gastronomy

It’s been a while – but there’s a perfectly acceptable excuse to my absence. Birthday parties, afterwork drinks, a girls trip to Frankfurt and a surprising visit from Spain. What a great way to slowly settle back into London!

So, even though I have plenty of things to share on travel and getting closer to 30, I decided to make my return with one foodie discovery in London that I’ve fallen head over heels for – Sushisamba. Those of you from the States might already have heard of the concept – a creative blend of Japan, Brazil and Peru all under one roof.

However, there’s something that makes Sushisamba in London special:

View from Sushisamba, London

The restaurant is set in the 38th floor of Heron Tower (finished in 2011), which at 230m is currently the tallest skyscraper in the City and the 3rd tallest in Greater London (after the Shard and One Canada Square). The see-through elevator takes only a few seconds until the 38th floor (nothing for the faint-hearted!). Being in the heart of the financial district gives this height an entire different meaning – from here, you can see how the city stretches over the surface and it´s easier to appreciate the heights of other skyscrapers around the area. For instance, on the other side of Heron Tower is 30th St Mary Axe (the first shot of this building was actually taken from the restaurant back in April – when I had only come in for a coffee, ignorant to the food heaven next-door).

So, what’s a Japanese – Peruvian – Brazilian fusion like, anyway?

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

The fusion doesn’t come as a surprise – after all, Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan, ever since early XIX century. Actually, I recently read that sushi is one of the most popular dishes in Brazil – it’s so popular, that it’s often even served at Churrascarias (with a Brazilian twist). Nobu offers a famous blend of peruvian japanese dishes, while others like Sushinho focus on the brazilian – japanese connection. Either way, the result is light, refreshing and delicate – and incredibly beautiful.

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…Also known as: My first taste of a 2* Michelin Restaurant.

I had never heard of Olot before. Was there anything exciting to be seen around here? Sure, it’s a region with plenty of small volcanoes, which makes for easy day hikes. But was that all? On our first evening, we went to the (a bit spooky) hotel’s reception and asked for a dinner recommendation close by.

Receptionist: You came to the right place for food – Olot has some of the best restaurants in the region. Are you looking for a Michelin restaurant?
Me: Er… Michelin?
Receptionist: Yes! We have a 2* Michelin restaurant, a 1* restaurant and plenty of award-winning chefs just a few minutes away from here.

Well that would explain it, wouldn’t it? We had arrived at a rural gastronomic haven.

I googled the 2* restaurant – Les Cols – and loved it’s manifesto:

…A cuisine of the rural landscape and the seasonality; simple but essential; austere and humble but intuitive, intimate and authentic. A cuisine that should become the reflection of the way we are…

Les Cols Restaurant in Olot (Garrotxa, Spain)

What I discovered in this gastronomic and architectural temple was the joy of rural and seasonal cuisine with a tiny twist. A kind of freshness that literally brought food from the garden to our plates. We tasted 18 completely different dishes – each of them sourced locally and created with an admiring attention to detail.

A glass of cava L’O de l’Origan
(crisp and refreshing)

Home-made sausage from Olot and buckwheat crust, the essentiality of primary food
(one word – addictive)

To eat with fingers: cornbread hot sandwich
(simple but so tasty)

The caviar from La Garrotxa: buckwheat blin and Santa Pau beans
(delicious! I wish we had bought them to take back home)

Made of buckwheat – spaghetti in smoked broth
(completely unexpected)

To eat whole and with your fingers – wild asparagus in a charcoal tempura with beetroot romesco
(it looked like a charcoal crust… but it tasted so much better!)

Texture and perfume of this summer’s mushrooms – chanterelle salad with pine nuts
(loved it!)

Les Cols Restaurant in Olot (Garrotxa, Spain)

From the henhouse right to the dish – fresh egg, mayonnaise, tuna
(could it get any simpler than that?)

Wild mushroom royale
(I learned to love all types of mushrooms… and this one was definitely one of my favourites)
Wild Mushroom Royale at Les Cols in Olot, Spain

Contrasts and colours – black tomato from their own garden with basil, passion fruit and mint
(another one to the top of my list)
Black tomato at Les Cols in Olot, Spain

Rice with squid and mild alioli
(like a tiny paella)
Rice with squid at Les Cols in Olot, Spain

Salt cod brandade, pilpil, muscat grapes, hot pepper oil and rinds of bacon
(exciting flavour combination)

Cooked in a terrine – duck bred by ourselves, figs, amaretto, smashed biscuit
(Definitely in my top 5.. also loved its creative presentation)

