January’s favourites: 5 cheer-myself-up foods and drinks

Time, whatever happens it passes and doesn’t care if you’re late, you can call it bastard, but in the meantime it’s gone already.” says my rough translations of a song from the famous Italian songwriter Lorenzo Jovanotti. Time flies, it ridiculously does, and while I’m trying to figure out the important changes that are occurring in my life at moment, I suddenly find myself realising that an entire month is gone since my last post. It’s been stressful so far, considering everything is going on with my family, so keeping my 2015 resolution to stay positive has been likewise difficult, but I like to think I’m stronger than that, therefore fingers crossed because I don’t want to snap.

What I really like about myself, together with few other personal characteristics, is that my eating habits are not affected at all from the various everyday life circumstances. Even in the darkest of my days I never thought for one second to skip meals, because food is extremely important for me and if I don’t eat, neither my body nor my mood would cooperate to brighten the atmosphere.

During this month I kept myself up with these fabulous foods and drinks that I’d like to share with you guys. Who knows, if they worked for me they could do the same for you.

Almond milk. Ok it’s not technically milk, but more of a drink that resembles milk. Lately I’m having problems with regular English milk (yes, as weird as it sounds, the one I have in Italy is totally fine) so I thought giving almond milk a go, after I found out the soy one and I don’t really get along. I like the toasted flavour that matches my Illy coffee blend, but still, it’s not milk. That’s what, sometimes this January, has led me directly to point n.2.

Credits: Michael Kwan

Matcha latte. The Japanese famous bitter green tea powder exceptionally  combined with warm frothy milk by the skilful Timberyard baristas. A comforting treat which takes me back to the friendly atmosphere of Tokyo’s cafés.

Fresh mango with full fat greek yogurt and desiccated coconut. Ok this breakfast/afternoon snack came up by throwing in a bowl some stuff I had in the fridge, together with that desiccated coconut that was sitting in my pantry for too long. Thick rich yogurt for the creamy texture, coconut adds crunch and mango for a tropical sweet touch.

Talking about ‘Nduja here.

‘Nduja. The Calabrian spreadable spicy salami you can enjoy on your bruschetta or to revive your pasta sauce, or even better, you can melt it on your pizza to give that fiery Southern Italy kick. I also use to add it to soups, because it completely enhances the overall flavour.

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My last visit at Tonkotsu East.

Tsukemen: it was love at first bite when the waitress at Rokurinsha, Tokyo, brought me a big bowl of these thick noodles to dip in their rich pork broth. I never had the chance to eat them since that moment, almost three years ago. However London is always full of wonders, so when I found out that Tonkotsu East was serving tsukemen I had no choice but go trying them. What a joy it was! Perfect homemade noodles with the right porous texture that allows to absorb the broth. I won’t disclose any more details guys, as I’m preparing a review with an another article about my personal ranking of ramen bars in London.

So these are my January’s favourite foods and drinks, but I’m always looking for something new to cheer myself up with, so I can’t wait to hear about your suggestions.

Let me know, guys!

Sunday Brunch at Lantana Shoreditch: my review.

It happens every Sunday. I roll out of bed with semi closed eyes uttering weird sounds and wander in the house before realising how late it is and regretting those two hours I overslept, because the bed couldn’t let me go. The routine continues like this: usually after drinking some coffee in slow motion, I call my mum to catch up with the latest family gossip, but every time I end up getting scolded. Why? Simple, because it’s almost lunchtime and I preferred sleeping rather than waking up and do the preps for Sunday sauce, as every good Italian woman should do according to my mother’s and gran’s thought. At this point I have two options: 1) Lie and tell her that the sauce is on the stove simmering since 7 am and if I am convincing enough I also can find a quick excuse for my sleepy voice. Unfortunately I am such a bad liar, so I go straight to number 2. 2)Tell her I’m going to have brunch.

Her reply is always immediate: “Why? You’re not American.” Then it becomes melodramatic: “Hearing you’re losing your national identity makes me so sad.” Seriously, mum? I should probably take her to brunch next time she visits to try to change her mind.

