February’s favourites: 5 Ramen bars in London I love

It’s been a while since I thought about writing a post about the best ramen bars in London and whoever read my post in the previous months, knows how I was dedicated at finding the best place in town that could satisfy my ramen craving here in this cold part of Europe.

Aware of the fact that London is full Japanese restaurants and the ramen fashion is rapidly picking up, I decided to visit the most popular ramen bars in town. After careful consideration (as those many rejection email I’m receiving start) I decided to briefly describe my personal favourite places, ranking them for a precise feature that makes their product stand out.

For first starters: Shoryu Ramen. This is the first place where I had the chance to eat ramen in London after my sublime foodie experience in Japan. The Origin Tonkotsu has a pretty well balanced harmony of flavour between the the broth and the toppings. A nice place to start your ramen appreciation. Unfortunately I don’t have a review for Shoryu, because I went there before I started this blog. However I still remember a pleasant experience.

For broth: Ippudo. A bowl of ramen without the perfect broth would just be pointless (see instant ramen cups) Here the broth is creamy and milky as it’s supposed to be after pork bones are violently boiled for 20 hours and release their collagen. Taste is meaty, satisfying, but at the same time it’s almost sweet,  “clean” I would define it, meaning it does not leave a strong greasy aftertaste in your mouth. Read my complete review here.

Ippudo

Shiromaru Hakata Classic @Ippudo

For noodles: Tonkotsu. These guys make their noodles on the premises thanks to their Japanese noodle machine and the use of local ingredients (let’s not forget the research for the perfect alkaline salted water) that perfectly abide by the original recipe. I love their tsukemen noodle so much for their “bite”. Unfortunately they are available only at their Tonkotsu East location. Read my complete review here.

Detail of the noodles.

Noodles for Tsukemen @ Tonkotsu East

For the marinated soft boiled egg: Kanada-ya. Ok, I know, you think I am kidding right? Simply, I’m not. Everybody who had the chance to try a real bowl of ramen (no, the instant one you had in college don’t count) know how extremely important the egg is to the whole flavour of the recipe. It has to be still runny, so the yolk mixes a bit with the soup, and white should have nicely absorbed the soy sauce overnight or more. In other words it should be a concentrate of Umami. Kanada-ya’s egg was absolute perfection, but unfortunately it comes with an additional price of £2. This is not a deterrent to hungry customers, because it seems to sell out very quickly. Read my complete review here.

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Kanada ya. That egg over there is to die for.

For strong flavours: Bone Daddies. Considering that when on a diet, ramen in general might not be the best choice for your calorie count, Bone Daddies’ speciality requires customers who want enjoy the full flavour experience and preferably without any sense of guilt after eating. Rich (or fatty maybe?) and intense broth, contrasting aromas and different textures in just one dish. Read my complete review here.

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@Bone Daddies

The winner or should I say winners

I think it depends on the occasion and the the atmosphere I’d like to give to my meal. In fact I would definitely choose Ippudo for a girls’ night out both because the place looks a bit fancier than the other ramen bars and because the broth base has an authentic flavour, but at the same time it tastes clean, not greasy at all.

However if I wanted a foodie date without frills or a highly satisfying solo lunch experience I would definitely choose Bone Daddies’ insanely rich Tonkotsu ramen.
What about you guys, have you visited any of these five places?

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Bone Daddies ramen bar, London: my review

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This place was on my list of ramen to try (see my idea here) since I read a while ago that Jonathan Ross crowned it as the best ramen bar in town. Well, considering that Bone Daddies’ director, Ross Shonan, is the former executive chef from Nobu and Zuma the success is assured.

I know, I’m always late and I should have visited Bone Daddies at that time, but I somehow trusted Jonathan Ross’ opinion as a connoisseur of Japan and its culture, so I left it on my list as the last one to try. Needless to mention how high my expectations had grown in the meantime. Finally, one freezing Friday of January I had the chance to verify if Bone Daddies’ ramen actually were the best noodle in town.

The downside of popular places is they are always packed with people, especially on Friday nights, so it can’t be helped but joining the long queue outside. Waiting is never pleasant, but in this case it was also painful considering the sub-zero temperature of the night. Anyway the staff managed brilliantly by offering us hot sake shots. Nice move, Bone Daddies, nice move.

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Can you spot me?

Finally our turn to get in. The interior is characterised by bold red and white walls decorated by Japanese rockabilly subculture related prints, the main theme of this ramen bar.

Unfortunately the dim lights affected the quality of the pictures I took, therefore thanks to this photo belonging to The Guardian, you can see what the place looks like in a natural light and without people.

 

Credits: The Guardian

Materials used are wood and steel, in line with the latest tendencies for places that target young professionals and creatives as their bracket of customers.

Packed.

Packed.

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We were seated next to a group of Korean girls that I shamelessly spied, to grasp the secret of holding the chopsticks correctly. Yes after studying Japan, its culture, after being to Japan twice, after having Japanese friend I talk to all the time, after cooking Japanese food at home, when it comes to ramen I still have problems managing my noodles not to slip off my chopsticks. Unfortunately the secret is not really a secret, it’s just practice.