Les Cols Restaurant in Olot (Garrotxa, Spain)

With the contrast of home-made jams – a selection of catalan cheese
(Amazing selection – there’s something for everyone in here)

Like a dessert: sangria – red wine, peach and cinnamon
(I really didn’t expect this one coming!)
Sangría at Les Cols in Olot (Spain)

A sweet dessert – frozen cake, preserved fruits and burnt egg yolk
(at this point, I had to stop eating to avoid physical collapse – I did have a tiny bite and it was, indeed, delicious)

to share – home-made chocolate bar, an evocation to the restaurant space
(We took this one home – for next day dessert)

Sweet bread – coca from Els Hostalets d’en Bas, cooked in a wood oven
(A must, when in the region)

This was a feast of more than 3.5 hours. We experienced these local flavours in different environment – starters in their beautiful garden, main courses in their main salon – with large windows opening to the front garden and a glass of sweet wine in the golden room pictured above. The restaurant’s chef, Fina Puigdevall, gave us a backtour of their kitchen facilities – large open spaces with lots of natural light and constant connection to their gardens.

For 85 EUR per person, the seasonal tasting menu is highly recommendable. In one seating, we discovered many of Garrotxa’s specialities while treating ourselves to a unique experience!

Have you ever been to a Michelin Restaurant?

Anyone living in London knows (or will soon learn) the importance of balancing your fast-paced city life with something else to maintain sanity. No wonder many Londoners retire to the country side over weekends – I can’t think of any better way of disconnecting from the city’s buzz, than with a home-made meal accompanied by a full-bodied red wine, a thrilling book and a real fireplace.

That’s how I had imagined the weekends in the english country side – and this couldn’t have gotten any closer to my reality.

My first visit to the english country side was on the snowiest day of the year. My destination? Ramsden – a tiny little village in Oxfordshire. Attracted by their award-winning public house, The Royal Oak, we drove one and a half hours towards the north-west from London.

The land was covered in a sugar white coat of fresh snow – turning the otherwise common surroundings into a fairy tale land. As soon as we got off the highway, roads became narrower, icy, less trafficked and, consequently, more adventurous.

Sheep in Oxfordshire, UK

Sheep in Oxfordshire, UK

Sheep were staring at us as we attempted not to lose traction in one of the road’s many curves.

Ramsden, Oxfordshire, UK

Ramsden, Oxfordshire, UK

We did arrive at Ramsden, eventually. The village is a beautiful Cotswold village tucked away off the beaten track. It might not be large, but it has class and style. Every house is built individually. No two homes are the same, but all of them share something in common – the use of stone in construction.

Ramsden, Oxfordshire, UK

The Royal Oak is a popular meeting place for locals, and an attraction for the occasional strangers like us – the ones that are willing to drive hundreds of km for fantastic food and genuine beers and wine (including rare beers from independent breweries!).

The chef uses local suppliers whenever possible, which also allows them to have fantastic daily specials. The pheasant – my order – was incredibly juicy and tender; and was dressed with an orange-infused gravy that complimented its taste perfectly. Although plates were of reasonable size (and you’re probably ok with one), we didn’t drive all this way to not order one of my favorite deserts – red fruit crumble.

Brunch at the Royal Oak (Ramsden Village, Oxfordshire)

Brunch at the Royal Oak (Ramsden Village, Oxfordshire)

With our tummies full, we took a short walk around Ramsden, visiting their church and war memorial, but soon felt our frozen feet and headed back home into our noisy (but heated) flats. It was a great way to experience a little adventure, inhale fresh air and slow the otherwise hectic pace.

Important Information:

Have you been to the English country side? How do you escape from the city?

I have the tendency to fall for expensive cities. What I can say – high living standards, overall efficiency and beautiful surroundings come with hefty price tags nowadays.

After my first year in Switzerland, I had gotten so used to the prices that I no longer felt the need to complain about them. 

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm reminded me of Switzerland in many ways. The winding streets in Gamla Stan resemble Lausanne’s old town. Their clean streets holding simple and colorful buildings. And of course, the prices of pretty much anything.

Prices are relative, though. When coming from Portugal or Spain, ordering dinner in Stockholm is almost an investment. But if comparing them to Switzerland or London – you’ll realize the country is more expensive, but most of the time, it’s nothing you haven’t seen somewhere before. What I’ve learned from my trip is that, with a bit of thoughtful planning, even quite limited budgets can survive a 4 day holiday in Stockholm.