After a quick search, G. and I decided for Lantana in Shoreditch, a trendy Aussie style café renowned for their excellent coffee blend and their signature drink, the flat white. I had already tried their coffee and cakes at their original location in Fitzrovia during my MA year at SOAS, and I kept going back at the time just to reward myself with quality products after classes, exams, you name it. This time it was all about brunch.

We arrived around 12:15 and we joined the long queue, because the café was packed with customers. Good sign.

The place has nice aged wood interiors without frills, in line with the trendy simple but absolutely vintage style, which is common to many independent coffee shops in London. Not really bright I would say, as the room can only benefit from two windows, so in rainy days like yesterday, the artificial light becomes necessary even at midday.

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The very kind waitress asked us if it was ok to wait 20 minutes, and of course we were more than happy to do it, but 20 minutes soon became 40 when we finally got seated. Well, it can happen when the kitchen is particularly busy and orders keep piling up, right?

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Soon another waiter came to our table and when I was about to order, he informed us that the food would have taken another 15 minutes. Fair, our order needs to be cooked and plated. Plus, what could have we possibly done after queuing 40 minutes to get a table, stand up and walk away?

Too bad that 15 minutes became 30. At this point I was very hungry and, honestly, annoyed, but our food finally came.

Smashed avocado and streaky bacon on sourdough toast with a poached egg and rocket (£7.5) for me and slow braised beans with ham hock served on corn bread with grilled chorizo, a poached egg and spinach for G (£8.5).

Well, I have to say that the kitchen staff made up for the wait with their flavourful dishes.

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A matter of perspective: the portion was bigger than it looks here.

My choice celebrated the always winning union between bacon and eggs, with a fresh note added by a creamy mellow avocado and the final bitter touch given of rocket to complete the dish. Nice, without any doubt. However, I would have seasoned the avocado with some pepper, smoked paprika and sumac just give it a spicy kick.

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Same goes for G.’s choice.

G’s order as well had a nice harmony in the combination of ingredients. In fact, the hearty beans braised in tomato sauce and ham hock gave respectively acidity and texture to contrast with the distinctive sapidity of chorizo and extremely peppery corn bread.

I give Lantana 7.5 that could have been easily transformed in a higher score, but the long waiting at the entrance and then at table was a significant source of influence. I perfectly understand that Brunch can be a busy time, but more communication and coordination of the staff could significantly improve the customers’ experience.

Lantana Shoreditch, Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard ,55 City Rd. EC1Y1HQ

October’s Favourites: 5 gluten free products I’m loving!

Thanks to my faithful hypocondria I just discovered that some mild symptoms I have from birth could be linked to a hypothetical coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. Panic at first, that’s what being ignorant about the subject causes. However, my doctor reassured me that if this were the case, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, since valid gluten free alternatives on the market are rapidly increasing.

At the moment I am waiting to go back to Italy to run some tests and verify if a coeliac disease or gluten free intolerance is confirmed, but in the meantime I was advised to reduce the intake of gluten rich foods and see how it goes.

So lately, I often find myself hanging out at Whole Foods, to carefully study the alternatives I should adopt in case I get diagnosed. I still need to do a lot of research about the topic, but, for the moment, these are my 5 gluten free products that I’m loving this month:

Drink me chai green tea chai latte

 

Normally I’m not really a fan of Chai Latte, because I find the spice blend too powerful for me, but this one is truly amazing! It’s spicy but delicate and sweet with a pinch of green tea to balance the overall flavour.

Seasoned nori seaweed – Crispy texture, full of flavour and fun to snack on. Be careful to read the label though, as the majority of Japanese brands use wheat and soy sauce (which contains wheat unless it’s tamari) in their seasoning. In fact, I was about to give up when, luckily, I found some Korean seaweed that was seasoned with just olive oil and sea salt.  Although seasoned nori seaweed is super easy to prepare at home, it’s handier for the lazy ones like me, to have a little package to toss in the bag, right? Healthy bits: nori seaweed is also good for your body because it is a natural source of iodine, which regulates the production thyroid hormones.