We chose to order a classic ramen and a popular one, in order to see how the place interprets a standard and well known (among the Japanese food aficionados) recipe and how the same staff uses their creativity to innovate their noodle dish, to make it trendy, to make it viral as they say. According to this personal point of view we chose a Tonkotsu ramen, the classic one with its 20 hour pork bone broth, chashu pork and marinated soft boiled egg. As for popular dish we got a T22 with chicken bone broth, soy ramen, chicken and cock scratchings which seem to be pretty popular on reviews around the internet.

While waiting for the order to be ready, I looked around and I noticed behind me some shelves with sake on the top one and homemade shochu on the bottom one. Surely cherry and lemongrass and lime shochu are not really traditional flavour choices, so I think Bone Daddies’ staff should be acknowledged for their creativity and their will to experiment.

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Cherry Shochu

Cherry Shochu and lemongrass and lime at the left.

A shiny plastic thing folded in a decorated steel glass immediately caught my eye. I was a giant plastic bib with Bone Daddies logo on it. Usually ramen bars in Japan provide their customers with these bib to protect their clothes from splashes of broth, so everyone can enjoy their noodles without bending their back weirdly and awkwardly. Yes that’s what I normally do here in London when I go out for ramen.

Da bib!

Da bib!

So the bib thing brought me immediately back to Japan,  because it means authenticity, and I give you kudos for this, Bone Daddies!

Enough is enough, let’s go straight with the main dish, shall we?

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My Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu ramen – I admit the first taste of the broth left me a bit puzzled because it wasn’t piping hot to the point of burning the tip of the tongue, leaving it numb. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but this means the soup would turn cold in no time. Aside from the temperature, the flavour was rich, full with almost creamy texture given by the collagen of the pork bones. I usually am a bit fussy with this kind of broth because as soon as my tastebuds touch it I know if I’m really going to digest it. It’s just a sensation, in fact if it leaves a greasy feeling in my mouth it’s a no-no. This time the broth passed the exam and exactly as I predicted I had no problem digesting it. The noodles were thin but with a nice bite and both the pork and eggs were perfect and full of flavour.

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T22

 

T22

T22

T22 – This dish was different, that’s why G and I chose it. The broth was lighter, more transparent than pork one, but in order to contrast the delicate flavour I could taste a strong sesame oil, soy sauce and some chili pepper in the back ground. As for the toppings, the famous cock scratchings (every time I say it I chuckle a bit), they added crunch and texture to the dish.

My vote: 8.5.A satisfying interpretation of a classic recipe and a nice attempt to convey creativity into something new, younger and fresher. I don’t feel like giving a higher vote because I would have preferred the broth a little bit hotter, but this is really a minor flaw. What really matters is flavour and I can assure you won’t be disappointed with that. Is Bone Daddies really the best ramen bar in town? Maybe, but I believe it’s still a draw with Ippudo in my opinion, in my opinion even though the two differ in various aspects of the preparation.

I will tell you more in my next post about the 5 places to eat ramen in London.

Stay tuned!

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar 31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR 

A day in Naples and the best pizza in the world. Gino Sorbillo’s review.

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Vesuvius volcano.

Naples is like a lioness, beautiful, haughty and arduous to tame. The collective consciousness about the third city of Italy is made up of diehard preconceptions: a poor, anarchic and at times dirty urban centre on the slopes of a volcano. I’m not here to say this is just not true, because each and every stereotype always has a pinch of accuracy. Also, if the essence of a community remains strong throughout centuries, not necessarily the said people won’t open to change for the needs that modern times demand. What I would like to point out here is that although I come from a region that borders with Campania (the region where Naples is the main centre) and my dialect is strictly similar to the Neapolitan one, due to centuries of Neapolitan domination in the fragmented South, I also had preconceptions. I had them because the last time I visited the city I was about ten, and well, almost 20 years ago the situation was a bit different than it is now. The neglected architecture of the buildings always stays the same, just as some grotesque “personalities” you can find in the narrow alleys that form the map of the city centre. However, this time Naples felt cleaner and safer. It’s true that Christmas is a busy period for the city, because tourists from every part of Italy and the world hit the San Gregorio Armeno alley, to visit the artisan workshops specialised in the creations of nativity scenes. For this reason it would be only logical to consider the hard work of the municipality as something special for the holiday season, but apparently the city is dealing with an actual desire to change, in order to make the ancient capital of southern Italy a modern European city. Some results are already showing, just like the project Stations of Art which is aimed at changing the perspective of the city’s perception by allowing contemporary artist to take over the design and architecture of some underground stations. In fact in 2012 Toledo station was chosen as the most beautiful underground station in Europe

The wonderful mosaic of Toledo underground station in Naples. Project by the Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca. Credits: The New York Times

Where does food place itself in this context of traditions looking at the future? Exactly in harmony with everything else. Street food is a market that lures young entrepreneurs, because they have the chance to offer the classics of Neapolitan gastronomy in a new light by enhancing the traditional preparation methods, using quality Italian products and social networks to promote their business in the quickest way to the public. This is just what happened with the famous Gino Sorbillo’s pizza that I finally had the chance to try. Gino Sorbillo for whom pizza making runs in the family, is a young talented chef. His passion for the traditional Neapolitan pizza motivated him to improve it by researching and experimenting with mother dough, different organic flour blends and ingredients in order to find an excellent and easy to digest recipe. Gino Sorbillo’s research never stops, in fact it seems that he is trying to create a dough specifically for coeliac disease affected people with the same texture, taste and digestibility of the regular one used in his 3 pizzerias. The ingredients used as toppings are all the best Italian products the country can offer, with their origin and traceability stated on the menu. In other words, Quality. Yes, with capital Q.