Accommodation

Stortorget Square in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Before choosing to go with Roomorama on my first trip to Sweden, I browsed and surfed looking for a variety of accommodation alternatives in the capital. Hostels, hotels, B&Bs – all of it. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task to stay on the affordable side. I was prepared for the worst. Hotels started up by 65 GBP per night – if spending the night next to a motorway and 20 minutes drive outside the city sounds appealing to you (because it certainly wasn’t for me). Anything more centrical already doubled the price (set that as a minimum – from there, it only goes upwards). We found a few cute B&B, but generally had an issue on being 3 friends instead of the harmonious 2 (or 4).

My TipWe were thankful for the credit I got from Roomorama – Stockholm is certainly one of those cities where you can appreciate this most. However, Roomorama’s selection on apartments in the city is still rather limited, so I’d recommend to check AirBnB and Wimbu as well. Hostels mostly offer single beds in reasonable sized dorms for 20 to 30 GBP per night, but if you want to cut accommodation costs as a whole, Couchsurfing is definitely the best option!

Food

"Capers" at SMAK, Stockholm

You know me. I partly travel through food, and Stockholm was no exception. Even before landing, I was already dreaming of smoked salmon, meatballs with lingonberry jam and all the fresh and exotic game – like reindeer and moose! But freshly cooked food comes for a price – specially in central locations frequented by tourists.

On our first night in the city, some friends took us to SMAK (flavor) – a restaurant tucked away in an obscure side street in Östermalm. SMAK’s concept is simple: few dishes, simple names and 3 sizes (3, 5 or 7 plate menus). Each dish carries the name of the predominant flavor. Each dish was a creation for itself. Prices were mouth-opening, but let me tell you: It was totally worth it.

My Tip: Get familiar with your local supermarket and unleash your inner cook. By having breakfast at home and preparing picnics for lunch (as simple as nordic bread with cream cheese and smoked salmon), you won’t feel bad about letting go for a special dinner.

Transport

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

WALK. Don’t even think about taking a taxi. I’ve done it, and believe me – it’s no fun. Only use the tube whenever completely necessary (like those days it’s pouring non-stop and you only wish to be teleported to the closest mall). We got ourselves a tube pass for 18 GBP (200 SEK) that we could use 8 times and could be shared among a group of friends.This was enough for 2 people and 4 days in the city (including one of those forced mall days).

My Tip: Pack comfortable walking shoes, an umbrella and a hardcore rain jacket – Even if it’s summer time, some days might be really wet. When you arrive at the tube station, look for a kiosk inside or around the station (tickets and passes are a bit cheaper than at the counter) and choose which option suits you best depending on time, weather prediction and condition. Note that single tickets are sold at almost 4 GBP!

Alcohol

Systembolaget - Swedish Alcohol Monopoly

Alcohol is one of those things that make Stockholm seem prohibitively expensive. Sweden has high alcohol prices because of the high tax rates imposed on it. Herewith, the governments intention is to reduce overall alcohol consumption or at least moderate the regular intake. If you want to buy wine, beer or spirits to have some drinks at home, you’ll need to search for a Systembolaget shop – a state own monopoly for alcohol sale. Their opening hours are quite restrictive, which is why many swedes and expats stock up! In restaurants and bars, drinks become even more pricey – I’ve paid between 6 and 8 GBP for a glass of wine (and I wasn’t being very picky!).

My TipIf you can, buy a bottle of wine in the duty free shop before departure. If your luggage restrictions don’t allow for this, make sure to check the opening hours of your nearest Systembolaget shop (and don’t forget to bring your ID).

Do you have any other recommendations to keep basic costs low when traveling to expensive destinations?

There’s no doubt that Argentineans are known for their fine wine and rich food – many of them are italian descendants, so a passion for cuisine is in their blood. But you probably already know about their rump steaks and rib-eye steaks. You might have even had an argentinean tenderloin some time (my personal favorite, by the way).

So, instead of walking you through the numerous eatable parts of a cow, I’ll focus on Patagonia in general, covering both, the Argentinean and Chilean sides. Chilean food, although with a more limited international representation, deserves a special mention here. After all, Chile’s long coastline adds a wide range of ocean products to their main ingredients (and hey, sea food is one of my weak points!).

Spider Crab

Spider Crab Ceviche, Ushuaia (Argentina)

Spider crab is a certainly a regional delicacy that you shouldn’t miss out. Restaurants offer them prepared in so many different ways: natural, as a soup, in a salad or even prepared as ceviche (pictured above) where the spider crab is basically cooked by using acidic juice from limes and/or lemons (a must try!).