Nutritional yeast:

Nothing to be scared or disgusted about, because nutritional yeast is inactive, or in other words dead! It’s grown on sugar canes or molasses then killed with heat. In this phase the yeast develops glutamic acid, which is a natural source of umami. This is one of the two main reasons why nutritional yeast is produced and sold, because it adds a nutty savoury note to our recipes and enhances their flavour. Nutritional yeast does not only please the palate, but it also has healthy benefits, because it is packed with vitamin B complex, zinc, selenium, folic acid, potassium and proteins. Cool right? At the moment I’m using nutritional yeast in soups, salads and mashed potatoes, but I will experiment more combinations.

Want to know more about nutritional yeast? then check this blog out.

 

Eat natural bars:

My guilty pleasure in this period I’m trying to figure out if I have a gluten intolerance or not. Well, to be honest I loved these bars even before, but let’s say that now I have a good excuse to try the whole range. My favourite ones are the cashew&blueberry bar with yogurt coating and the coffee&chocolate bar with peanuts and almonds.

Mangajo lemon and green tea drink:

Last, but not the least a light and refreshing drink made with lemon, apple juice and a hint of green tea. The only sugar in this drink is the natural fructose contained in both lemons and apples. Great for those who don’t like super sweet beverages or watch calories. Normally, fruit juices should be gluten free in the first place but it’s always better to check the label regarding any possibility of contamination by the handling of other sources.

What about you guys? Let me know what you’re loving this month, both regular and gluten free snacks. Recipes for homemade treats are also welcome, as I would like to have everything covered in case this coeliac disease/gluten intolerance is confirmed. This would be the second phase, the acceptance, but we all know that before there’s the denial. Considering my optimism, I already picture myself crying my eyes out for the possibility of giving up the regular pizza for ever. Sigh!

July’s favourites: 5 London’s independent coffee shops that I love

Monmouth Coffee @Borough Market during my last visit. Coffee blend is Gichatha-ini from Kenya.

Flat White @ Monmouth. The blend is Gichatha-ini from Kenya.

My day doesn’t start until I get my cup of coffee. Not just because it wakes me up more quickly, but just because it’s a comforting habit, that takes different forms according to the context: from my Dad’s strong espresso back in Italy, to my much bigger paper cup and different blends in the UK or when I’m lucky enough to travel around the world.

I admit that in the first place coffee abroad meant to me the famous green siren logo, but there definitely was something else out there to try, and I had to try it. Needless to say that after the first independent coffee, it’s impossible to go back.

I always like to try a different one and these are my 4 favourite coffee shops that I discovered this month in London, plus my all time favourite that I always go back to.

Nude Espresso – This coffee shop has its own roastery where the staff takes good care of their coffee beans from the start, when they are still green. The House Blend has, according to my taste buds, a taste of licorice with a softer aftertaste, medium body and low acidity. Just to clarify, I’m not an expert, just a person who really loves coffee.

Nude Espresso, 26 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR (their roastery is just opposite the coffee shop and it’s open to public from Wednesday to Sunday)

 

Prufrock – Nice and cool atmosphere just as their informed and helpful staff. The House blend is light and sweet as it delicately cuddles you while waking you up in the morning.

Prufrock Coffee, 23-25 Leather Lane, London, EC1N 7TE.

 

Allpress Espresso – directly from New Zealand, Allpress team knows how to treat coffee and to prepare an amazing flat white. Their House Blend is sweet with caramel notes and low acidity, which makes it the ideal partner for milk.

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Flat White @ Allpress

The staff is not only very helpful, but also smiling and relaxed, which also leads customers to peacefully enjoy their coffee break, or their superb breakfast!

Allpress Espresso, 58 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DP.

 

Kaffeine – Another Australian/New Zealand coffee shop that perfected the art of Coffee Making. Their House Blend is a balance of sweetness and acidity, perfect, again, with milk to achieve an excellent flat white. They are Australian afterall!

Kaffeine’s supplier is Square Mile, one of the most awarded roasteries in the world.