Now let’s talk about the experience: image10 The location. You’ll recognise it from afar even though you’ve never been there before, because there’s always a queue that looks endless. You have to be patient, because sometimes it’s necessary to wait hours to get a taste of the best pizza in Italy (and the world in my opinion). My advice is to go either at the opening around 12 or after lunch time at 3. This doesn’t mean you will not queue at all, because as I said the place is always packed with people, but the wait is more “human”. image3 The pizzeria is an ancient two storey house, property of Esterina, Gino’s beloved aunt who passed the passion for pizza on to him. The decor is minimal because all the attention is concentrated on the product. Anyway, in my opinion it wouldn’t harm to modernise the retro style of the place, but retro is not to be intended as the vintage design that is so trendy right now. I am talking about 90’s Italian, so last century!

The service is very fast even though the waitresses aren’t smiley or chatty. I would have certainly appreciated some more courtesy, but I understand that heavy shifts and dealing with every kind of people at a fast pace can get easily on everyone’s nerves. For this reason, there’s no tablecloth on the table and glasses are disposable, just like their napkins. When customers are ready to leave, a waitress comes and cleans the table in a few seconds, so it’s ready for the next group of people.

The pizza. The base is light and soft but doesn’t tear up. This is the result of working the dough and stretching it by hand only, because Sorbillo refuses to use industrial machineries. To those who are not familiar with Neapolitan pizza the dough will taste as still raw, but believe me, it’s not. You will realise it immediately, because after eating you pizza you will not feel full and bloated. As I mentioned before, high-digestibility.

My Osvaldo pizza.

My Osvaldo pizza.

I got an Osvaldo pizza which is made with cherry tomatoes, smoked mixed buffalo&cow’s milk provola cheese, mixed buffalo&cow’s milk mozzarella, extravirgin olive oil and fresh basil. Only 5€.

Vittorio pizza.

Vittorio pizza.

G got Vittorio, an amazing mix of Apulian tuna, Taggiasca olives, Mount Saro’s wild oregano, Italian organic passata and mixed buffalo&cow’s milk mozzarella. Price was 7.50€.

My vote is 9. Sorbillo’s pizza is extraordinary, the best I’ve ever had, because it is a combination of harmonic quality ingredients with a digestible dough, basically the dream. I can’t give more than 9, because some aspects of the overall experience can definitely be improved, but of course I recommend you to try Sorbillo’s amazing pizza because, I can assure you, nothing will ever be the same after that.

Gino Sorbillo, Via dei Tribunali, 32, 80138 Naples.

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.

Florence on a budget: some of the best cheap eats in town

Fiorenza

Before Easter holidays I was lucky enough to go back Florence for a couple of days, enough to realise how much I missed it.

During the years I spent studying in Rome, I used to go to Florence once a month to visit my partner, but at that time I couldn’t really appreciate the city and all it had to offer, mainly because I was a penniless student trying to get her degree as soon as possible. For the records, I’m still broke, but that’s another story.

Anyway my philosophy is that it’s still possible to travel and get the best of our holidays even on a budget, even when it comes to food. It’s fundamental to know exactly what to look for, and I’m here to tell you.

Schiacciata all’olio – this is the typical focaccia made in Florence: extra virgin olive oil and salt flakes create a crispy texture on the outside, while maintaining a warm and soft inside. The ideal would be to enjoy your schiacciata with cured meats, but I like it on its own and it seems I’m not the only one. You can find the best schiacciata in Florence at Pugi, a central bakery in Piazza San Marco. This one was 1.60 euro.

schiaccia

Lampredotto: the florentine street food par excellence. We are basically talking about tripe, but, to be more specific, it’s the fourth bovine stomach which is boiled with tomato, onion, celery and parsley. Then it’s served either on its own with salsa verde or in a sandwich. It may sound outrageous to many Florentines but I can’t stand chewy meat, therefore no tripe for me. Luckily for you guys, I can show you how lampredotto looks like because my partner loves it, so we could take a portion at one of the most famous Lampredottaio/Trippaio stalls around the city. This one is from Pollini, via de’ Macci, costed 3 euros.

Lampredottaio

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Panini and a glass of wine at I Fratellini, via dei Cimatori 38. Hearty snack or aperitif before dinner? look no further. This tiny shop has an extensive list of panini whose price is 3 euros. My suggestion is either goat cheese and sundried tomatoes or smoked ham with truffle sauce. Top it off with a glass of house wine and you’ll be happy for a total expense of 5 euros.