Although spider crab was on menus all over Patagonia, I believe that one of the top places to go for it was Ushuaia, where it’s freshly brought right from the Beagle Channel. I spotted the above spider crab ceviche above at Restaurante Tante Nina, where they did not only offer a huge variety of fresh sea food, but also a perfect view over the southernmost harbour of the World.

Merluza Negra

The patagonian toothfish is regionally known as merluza negra, which translates literally into black hake. The first time I read it on a menu it caught my attention – I had only known the silver toned hake, how would a black hake look like and most importantly, how does it taste?

The merluza negra can only be found in very cold waters in the southern hemisphere, and can get to become a pretty big lady – up to 2 meters long! I’m no fish expert, but I do recognize a good fish when I try it, and this patagonian treat, in my opinion, is much more savory than other sea products (maybe it’s because of its fat layer between skin and flesh?).

Cordero Fueguino and Cordero Patagónico

Cordero Fueguino, Patagonia

Asadores are everywhere in Patagonia, but instead of highlighting their beef products, they focus on their regional lamb – the cordero fueguino and cordero patagónico. The cordero patagónico has a unique flavor because of the sheeps’ diet of regional mixed herbs and grasses (particularly a type of grass called coirones). This, together with a delicious chimichurri sauce made of hot peppers, garlic, vinegar, oil and mixed herbs makes the perfect meal after a rough day of hiking.

Dulce de Leche

Brownie with Dulce de Leche

Alfajor with Dulce de Leche

Flan with Dulce de Leche

Ok, so before you attack me on this one – yes, Dulce de Leche is not originally from Patagonia. It might not even be Argentinean! But although the origin of Dulce de Leche is uncertain, there’s no doubt about Argentina being the world leader of its production and consumption, and Patagonia was no exception. This sweet paste was a key ingredient to any dessert – it filled home-made alfajores, it topped a chocolate brownie and accompanied a simple flan.

Calafate

Calafate Berry in Patagonia

This was a failed attempt of adjusting my camera’s focus to the calafate berry, manually. Mental Note: Learn how to use DSLR camera before the next big trip.

It’s very easy to come across it when hiking anywhere in Patagonia. When the fruit is mature, it adopts a dark color blue-violet color, similar to the one of blueberries, and can be eaten right away from the bush! In my opinion, they tastes like a mix of blueberries and raspberries and are used to make multiple products: from jams and cakes to beer – yes! there’s a chilean ale called Cerveza Austral that is made with these berries. A must try!

A legend tells that anyone who eats the Calafate berry, will certainly return to Patagonia – I really hope this is true.

Have you ever tried any of these dishes? Which is your favorite?

Port, Lac Leman, Switzerland

I’ve read many blogs about people warning about Switzerland’s high prices. I can’t deny it – Switzerland is expensive. Food, in particular, can be 45% higher than the western European average. If you look at The Economist’s Big Mac Index, the price of a Big Mac in Switzerland is more than double of what you would pay for today in the US. Sounds crazy, huh?

But don’t let prices scare you off – Switzerland is a beautiful country, and you won’t have seen it properly until you’ve made food a part of your travel experience. Quality food remains an important part of swiss culture; and I’m not only talking about their cheese – he country has, after all, the highest number of Michelin stars per capita.

During my two years living in Lausanne, I’ve had the chance to eat my way through a big part of its cafes and restaurants (perks of living in a small city!). I was impressed by the variety in cuisine and price ranges that were available – a diversity that other larger european cities are missing.

Choosing only 5 Lausanne eateries for this post has been a very hard job. So, to make things a bit easier for me, I’ve left out those restaurants that have already received my special mention in previous occasions (you will find a list with the links to these articles at the end of the post). Also, I’ve limited my recommendations to a certain budget – it’s too easy to recommend restaurants with Michelin Stars, right?

Without further ado, here are Lausanne’s stars.

Le Citadin

Passion Fruit and Chocolate, Le Citadin, Lausanne

If you’ve always wanted to taste a plate elaborated by one of Europe’s master chefs but don’t really have the cash (or time) to go through a 10 course menu – Le Citadin is the best alternative. As high quality and sophisticated fast food corner in the center of Lausanne, it’s perfect to grab a quick but healthy snack. If you’re weak, like me, you’ll surrender to what Philippe Guignard does best – pastries. I can hear you people salivating while staring at that passion fruit and chocolate pastry up here. That’s exactly what I mean.

