I am back!!

I am back!!

I haven’t posted in almost a year; after all this time, I feel I should be telling you the highlights of last year, since a lot has changed.

First of all, I got married and moved to a new house, with a bigger and better equipped kitchen. I am still not used to it, and I am sometimes doing some real mess in there.

The first month was not easy at all. I wonder why no one tells you how hard can the first month be.

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I wanted to be the super-wife: the one who can handle everything at home, the one who cooks starting day one, the one who can throw many dinner parties every week, and even the one who can host both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve at her place on the first year of marriage. So I did all this, and it was really tiring. I finally decided to slow down the pace.

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Before getting married, I did some medical exams. The results were not enchanting; cholesterol and triglyceride levels are both high, which means I should be on diet. I ate healthy food for 2 months before the wedding and lost some weight.

I also started yoga and it was making me feel great.

But then we got married, started with the dinner parties and Christmas, and that’s how we ruined everything. For the coming month, trying to eat healthy should be one of my priorities. And getting back to sports as well.

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During the last year, I traveled 4 times: France in July, Oman and Dubai in September, Cyprus in December (for the wedding) and Dubai again in January.

France

In July, I was back to Paris, with my boyfriend – now my hubby – this time, to attend his friend’s wedding in Evreux in Normandy. In addition to Paris, we spent a few days in both Normandy and Brittany.

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Philippe Conticini’s little pieces of paradise

As expected, both Normandy and Brittany were beautiful, and our experience there was a lot more relaxing than in Paris. We visited Honfleur, Deauville, Mont Saint Michel, Dinan, Saint Malo and Rennes, and all were amazing.

galettes de Sarrasin picture

The galettes de Sarrasin

This trip was more interesting than the first one on the culinary level. I had done a better research, so I had a lot of addresses for the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris, in addition to some excellent restaurants in Normandy and Brittany, and the local specialties that I need to try.

Yves Bordier butter tasting

Butter tasting

As usual, some of the experiences were great: butter tasting in Bistro Autour du beurre in Saint Malo, trying Brittany’s galettes au sarrasin, visiting Pierre Hermé for a tiny Ispahan macaron, trying the fairy desserts of Philippe Conticini’s “patisserie des rêves”, discovering one of the best bakeries around the corner where I was staying, Maison Landemaine…

Maison Landemaine pain chocolat amandes

The best pain aux amandes ever!

But the highlight of the trip was definitely the “Kouign-amann”, a Breton cake that I had never heard of, and that was one of the best desserts I ever had in my life: a round crusty cake made of layers of puff dough stuffed with lots of butter and sugar. We tried it in a restaurant in Rennes, “Léon le cochon”, served with Caramel au beurre Salé ice cream. Wow!

Kouign Aman picture

A Breton cake


Oman

I spent three days there, at a friend’s. Despite September’s 45 degrees, Muscat was still an enjoyable city. The Omani experience is very different from the experience in Dubai.

People are more chill, more relaxed. You see Omanis everywhere; they have all sorts of jobs. You see Omanis drinking alcohol in pubs in their traditional clothes – no Omani women there though.

When it comes to food, I tried two traditional dishes: the famous Omani Shuwa, a delicacy that’s usually prepared only on very special occasions, by marinating meat in spices – to each family its special blend – and then wrapping it in sacks made of dry banana or palm leaves.

Omani Shuwwa picture

Omani Shuwwa

The sacks are then thrown into an underground sand oven that is sealed so that no smoke escapes. After 24 or 48 hours of cooking, it becomes extremely tender and is then served over basmati rice.

The second dish consisted of stewed lamb’s feet. I loved them both, but they’re really heavy that I could barely sleep.

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The lamb feet stew

And of course, if you’re planning to visit Oman, you should not miss the fish and seafood there, as it’s delicious.

Dubai

The Dubai experience in January was different; for the first time, it was 25 degrees only, and I was traveling with a colleague, which made the whole stay more interesting.

I fell in love with Thai cuisine after a dinner at Pad Thai– I brought back with me all the spices I need to prepare Thai food at home. I also had the best meat I had in my life, at The Meat Co.

The most disappointing desserts ever? I had them at Lafayette Gourmet. They looked so perfect, but lacked taste.

I’ll be going there at the end of this month for Dubai food festival. I can’t wait honestly.

Until then, I’ll try to get back to posting regularly. Ciao!

The best of Sri Lanka’s fruits!