Did you have too much already? ok then, have a walk the Mercato Centrale (piazza del Mercato Centrale), you won’t get fat by looking at all the excellent produce, but your wallet might get slim.

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Wild boar prosciutto

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Calves’ hooves. Yes, they are edible.

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Oh, and don’t be greedy, buy something for your family and friends and relax because the amazing staff at L’angolo dei sapori will take care of shipping your precious Chianti back home.

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Wow, is it lunch time already? time to go to Trattoria Mario. This place is one of the best in Florence but you have to patient because they don’t accept reservations, so be prepared to queue. Due to its fame the place itself is always full and cramped, so you’ll have to share your table with strangers, but I assure you, you won’t regret being there, because the food is totally worth it. Tourists and some locals tend to go for bistecca alla fiorentina (florentine style steak), but my advice would be to avoid it for its gigantic size (usually starting from 900 gr.) and the price which should be around 35 euros per kg.

My partner and I shared two main courses: penne with duck sauce, tagliata steak with slightly pickled onions and two glasses of the house wine. Full and satisfied for 12 euros per person. Oh, they only accept cash, so have some at your fingertips.

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Penne with duck sauce

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Tagliata steak with onions.

Trattoria Mario, via Rosina R.

Yes, ok, but what about dessert, you may ask. Luckily enough, Florence has many excellent Gelaterie whose gelato is tremendous. My favourite one is Perché no!, via dei tavolini 19, because you can taste a genuine gelato made with the best products. 2 euros.

Pistachio and Tiramisu mousse.

Pistachio and Tiramisu mousse.

Perché No! via dei Tavolini 19R.

Time to go back home, but before catching the train it’s better to have something to eat, as I tend to be very hungry on public transports. I recommend the stuffed focaccia called “la favolosa” at All’antico vinaio. For 5 euros you get a huge schiacciata bread with pecorino cheese sauce, artichoke sauce, sbriciolona salami and sautéd aubergine. One word: divine!

Look at the queue.

Look at the queue.

All’antico vinaio, via dei Neri 74.

You’ll be so satisfied on your way back that you’ll already think about the next time you’ll visit Florence again.

 

And now in Italian.

Prima di Pasqua ho avuto la fortuna di tornare a Firenze per un paio di giorni, abbastanza per rendermi conto di quanto mi mancasse.

Negli anni in cui studiavo a Roma, andavo a Firenze una volta al mese per passare un po’ di tempo con il mio compagno che viveva lì, ma credo che in quel periodo non abbia davvero apprezzato appieno la città e tutto quello che aveva da offrire. Più che altro, perché ero una studentessa con pochi soldi che passava tutto il suo tempo a studiare per poter arrivare prima possibile alla laurea. Per la cronaca, non sono ancora diventata milionaria, ma questa è un’altra storia.

Comunque, la mia filosofia è che è ancora possibile viaggiare e godersi la vita anche con mezzi economici limitati. Anche quando si tratta di mangiare fuori. E’ fondamentale sapere esattamente cosa cercare, e io sono qui per darvi qualche consiglio su come mangiare bene a Firenze senza spendere un patrimonio che non avete.

Schiacciata all’olio – E’ la focaccia tipica di Firenze. Olio extravergine d’oliva e fiocchi di sale creano una texture croccante all’esterno, pur mantenendo l’ interno morbido e buonissimo. L’ideale sarebbe quello di gustarvi la schiacciata con dei salumi tipici, ma a me piace da sola e sembra che sia sono l’unica in città. A mio parere la migliore schiacciata di Firenze si può trovare da Pugi, la panetteria centrale in Piazza San Marco. Prezzo: 1.60 euro.

Lampredotto: il cibo di strada fiorentino per eccellenza. Stiamo parlando di trippa ma per essere più precisi, si tratta del quarto stomaco, chiamato abomaso. Questo viene bollito con pomodoro, cipolla, sedano e prezzemolo e servito sia da solo con salsa verde o in un panino. Può sembrare una bestemmia per molti fiorentini, ma non sopporto la consistenza gommosa, quindi non c’è trippa per me. Fortunatamente per voi, posso  mostrarvi come è fatto il lampredotto, poiché il mio compagno adora questo piatto, e così abbiamo preso una porzione da uno dei più famosi Lampredottai / Trippaio nella città. Quello in foto è di Pollini, via de’ Macci. Prezzo: 3 euro.

Panino e bicchiere di vino da I Fratellini. Uno spuntino sostanzioso? o un aperitivo prima di cena? I Fratellini è il posto per voi. Questo piccolo negozio ha una lunga lista di panini che vi faranno venire l’acquolina in bocca, a 3 euro l’uno. Il mio suggerimento è caprino e pomodori secchi o prosciutto affumicato con salsa al tartufo. Ovviamente accompagnatelo con un bicchiere di vino della casa e sarete felici e soddisfatti con soli 5 euro. Chi l’ha detto che la felicità costa cara?