Kaffeine, 66 Great Titchfield St, London W1W 7QJ.

 

Monmouth – well if you say independent coffee, you say Monmouth. This is my favourite coffee shop, the one I always find myself going back to. The reason is simple: there is the possibility to try their different blends for any coffee drink, just ask the highly knowledgeable staff. They will advise you on the kind of blend is better for the drink of your choice and your personal tastes. Then they will grind the exact quantity they need for your coffee and within minutes you’ll have it there, ready for you to enjoy it.

My advice is the House Blend if you like a smooth and sweet taste that reminds of almonds and chocolate, but if you want to try something with more body and acidity, try the Brazilian Fazenda da Lagoa, amazing for espresso.

FW@Monmouth

Flat White @ Monmouth. Brazilian Blend Fazenda da Lagoa (sky blue label)

Monmouth, 27 Monmouth Street Covent Garden London WC2H 9EU

 

I hope you guys enjoy these coffee shops as much as I do, not only for their high quality ingredients but also for the expert staff who is willing to help the customers and share the good coffee culture. And no, they will not misspell your name on the paper cup, which for me is a big thumbs up.

 

And now in Italian.

La mia giornata non inizia finché non bevo il mio caffè. Non perché mi svegli più in fretta, ma perché è un’abitudine che mi rassicura, e che cambia secondo dove mi trovo: dall’espresso ristretto di mio padre in Italia, alla mia cup di carta e le diverse miscele qui in Inghilterra, o quando ho la fortuna di viaggiare per il mondo.

Ammetto che all’inizio, associavo il caffè al di fuori dei confini italiani al bicchierone di carta con il famoso logo della sirena verde, ma sapevo che c’era sicuramente qualcos’altro là fuori e dovevo provarlo. Inutile dire che, dopo il primo caffè indipendente non si torna più indietro.

Mi piace sempre provarne uno diverso e questi sono i miei 4 caffè preferiti che ho scoperto in questo mese in giro per Londra, più quello che amo da sempre e in cui torno spesso:

 

Nude Espresso – Questo caffè ha la propria torrefazione dove il personale si prende cura dei chicchi di caffè fin dall’inizio, quando sono ancora verdi.

La miscela della casa ha, secondo le mie papille gustative, un sapore di liquirizia, con un retrogusto più morbido, di corpo medio e bassa acidità. Comunque io non sono esperta del settore, ma solo una persona che ama veramente il caffè.

Nude Espresso, 26 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR (la torrefazione è proprio di fronte alla caffetteria ed è aperto al pubblico dal Mercoledì alla Domenica)

 

Prufrock Atmosfera piacevole e giovane, proprio come il loro personale, competente e disponibile. La miscela della casa è leggera e dolce come una coccola delicata che ti sveglia dolcemente.

Prufrock Coffee, 23-25 ​​Leather Lane, Londra, EC1N 7TE.

 

Allpress Espresso – Direttamente dalla Nuova Zelanda, la squadra di Allpress sa come trattare il caffè e preparare un flat white straordinario. La loro miscela della casa è dolce, con note di caramello e bassa acidità, che lo rende il partner ideale per il latte.

Il personale non solo è molto disponibile, ma anche sorridente e rilassato, il che permette anche ai clienti di godersi la pausa caffè in pace. Oppure la loro colazione, che è superlativa!

Allpress Espresso, 58 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, Londra, E2 7DP.

 

Kaffeine – Un altro locale Australiano/Neo Zelandese che ha perfezionato l’arte del caffè. La loro miscela della casa è un equilibrio di dolcezza e acidità, perfetto, ancora una volta, con il latte per ottenere un ottimo flat white. Dopotutto, sono australian!

Il fornitore di Kaffeine è Square Mile, una delle torrefazioni più premiate al mondo.

Kaffeine, 66 Great Titchfield St, Londra W1W 7QJ.