When you first say Sri Lanka, you think of tropical fruits of course (this might be for foodies only…)!

Here’s a list of the fruits we tried during our last vacation there in December, from my favorite ones to the one fruit that I hated (yes, such thing exists).

Start with the coconut water!

Start with the coconut water! 

King coconut picture

… And ready to enjoy!

Thambili – King Coconut

On our first boat ride, in Beruwala, we tried the king coconut. Oh my God, that’s a delicious fruit! The vendor will make some holes in it first and you drink the coconut water with a straw, then the vendor will cut it for you and make you a spoon out of the peel so you can eat the flesh. It is very different from the coconut we know and oh-how-yummier!

Did I mention that you can add some rum to it? 😀

cut King coconuts picture

Oh… And the mess we left behind us

Pineapple

Pineapples were always available. We were having them for breakfast and for dinner. Beruwala’s pineapples were not that special, but the ones we had in everywhere else were amazing. The best ones we had were the ones we bought from the local market in Kandy. For 1$, you get a baby pineapple cut and ready to eat.

Red pineapple in a Spice garden

Red pineapple in a Spice garden

We also discovered the red pineapples (we didn’t have the chance to try them though). Apparently, these are the pineapples that help people lose weight, and not the regular ones. Bad news for you?!

Avocado

My sister and I ordered an avocado salad in a restaurant. That was the best avocado I ever had! What a buttery feeling, what an amazing flavor! And then you ask yourself what the hell are those avocadoes they sell in here? 😦

Avocado salad picture

The best of the best

Mango

Even though it was not mango’s season, we found some delicious mangoes on a street cart. Yeah, we had some “Are you out of your mind” looks from people with us on the tour, but the mangoes were worth anything!

We were able to find some mangoes in the market as well, but they were not as good as the first ones we tried. And guess what? For 1 dollar, you can have 4 small mangoes. Hmmm!

Banana

A boring fruit, you say? Well, we’ve tried more than 5 new kinds including red bananas and small bananas, and they’re really good. All of them. And when fried, they’re delicious!

Jackfruit

A new fruit that I never knew existed. Raw and ripe, we were told that it tastes like a cross between mango and pineapple: I was not very impressed.

Jackfruit on a tree picture

Jackfruit on a tree

But the surprising fact is that young jackfruit is used as a vegetable for cooking, and I’ve read that it tastes like pulled pork. Huh?!

... and an open jackfruit

… and an open jackfruit (source: friendfortheride.wordpress.com)

Papaya

I am not a big fan of papaya, but everyone agreed that papayas were good. They were also available in almost every buffet we went to. So if you’re a fan, and you’re heading there, they should be on your list!

A small Banana, Nellis and pineapple (with some other delicacies as well)

A small Banana, Nellis and pineapple (with some other delicacies as well)

Other fruits

In addition, there were guavas, passion fruits, rambutans, watermelons, in addition to a small bitter fruit, “nelli”, that I hated and could not eat. Seriously, how can anyone eat something that sour and bitter? Erghhh

The best of Turkish Street Food!

I might have done a few excellent and good restaurants in Istanbul, but I wanted to experience the best of street food as well.

I had heard a lot about what this country offers for street food lovers in addition to traditional kebab and doner of course, and I just couldn’t miss it.

Below are all the delicious foods I tried and what I thought of each of them!

 

Midye dolmasi – Rice stuffed mussels

Midye dolmasi picture | rice stuffed mussels

Not so traditional mussels!

These little treats are available everywhere on Istiklal Street and Taksim. The mussels are stuffed with rice and seasoned with a blend of herbs including caraway. Once out of the oven, they are ready to savor with just a squeeze of lemon. This is an unusual way of having mussels, and I enjoyed them. For 1 Turkish Lira each, everyone can try them!

 

Midye Tava – Deep fried mussels! 

Midye Tava picture - Deep fried mussels!

The surprise!

The surprise! I was still convinced that this was fried fish fillets until I did the research for this post. In fact, it turned out that these are fried battered mussels! Thread on wooden sticks then deep-fried and served with tarator on a simple paper, we all agreed that they were delicious without being able to tell what they were. Haha

 

Durum

Durum sandwich picture

I’ve had better sandwiches!

Very similar to our shawarma, with both chicken and beef options, durum wraps are found everywhere in Istanbul. Wrapped in what looks more like tortilla bread, I tried the beef sandwich (with onions and tomatoes and fries I guess), and I can’t say I really enjoyed it. It is not bad, but it’s just that our shawarma is way tastier.