I Fratellini, via dei Cimatori 38

Ne avete abbastanza? ok, allora smaltite il tutto con una passeggiata al Mercato Centrale (piazza del Mercato Centrale). Fortunatamente, guardare tutti quei prodotti eccellenti sui banchi del mercato non fa ingrassare, ma sarà il vostro portafoglio a dimagrire. Eh già, non fate i tirchi, comprate qualcosa per i vostri cari che vi aspettano a casa! Il mio consiglio? con vino e salumi non sbagliate mai. A meno che non siate musulmani.

Ma è già ora di pranzo? Allora si va alla Trattoria Mario. Questo posto è uno dei migliori di Firenze, ma dovete essere pazienti perché non accettano prenotazioni, quindi preparatevi a fare una lunga fila. Grazie alla sua fama meritatissima, il locale è sempre pieno, quindi dovrete condividere il tavolo con degli sconosciuti, ma vi assicuro che non ve ne pentirete, perché vale la pena.

La scelta più gettonata, specialmente dai turisti, è la bistecca alla fiorentina, ma io consiglierei di evitare, sia per le sue dimensioni gigantesche (di solito a partire da 900 gr.), sia per il prezzo che si aggira intorno ai 35 euro al kg.

Io e il mio compagno abbiamo preso due generose portate e ce le siamo divise: penne con sugo d’anatra, tagliata con cipolle e due bicchieri di vino della casa. Sazi e soddisfatti per 12 euro a persona. Ah, un’ultima cosa da tenere presente: si accettano solo contanti, perciò fate in modo da averne a portata di mano.

Trattoria Mario, via Rosina 2R, angolo con piazza del Mercato Centrale.

Sì, va bene, ma il dolce? A Firenze ci sono molte Gelaterie che producono un gelato eccezionale. Il mio preferito è quello del Perchè no!, perché al primo assaggio è possibile capire che siamo lontani anni luce dalle polverine chimiche, a favore di materie prime di altissima qualità. Il tutto per 2 euro.

Perché no! via dei Tavolini 19R.

Sfortunatamente è già ora di tornare a casa, ma prima di prendere il treno è meglio avere qualcosa da mangiare, non so perché ma quando viaggio mi viene una fame pazzesca. Il mio consiglio è la focaccia ripiena “la favolosa ” da All’Antico Vinaio. Con 5 euro abbiamo un gran bel pezzo di schiacciata con salsa al pecorino, salsa ai carciofi, salame sbriciolona e melanzane saltate. In una sola parola: divino!

All’Antico Vinaio, via dei Neri 74.

Sulla vostra via verso casa sarete così soddisfatti che penserete già a quando tornerete di nuovo Firenze .

Sweet or Savoury? This is the breakfast question.

 

As the average Italian, one would guess I’d start every single morning with cornetto (croissant) and cappuccino. Well, as much as I would love to stuff myself with nutella or custard filled pastries, I actually surrender to a sadder but healthier breakfast, consisting either in milk and cereal or a latte and some bread with jam. Don’t you see a common denominator? Italian breakfast has to be sweet. No alternatives.

When I was younger, I never really questioned whether breakfast should be sweet or savoury, until I started travelling and I finally could analyse different details from a newer perspective. Like that time in Berlin, when I saw a group of Asian men eating seafood at 7 a.m. and I was nauseated first and then a bit puzzled, because I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to eat fish in the morning. Thinking about this episode, I am sure that back then if someone had told me that years later I’d be eating freshly cut sashimi at dawn in Tsukiji, Tokyo, I would have told them they were crazy! Or that time when my Japanese host-mother was shocked to hear I always had sweet breakfast, so the following day she felt obliged to prepare a beef patty with ketchup, roasted potatoes and steamed spinach. Panic. I didn’t know what to do, obey to my brain and my already nauseated stomach or to my manners? Thankfully, I am such a well behaved kid so I devoured everything as fast as I could possibly do, without actually tasting anything.

During my long stay in Japan I got used to have savoury breakfast, and I can proudly say that this habit I was forced into, contributed to open my mind to the point of willingly explore the uncountable options to start my day during my travels around the world.

Of course once I was back in Italy I got back into my sweet habits as well, but my curiosity always made me wonder why the world is split in half, with countries that have traditional savoury breakfast while others have likewise strong sweet food habits that can’t be questioned. After some research, I can say that the global tendency for breakfast is for savoury food with, sometimes, sweet options like jam and/or fruit. For example, almost all European countries have both savoury and sweet products with the exception of Italy and France whose breakfast is always sweet. Of course if there is any French reader out there who disagrees, feel free to let me know, because I’m sure that among millions of people in both countries there is a fair number who prefers starting their morning with salted food.

The question here is why there is such distinction between sweet and savoury breakfast in different countries. So I tried to think about the possible answers considering the European geographic area (sorry rest of the world), but I think the whole reasoning can be undoubtedly applied anywhere else.