 

Monmouth – Se dico caffè indipendente, penso subito a Monmouth. Questo è il mio caffè preferito, quello in cui torno sempre. Il motivo è semplice: c’è la possibilità di provare le loro diverse miscele per qualsiasi tipo di caffè si scelga, basta chiedere al personale che è altamente competente. Vi consiglieranno la migliore miscela per la vostra bevanda, rispettando anche i vostri gusti personali. Poi macineranno la quantità esatta di chicchi di cui hanno bisogno per il vostro caffè, e in pochi minuti sarà pronto per essere gustato.

Consiglio la miscela della casa se vi piace un gusto morbido e dolce che ricorda le mandorle e il cioccolato, ma, se volete provare qualcosa di più corposo e con media acidità, allora chiedete la miscela brasiliana Fazenda da Lagoa, che è ideale per l’espresso.

Monmouth, 27 Monmouth Street Covent Garden Londra WC2H 9EU.

 

Spero che vi piacciano questi caffè tanto quanto piacciono a me, non solo per i loro ingredienti di alta qualità, ma anche per il personale esperto che è disposto ad aiutare i clienti e condividere la cultura del buon caffè. E no, non sbaglieranno a scrivere il vostro nome sulla cup di carta, che per me è molto molto positivo.

Italian coffee culture is stuck

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I have a strong bond with coffee, which is considered something quintessential of what being Italian means. Therefore, for me coffee was only espresso, nothing else, then my travels and life experiences abroad opened my mind on many little things. Coffee was one of them.

My first stop was Starbucks, where I first tried unfamiliar blends (I know, don’t judge) and other ways to have coffee rather than espresso. To be honest, I was not amazed, but I believe it is always worth trying. Italy is one of the few countries where Starbucks has no power, simply because the 99% of Italian population would prefer to die rather than have an Americano. The firm would only profits from some frappuccino, that the average teens would drink after their first trip abroad, just to brag about being international. Not really big money then.

When I moved in London in 2009, I started to analyse my “Italian point of view” about food and drinks in a different perspective. This is when I found out independent coffee shops, starting from Monmouth in Covent Garden. Their own roasted coffee blew my mind , because it was significantly different from the dark and bitter one I am used to have in Italy, it was sweet and delicate. From that moment I started to treat myself with Monmouth coffee, every time choosing a different blend, each one characterised by a particular flavour. I cannot forget a particular one that reminded me of banana bread. Pretty good right?

Monmouth Coffee @Borough Market during my last visit. Coffee blend is Gichatha-ini from Kenya.

Monmouth Coffee @Borough Market during my last visit. Coffee blend is Gichatha-ini from Kenya.

At that point I started questioning the Italian coffee culture and one word came to my mind: stuck. Whoever has been in my country for sure witnessed this situation: baristas are always rushing, and many times, their coffee has a burnt flavour. Customers drink it in one shot, without actually tasting it, and they go away. I grew up in a country where coffee is considered a pleasure, but I see some inconsistencies between theory and practice.

Bars often buy their coffee from big Italian firms (Illy is one of the best) and it is usually just two blends: the regular and the decaffeinated one. Baristas seem not know their product as they cannot really describe the flavour or the acidity of their blend, they will tell you: “It’s coffee, has coffee flavour.” Sometimes I think they just hate their jobs.

This is pretty much the average situation in many bar at every corner, and as much as I hate to generalise, I had many experiences like this one.

Each Italian city has its own historic coffee shops where personnel is well trained, willing to improve and, most of all, knowledgeable. They manage to match their blends with customers’ tastes. Quite nice, but very pricey, this is why I wish that bars for “commoners” would make their efforts to improve the whole coffee experience, from quality products to well trained staff.

In my opinion, the general situation remains static just as the politics and economy of my country. There is no will to experiment, innovate and improve, because since we have the best coffee why should we change it? Wrong, there is always room for improvement, but I guess it cannot be helped, due to the Italian conservative mentality.

Italy is not as it used to be and the economic crisis has undoubtedly contributed to the paralyse the country and its working market, but I think that if we remain stuck we would lose our excellence and prestige that made us famous. This goes also for the coffee industry. I hope to see more desire to improve and a new attitude towards the product itself and customers.