 

 Simit

Simit cart picture

These carts can be found everywhere

The Turkish version of our own Abou Arab kaak, but much tastier! And, good news, it’s for 1 Turkish Lira only! Available everywhere and usually enjoyed for breakfast, these fresh sesame rings are delicious with beyaz peynir cheese (Add around 2 Turkish Liras). Yumm!

 

Kumpir

Kumpir | Baked potato picture

Take me there again 😦

For all baked potato lovers, welcome to heaven! Whole potatoes are baked, then emptied and mixed with cheese and butter before being refilled. You can choose different toppings from a real large variety, giving you endless possibilities for combinations: pickled beetroots, hot dogs, corn, pickles, pasta and mayonnaise salad, itch… You can always ask for complementary ketchup and mayo (I didn’t). This 2000-calories treat was definitely my favorite!

 

Lahmacun

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The Turkish meat pie

Turkish meat pies that are slightly different from the Lebanese ones: a very thin dough is topped with minced meat, onion and red pepper mixture then baked. Have them with a squeeze of lemon and some Ayran. Delicious!

 

Balik ekmek

Turkish fried fish

The fish stand

We were told that this fish sandwich was the must-try street food in Istanbul, so we just headed to Karakoy under the bridge to enjoy the freshest catch: it’s a good fillet fish sandwich in a baguette, with some mayo and vegetables. But it definitely needed some lemon juice for extra taste!

 

Borek

Spinach borek picture

Spinach borek

I admit that I did not try street borek because of the lack of time, but I did try them in bakeries, and they are delicious. The best were at Simit Seray, where we had cheese borek, spinach borek and meat borek, for very affordable prices. The prices almost doubled in the Airport branch though.

The dough is deliciously crunchy and the filling is generous with a homey feeling. Recommended!

 

Chestnuts & corn on the cob

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Kestane Kebap

Grilled chestnuts – called Kestane Kebap – carts are available everywhere on the streets, and you can hardly resist their smell! Same for corn on the cob! Yumm.

Café Pepo – Istanbul: Great Food , Lovely Ambience

On our first day in Istanbul, just after we landed, we were somehow starving. Middle East Airlines decided that the flight was too short for a decent breakfast, so they gave us a mini-breakfast.

After the check-in at the hotel, we asked the receptionist for recommendations in Galata area – we had planned to visit Galata tower on that day. He suggested we go to Café Pepo.

 

Even though he gave us directions, and with the help of Google Maps, Café Pepo was still hard to find. We finally managed to find this small bistro, tucked down a small street near the Tower.

The place is lovely. The atmosphere is friendly and chilled, and the terrace is super nice – recommended whenever it’s not raining like it was on that day.

The waiter was friendly and tried to help us and answer all our questions, even though he did not have good English.

I started with a lentil soup – my excuse: I was feeling a bit sick.  We ordered starters: zeytinyagli dolma (Stuffed peppers), begendili borek (eggplant rolls) and cevizli manti (Turkish Ravioli with Walnut).

Lentils soup picture - Cafe pepo

Lentils soup

The soup was good – mine is better of course, but I still enjoyed it.  We all loved the borek – dough filled with eggplant and deep-fried. As for the dolma, we were 2 to love the dish and 2 to hate it: quite different from our stuffed veggies, mainly with the herbs and spices used. I loved it, of course!

Stuffed peppers picture - cafe Pepo

Stuffed peppers

The manti was yummy and different from the Armenian one that we know: the dumplings are boiled (instead of baked) and served with yogurt and walnuts (no tomato sauce).

Turkish Manti picture - cafe pepo

Manti

For Main dishes, we opted for Adana – Urfa kebab and Iskender Kebap. Both dishes were delicious: the Iskender Kebap consisted of super tender thin strips of meat, served on dough pieces with a spicy tomato sauce and yogurt on the side. The dough pieces were extremely delicious, and the whole dish was a success.

Iskender Kebap picture - Cafe pepo

Iskender Kebap

The Adana – Urfa kebab was not named this way after the cinnamon – “urfa” in Arabic – as we speculated first. In fact, Urfa is the name of the region where this Kebab originates from. These 2 skewers of minced meat grilled and served with potato wedges and bulgur (in tomato sauce) definitely made our day – except for my sister who hates some spices that they use for the kebab (and that we did not discover yet).