The first and more obvious hypothesis that comes to my mind is the different climate for each country, as a source of influence on agriculture, breeding and therefore on eating habits. On the one hand there are Northern European countries whose rigid climates challenge the body to keep its temperature in cold weather, so a breakfast rich in proteins and fats (e.g. bacon, eggs and sausages) helps to restore its internal balance. On the other hand, Mediterranean coastal countries have a temperate climate that allowed their population to cultivate wheat, cereals and fruit from ancient times. We find these product very often in the typical breakfast of these countries, together with milk or yoghurt as the main source of proteins. With moderate climate and temperature, in theory, the body has less difficulties in keeping its internal balance, so additional sources of fat shouldn’t be necessarily integrated.

After the natural characteristics of the different geographic areas, the second factor that could have influenced the breakfast habits is connected to social status. Sweet goods were once considered a luxury, therefore they were almost exclusively affordable for a small percentage of wealthy people. However, the growth of sugar industry led to the mass production of the sweetener, therefore prices became affordable and lower classes could finally purchase such a luxury good and use it for the consumption of food and beverages.

Since times have changed and given the large variety of affordable sweet and savoury goods, the choice of what to eat for breakfast is currently influenced also by our level of health. In fact, a breakfast rich in saturated fats, like the Full English one, increases the production of cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin. This leads to the further production of fats, meaning weight gain, which we don’t really wish for. However, it should be said, this doesn’t mean that it’s healthy to eat buttery sugary pastries every morning because the levels of glycaemia would likely raise.

These are just general hypothesis on the two different breakfast options, but I believe they all influenced the concept of modern breakfast if we keep in mind the timeline of history and the social changes occurred throughout the centuries.

Considering the large selection of both sweet and savoury breakfast we have, and a lifestyle that is definitely better than our ancestor’s one, we have the freedom to choose whatever we like. Still, at the end of the day (or in this case at the beginning of the day) we tend to go for the option we are most familiar with: be it sweet or savoury. So the answer to the question why some countries have either savoury or sweet breakfast, is the most obvious one: different cultures and strong traditions which don’t easily change.

And now in Italian.

Si potrebbe pensare che, in quanto italiana, incominci ogni mattina con cornetto e cappuccino. Beh, per quanto mi piacerebbe abbuffarmi di cornetti alla nutella o alla crema, in realtà mi rassegno ad una colazione un po’ più triste ma sana, e che consiste: in latte e cereali o latte e caffè con pane e marmellata . Lo notate il denominatore comune? La colazione italiana deve essere dolce. Non c’è nessuna alternativa. Punto.

In realtà non mi sono mai chiesta se la colazione dovesse essere dolce o salata, fino a quando ho iniziato a viaggiare e finalmente ho potuto analizzare diverse situazioni da altre prospettive. Come quella volta a Berlino, quando ho visto un gruppo di uomini asiatici mangiare del pesce alle 07:00 di mattina. Ero disgustata e perplessa, perché non riuscivo a capire come si potesse scegliere di mangiare del pesce al mattino. (Pensando a questo episodio, sono sicura che se allora  qualcuno mi avesse detto che anni dopo mi sarei ritrovata a mangiare del sashimi freschissimo alle prime luci dell’alba a Tsukiji, Tokyo, lo avrei chiamato pazzo. ) Oppure quando la mia host-mother giapponese rimase scioccata nel sentire che avevo sempre fatto colazione dolce, così la mattina dopo si sentì quasi obbligata a prepararmi una sorta di hamburger con ketchup, e contorno di patate al forno e spinaci al vapore. Panico. Non sapevo cosa fare, obbedire al mio cervello e il mio stomaco già sotto sopra o alle buone maniere? Per fortuna, io sono una “brava bambina”, così ho divorato tutto più velocemente possibile, evitando di assaporare quello che stavo mangiando.

Durante il mio soggiorno in Giappone, mi sono abituata a fare una colazione salata, e posso dire con orgoglio che questa abitudine forzata dalle circostanze, ha contribuito ad allargare i miei orizzonti e la mia curiosita verso le molteplici opzioni culinarie per iniziare la giornata durante i miei viaggi intorno al mondo .

Naturalmente una volta ritornata in Italia, sono tornata di nuovo alle mie “dolci abitudini”, ma la curiosità mi ha sempre spinta a chiedermi come mai il mondo sia diviso a metà, con i paesi che hanno una colazione tradizionale salata, mentre altri hanno abitudini alimentari altrettanto forti ma dolci, e che non vanno mai messe in discussione. Dopo alcune ricerche, posso dire che la tendenza globale a colazione è per il cibo salato, contemplando delle opzioni dolci solo per marmellata e / o frutta. Ad esempio, quasi tutti i paesi europei hanno prodotti sia dolci sia salati, con l’eccezione di Italia e Francia, il cui primo pasto della giornata è sempre dolce. Naturalmente se c’è qualche lettore francese là fuori che non è d’accordo, non esiti a farmi sapere, perché sono sicura che tra milioni di abitanti in entrambi i paesi ci sia un discreto numero di persone che, una volta sveglie, ha voglia di cibi salati.

La domanda qui è perché c’è una distinzione tra la colazione dolce e salati in diversi paesi. Così ho provato a pensare alle possibili risposte, considerando l’area geografica europea, ma penso che l’intero ragionamento possa essere applicato senza dubbio altrove.

