsal in Stockholm

Visited Bobergs Matsal in NK (Nordiska Kompaniet) department store the other day for some fine-dining lunch. Bobergs Matsal was originally opened in 1915, but has been closed until a few years ago, when it was re-opened by chef Björn Frantzén of famous Frantzén restaurant in Stockholm.

Bobergs Matsal is a quite classic fine-dining experience, but generally only open for lunch, offering lunch eaters a in-Stockholm sort of rare opportunity to enjoy lunch with table service, white tablecloths and well executed, fancy plating sort of food.

I’ve been to Bobergs Matsal a couple of times, and it has been consistently great every time so far. My latest visit was no exception and I really enjoyed the steak tartare ‘Parisienne’ which in addition to delicious steak tartare included deep-fried capers, a creamy baked egg yolk, horseradish mayonnaise, pickled yellow beetroot, herbs and mustard. The tender steak worked really well with the pickled crunchy beets and the fatty mayonnaise. The ultra-crispy fries, topped with a fancy sprinkle of fried parsley and parmesan cheese, worked like a charm as a side. The accompanying salad was a bit redundant, but nevertheless tasty.

For dessert, I went, after much agony (was also keen to try the glace au four), for the Cardamom-baked Ingrid Marie apples. The apples were served ‘crumble pie-style’ with vanilla ice cream, a caramel sauce, an oat and dinkel crumble, and some crispy apple chips. It was a very delicious dessert, but also very rich. If you’re still hungry after your main, go for it. Otherwise, the delicious chocolate ice cream with caramelized banana and rum creme could be a good bet. I ordered a quite enormous latte to have with the dessert, and it too was very good.

Bobergs Matsal is a solid bet for a fine dining lunch in Stockholm, and during my four visits, I’ve left happy.

Price $$$

Prices are expensive, but not crazy expensive, depending a bit on what you order, of course. Mains are roughly 200-400 SEK, desserts 65-90 SEK.

Website (in Swedish)

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 purée and crisp malt bread. I also had a delicious slow-cooked reindeer shank with mushroom purée 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.

Website

Sunday waffle fika at Älskade Traditioner

Just got back to the Sunday couch after a sugar-rushy fika at retroish café Älskade Traditioner on Södermalm in Stockholm.

Älskade 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.