Adana - Urfa Kebab picture - Cafe Pepo

Adana – Urfa Kebab

My biggest surprise was the Ayran. I was never a fan of this beverage, but it’s really good in Turkey! I could drink a whole liter… Plain or minted, it’s really a must-try at Pepo.

Prices were good – I would even say cheap because of the devalorization of the Turkish Lira.

The first experience was very promising. I wasn’t expecting much when it comes to food since I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback, but Café Pepo did convince me that a lot of interesting discoveries were waiting for me on this journey!

Tugra : My Best Culinary Experience in Istanbul

Foodies usually love to travel because of the numerous food discoveries they can find in every country. I love sightseeing, but what I really go for are the restaurants, the bakeries, the coffee shops and the street carts that offer different types of delicacies …

My experience in Turkey wouldn’t have been complete without a fine-dining experience, and what an experience it was!

On Friday night, we headed to the Ciragan palace on the Bosphorous, for a dinner in Tugra.

Ciragan palace entrance picture

The Entrance

The palace dates back to the 18th century, and was re-opened in 1991 as a Kempinski hotel. The stay in this hotel might be very expensive, but you can still enjoy an affordable meal in the restaurant, located on the first floor.

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The Bosphorous

The terrace has an amazing view of the Bosphorous and the Asian side of the city. But the real experience was inside; it’s an old palace after all!

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A view of the Asian side of Istanbul

Elegance is key in this restaurant, as well as traditions!

Tugra restaurant istanbul

The inside

The table settings were amazing! Locally-made ceramic dishes and fine and cutlery are sure to please diners. The waiters were so friendly and helped us in choosing the wine and appetizers.

cutlery and plates picture at tugra istanbul

A beautiful set!

The overall experience was really great, and I recommend you to try this restaurant if you pass by Istanbul. But let’s get to the best part now… the Food!

We started our meal with a surprise amuse-bouche from the chef: mashed eggplants topped with ground lamb in tomato sauce. That was probably the best thing I tried in Turkey! Warm, creamy, full of flavors, it’s all you can ask for in a simple bite! Our meal couldn’t start better!

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Amuse-bouches from the Chef

Warm bread followed, accompanied with three different spreads: herbed butter, hot tomato dip and salty baked cheese.

Warm Turkish bread at Tugra Istanbul

Warm Turkish bread

We loved them all, especially the cheese, and we told the waiter that. He offered us another round 🙂

Dips at Tugra Istanbul

Trio of dips

For starters, we tried the mezze platter – classic Tugra treats – to share a variety of appetizers: fava beans puree, muhammara, stuffed dolma, Circassian chicken, hummus, pureed cooked eggplant, melon and white cheese with rose water…  Most of them were delicious while some others were average, but we can say we enjoyed the platter.

Mezze platter at Tugra Istanbul

Mezze platter – perfect to share

For main dishes, I opted for their signature dish, the “Testi” lamb casserole: shoulder of lamb cooked with potato, shallots, wild mushrooms, pepper, garlic and thyme in a clay pot and served on rice.  You will get your rice first, and then you get to see the waiter breaking the pot with a hammer before serving the meat over the rice. That was the most tender meat I ever had! The clay pot helps sealing the flavors, and if you’re a fan of stews and homey food, this dish will surely please you!

Testi Lamb casserole at Tugra Istanbul

Testi Lamb casserole – the signature dish

My sis ordered the Duck Tabdir: duck cooked with rice, turnips, radishes, herbs, pistachios, almonds and currants and wrapped in phyllo dough. The dish is served with a rich fruity sauce prepared with duck stock and caramelized fresh fruits. It’s delicious but too sweet, so if you’re not a big fan of flavor fusions, you might want to opt for a different platter.

Duck at Tugra Istanbul

A very unususal dish

My boyfriend and aunt chose the Chicken Topkapi: chicken filled with rice, pistachio, herbs and nuts and served on sautéed spinach and a creamy sauce. This was simply mouthwatering!

 

Chicken topkapi at Tugra istanbul

Chicken topkapi

All main dishes were served in fancy silver serving dish with a silver cover.

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The cover!

I was too full to try a dessert, but they ordered the Palace pudding, a chocolate pudding with Cherry marmalade and gold leaf, and I tried a small spoonful of course. I think it was excellent for a chocolate pudding.

 

Chocolate pudding picture at Turga Istanbul

Chocolate heaven!

For all this, including a bottle of wine, we paid 183 Turkish Lira per person (60 $). Not expensive at all (because of the devalorization of the Turlish Lira).