La prima e più evidente ipotesi che mi viene in mente è la differenza di clima per ciascun paese, come fonte di influenza sull’agricoltura, l’allevamento e quindi sulle abitudini alimentari. Da un lato ci sono i paesi del Nord Europa i cui climi rigidi rendono necessaria una colazione ricca di proteine ​​e grassi ( ad esempio, pancetta, uova e salsicce) per aiutare il corpo a mantenere la propria temperatura. Dall’altro lato,  ci sono i paesi che si affacciano sul Mediterraneo. Essi hanno un clima temperato che, dall’antichità, ha permesso alla loro popolazione di coltivare grano, cereali e frutta. Cibi che sono presenti molto spesso nelle colazioni di questi paesi, ma sempre accanto ad una fonte di proteine che qui troviamo nel latte o nello yogurt. Con un clima e una temperatura moderata, in teoria, il corpo ha meno difficoltà a mantenere il suo equilibrio interno, perciò non è necessario integrare nel pasto delle ulteriori proteine o grassi.

Dopo le caratteristiche naturali delle diverse aree geografiche, il secondo fattore che potrebbe aver influenzato le abitudini colazione è collegato allo stato sociale. I prodotti dolci una volta erano considerati un genere di lusso, quindi erano quasi esclusivamente ad appannaggio di una piccola percentuale di cittadini benestanti. Tuttavia, la crescita dell’industria dello zucchero ha portato ad una produzione di massa del dolcificante, per cui i prezzi sono diventati accessibili, e anche le classi meno abbienti hanno potuto finalmente acquistare un tale bene di lusso e usarlo per il consumo di alimenti e bevande.

Dal momento che i tempi sono cambiati e data la grande varietà di prodotti dolci e salati a prezzi accessibili, la scelta di cosa mangiare a colazione è attualmente influenzata anche dal nostro stato di salute. Infatti, una prima colazione ricca di grassi saturi, come quella inglese, aumenta la produzione di colesterolo, trigliceridi e insulina. Questo porta ad una ulteriore produzione di grassi, il che significa un aumento di peso. Tuttavia, va detto, questo non significa che sia sano di mangiare brioches zuccherate e piene di burro ogni mattina, perché i livelli di glicemia aumenterebbero rapidamente.

Queste sono solo ipotesi generali riguardanti i due diversi tipi di colazione, ma credo che abbiano almeno un po’ influenzato quella che è la colazione moderna, tenendo presente la cronologia della storia e dei cambiamenti sociali che si sono verificati nel corso dei secoli. Considerando la vasta scelta di prodotti dolci e salati che abbiamo, e uno stile di vita che è migliore rispetto a quello dei nostri antenati, abbiamo la libertà di scegliere ciò che ci piace  senza troppe costrizioni. Eppure, alla fine ( o in questo caso, all’inizio della giornata ), tendiamo a scegliere quello con cui ci sentiamo a nostro agio, sia esso dolce o salato. Quindi la risposta alla domanda sul perché alcuni paesi hanno una colazione dolce o salata, è la più ovvia: le diverse culture e le forti tradizioni che non cambiano facilmente.

Japan and the symbolic meaning behind Baumkuchen

Nemo propheta in patria is a Latin saying meaning that it’s easier to be acknowledged outside our own familiar environment rather than in it. That’s exactly what happened for a European cake, called Baumkuchen, in Japan, where it’s one of the most popular baked goods.

Baumkuchen is layered cake which is baked by pouring or brushing a batter made of eggs, flour, sugar, vanilla, and butter on a special rotating roll that is constantly heated. In this way, beautiful golden rings create the structure of the cake. This method gives Baumkuchen its characteristic crosscut tree shape that it’s possible to see when the entire log gets sliced.

The exact origins of Baumkuchen still remain unclear, because both Germany and Hungary claim them. It seems that the first traces of a written recipe appeared around 1450s, but along with the time the preparation method and the ingredients changed into the 18th century recipe, that is the one currently used.

Considered its origins, Baumkuchen is popular in northern and eastern Europe but each country has its own variation. However, even though I live in Europe, I had never heard of that, until 2008 when I went to Japan for the first time. The recipe of this cake was brought in Japan after the first World War by the German confectioner Karl Joseph Wilhelm Juchheim who opened the famous Juchheim chain of bakeries. From that moment, Baumkuchen’s popularity increasingly acquired its current popularity.

It is really surprising to see baumkuchen everywhere, from high class patisserie to combini (convenience store) and even in Muji. Not to mention the variety of flavours: classic vanilla for purists or typical Japanese green tea and sweet potato, just to name a few.

matcha

Muji Matcha Baumkuchen
Photo: Leslie

remon

Lemon Baumkuchen
Photo: Nemo

After realising how popular Baumkuchen was in Japan, I started wondering the reason behind such a hype. I love cakes, I seriously do, but from my personal experience, I thought that Baumkuchen was not so special in terms of flavour. For this reason, I discussed with some Japanese friends who told me that, in their opinion, Baumkuchen’s popularity is just a matter of beauty: elegant concentric circles creating an almost perfect ring shape. Moreover, it’s also important to mention the symbolic meaning that both circle and the crosscut-tree-like shape share: perfection, unity and longevity. No wonder Baumkuchen is considered popular in Japan as a return present for wedding guests.