Image credits: snow

Disclaimer: Pictures belong to their owners. No Copyright Infringement intended.

And now in Italian.

Ho un forte legame con il caffè, una caratteristica di ciò che significa essere italiani. Per questo motivo, per me il caffè era solo sinonimo di espresso, nient’altro. Poi i viaggi e le mie esperienze di vita all’estero mi hanno portata ad aprire la mente su molte cose. E il caffè è stata una di queste.

La mia prima fermata è stata Starbucks, dove ho potuto provare delle miscele e modi di bere il caffè diversi da quelli a cui ero abituata. Onestamente, non mi hanno entusiasmata, ma penso che valga sempre la pena provare. L’Italia è uno dei pochi paesi in cui Starbucks non è presente, semplicemente perché il 99% della popolazione preferirebbe morire, piuttosto che bere un caffè americano. All’azienda andrebbero solo i profitti di qualche frappuccino che l’adolescente medio berrebbe dopo essere stato all’estero, giusto per vantarsi di quanto si senta internazionale. Quindi non si parla di moltissimi soldi.

Quando mi sono trasferita a Londra nel 2009, ho cominciato ad analizzare le mie convinzioni sul cibo e le mie abitudini da italiana con una prospettiva diversa. E’ stato qui che ho cominciato a frequentare le caffetterie indipendenti, partendo da Monmouth a Covent Garden. Il loro caffè mi ha letteralmente sbalordita, perché era così diverso dalla miscela amara che utilizziamo in Italia, al contrario, era dolce e delicato. Da quel momento ho cominciato a concedermi spesso il loro caffè, ogni volta provando una miscela diversa, ognuna caratterizzata da un sapore particolare . Non potrò mai dimenticare quella che aveva un sapore simile al plumcake alla banana. Buono vero?

Ho cominciato a farmi domande sulla cultura italiana del caffè e mi è venuta in mente una parola: statica. Chiunque, in questo paese, avrà visto questa classica scena al bar: personale di fretta, spesso scocciato, che ti serve un caffè talvolta bruciato. Clienti che bevono in meno di un secondo, senza gustare quello che c’è nella loro tazzina, e vanno via.  Sono cresciuta in un paese dove il caffè è considerato un piacere, ma vedo delle incongruenze tra la teoria e la pratica. I bar spesso comprano il caffè da importanti aziende (una su tutte: Illy) e quasi sempre hanno solo due tipi, normale e decaffeinato. Inoltre, i baristi non sembrano conoscere il loro prodotto, perché hanno difficoltà a descriverne il sapore o il livello di acidità. Ti dicono: “è caffè, sa di caffè.” Alcune volte penso proprio che odino il loro lavoro.

Succede in molti bar italiani, quelli che si trovano ad ogni angolo, e per quanto non mi piaccia generalizzare, mi è capitato spesso di trovarmi in questa situazione.

Ogni città italiana ha il suo caffè storico, dove il personale è formato, impegnato per migliorare e, soprattutto, informato perché riesce a servire un caffè che corrisponda alle richieste del cliente. Eccellente, ma anche molto costoso, ecco perché mi piacerebbe che i bar per i “comuni mortali” si impegnassero a migliorare “l’esperienza del caffè”, dal prodotto ad un personale consapevole.

Secondo me, la situazione generale rimane immobile, proprio come la politica e l’economia del mio paese. Non c’è voglia di sperimentare, innovare e migliorare, perché abbiamo già il miglior caffè del mondo, perché cambiare? Tutto ciò è sbagliato, perché si può sempre migliorare, ma penso che non ci sia niente da fare, considerata la mentalità conservatrice italiana.

L’Italia non è più come una volta, e la crisi economica ha, senza dubbio, contribuito a paralizzare il paese e il suo mercato del lavoro, ma credo che se rimaniamo fermi, perderemo la nostra eccellenza e il nostro prestigio che ci hanno resi famosi. Questo vale anche per il caffè. Spero di vedere più voglia di migliorare ed un diverso atteggiamento nei confronti del prodotto e dei clienti.

Image credits: snow

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