It’s definitely nice to notice such metaphorical concepts behind what a European or an American would consider just a cake.

We should never forget that both the West and Japan had strong but entirely different philosophical roots, but I guess the difference here is that, compared to the West, the Japanese never forget to look at the beauty of things while we are constantly distracted by their material aspect.* So, it’s just a cake.

But then, I don’t think that typical Japanese teenagers munching on their Baumkuchen from combini, think about aesthetics on their way back from school. Are they westerinsing themselves?

*I don’t think this is the place to discuss about Japanese aesthetics, but if you like to know more about it, I advise you to first give a look at the main aesthetic ideals. Then, if you find it interesting, I suggest you to read The Structure of Iki by Kuki Shūzō.

** if you would like to try Baumkuchen at home, give a look at this video. I know, it’s not the same.

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And now in Italian.

Di solito, quando si dice Nemo profeta in patria, si vuole indicare la difficoltà di emergere in un ambiente familiare rispetto alla presunta facilità che si potrebbe trovare all’esterno di esso. Questo è ciò che è accaduto ad una torta Europea, la Baumkuchen, in Giappone, dove è uno dei dolci più venduti.

La Baumkuchen è una torta composta da strati di impasto che viene colato o spennellato su un cilindro rotante. L’impasto, fatto da uova, farina, zucchero, vaniglia e burro, viene riscaldato uniformemente grazie all’apposito forno e al moto di rotazione del cilindro, così da creare un bellissimo anello dorato che si ricoprirà nuovamente di impasto fino a raggiungere il numero desiderato di strati. Questo metodo fara sì che, una volta tagliata, la Baumkuchen avrà la caratteristica forma a tronco d’albero con i suoi cerchi concentrici.

Ad oggi, le origini della Baumkuchen rimangono ancora incerte, perché vengono rivendicate sia dalla Germania, sia dall’Ungheria. Sembra che le prime tracce di una ricetta scritta siano apparse intorno al 1450, ma, con il tempo, ingredienti e metodo di preparazione si sono evoluti nella ricetta del diciottesimo secolo, ovvero quella che viene usata ancora oggi.

Considerate le sue origini, la torta Baumkuchen è popolare nei paesi del nord e dell’est Europa, però anche vivendo nel Vecchio Continente, non avevo mai sentito parlare di questo dolce fino al 2008, quando sono andata in Giappone per la prima volta. La ricetta della Baumkuchen venne portata in Giappone dopo la prima guerra mondiale dal pasticciere tedesco Karl Joseph Wilhelm Juchheim che fondò una catena di pasticcerie ancora oggi famose in tutto il paese. Da quel momento, la fama della torta Baumkuchen cominciò a crescere.

È sorprendente vedere questa torta ovunque, dalle pasticcerie d’alta classe ai combini (convenience store) e perfino nei punti vendita Muji. Per non parlare della varietà dei gusti: la classica vaniglia per i puristi o, per citarne alcuni, i tipici aromi giapponesi del tè verde o la patata dolce.

Dopo aver realizzato quanto questa torta fosse popolare in Giappone, mi sono effettivamente chiesta il motivo. Io amo le torte, la amo tantissimo ma, però ho pensato che la Baumkuchen non sia niente di speciale in termini di sapore. Per questo motivo, ho chiesto ai miei amici giapponesi la loro opinione in merito, e mi hanno risposto che secondo loro la torta è diventata famosa per la sua bellezza: stupendi cerchi concentrici che creano una quasi perfetta struttura ad anello. In più, è importante non tralasciare il significato simbolico del cerchio e del tronco d’albero: perfezione, unità e longevità. Non c’è da meravigliarsi che questa torta sia un regalo molto popolare che gli sposi fanno ai loro invitati al matrimonio come ringraziamento per i regali ricevuti.

È bello che ci siano dei significati simbolici dietro quello che un europeo o un americano considererebbe solo un dolce.

Non dobbiamo dimenticare che sia l’Occidente, sia il Giappone hanno delle fortissime ma, allo stesso tempo radicalmente differenti, radici filosofiche, ma credo che rispetto agli occidentali, i giapponesi non smettono mai di guardare alla bellezza delle cose mentre noi siamo sempre distratti dal loro aspetto materiale.*

Quindi, alla fine, sì, è solo un dolce.

Però, poi penso all’adolescente giapponese che al ritorno da scuola si ferma al combini per comprare una Baumkuchen, e non credo che si fermi a pensare all’estetica. Pensate che le giovani generazioni si stiano occidentalizzando?

*Non penso che questo sia il posto adatto per parlare di estetica giapponese, ma se volte approfondire l’argomento, vi consiglio di dare un’occhiata agli ideali estetici e poi magari considerare una lettura interessante, come può essere La struttura dell’iki di Kuki Shūzō.

** Se volete provare a fare la Baumkuchen in casa, date un’occhiata al video nell’ultima parte in inglese del post.

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