Holy Cow

The swiss are very proud of the quality of their meat. At first, I thought it was just national pride for internal supply (in terms of “anything swiss is better”); but in fact, swiss meat does taste really good. Then again, this shouldn’t be of any surprise – cows that eat fresh green grass and are free to walk up and down the hills will taste different to those who eat grains in a commercial farm.

Holy Cow is exactly that – a praise to high quality meat sourced in Canton Vaud. Not only the meat, but all of the ingredients of their delicious gourmet burgers are fresh, have been locally produced and are prepared right in front of you. The crew is young and lots of fun! They’re often singing in the kitchen to the sound of good rock music!

I regret not taking a picture of one of their fantastic burgers (oh Smokey…) – I could never resist to take a big bite of them as soon as they were mine!

Crêperie d’Ouchy

Crêpe Bresaola, Crêperie d'Ouchy, Lausanne (Switzerland)

You might have read previously about my love for crêpes. It’s definitely no secret. However, it was only in Lausanne where I found my love for a good crêpe bretonne. These crêpes, originally from Brittany, are many of plain buckwheat flour, instead of white wheat flour; which makes them darker and crispy.

Crêperie d’Ouchy is charming because of its proximity to the lake. On a nice afternoon, one can sit on the terrace drinking sider while engaging into one of my favorite activities – people watching. If, instead, you’re more of a mountain person, you better go to Crêperie La Chandeleur, not far from Lausanne’s Cathedral. It’s more familiar and cozy, all decorated in wood – just like a mountain hut! It also has my very favorite crêpe over all, made of fresh cheese and spinach!

Cafe Romand

In the land of fondues and raclettes, it’s difficult to choose one restaurant based on this plate. Actually, for the real and complete winter and cheese experience, I’d rather suggest to take a train ride up to a mountain, walk in the snow and then get inside a wooden hut with a fire place and order a big fondue moitié-moitié.

But ok, let’s assume that you can’t just get on a train for an hour and a half to have lunch on top of a mountain – then, Cafe Romand is the nearest to sitting in one of those swiss cottages. It’s one of the city’s oldest restaurants and it is characteristic for having a very swiss flair. When entering the cafe, one is taken into a different era!

If you’re one of the tough ones – follow up with a meringue smothered in crème double de la Gruyère (double thick Gruyère cream). I could do it (you should too!).

Cafe de la Poste

Filets de Perche, Cafe de la Poste, Lutry

And to finish, my best recommendation for this regional speciality: filets de perches! I’ve mentioned this plate before – after all, it has been a regular meal during my time in Switzerland, specially during summer. Back then, I highlighted a delicious lunch I had in Chateau d’Ouchy early may and the importance of running through the menu (and its footnotes) searching for a hint on the origin of these filets. You should always look for filets de perches frais du Lac Léman (the rest, although cheaper, will only make you regret for having ordered that plate instead of, say, spaghetti bolognese).

Well, if you’re willing to pay the extra cash it takes to eat fresh fish, then I highly recommend you Cafe de la Poste. Although not literally in Lausanne, it’s only a 10-15 bus ride from the center of the city, in a beautiful little village called Lutry. This family owned business has been up and going for over 20 years and is well-known among the locals, so reservation is recommended for most of the times (even for lunch on weekdays).

Now tell me: Would you give Switzerland’s food offer a go, despite the prices?

  • Brie de Meaux. Real french brie is made of raw cow milk and has a not so inviting smell. It’s soft and creamy in the inside, and has a soft white crust around it. There are many variations in the (swiss) markets, including truffles, herbs and nuts. It’s taste is soft and has somewhat of hazelnut in it. I first became a fan of brie in Madrid, when I discovered a tapa that was a small steak with melted brie and fleur de sel on it. And now, I would eat it even without bread (I know I shouldn’t).

 

 

  • Mozzarella di Bufala. What’s the difference with regular mozzarella (for italians: fior di latte), you may ask? This mozzarella is made from the milk of the domestic water buffalo, rather than from cow milk. Even though its originally from Italy, we also have local producers in Switzerland. If you want to be a real gourmet, then go for the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana trademark, which was granted with a Protected Geographical Status in 2008. The cheese has a bright white color and spheric shape, a smooth and shiny surface and a very refreshing taste. If you find yourself in Milan some time, I’d highly recommend you to check out the Mozzarella Bar (in the roof top of a shopping mall next to the Cathedral) – not only can you taste your way through different mozzarellas, but you can also order a whole lot of dishes made with this delicious cheese!

 

 

  • Gruyère. Very swiss/french. I had eaten gruyère a few times before moving to Switzerland and never considered it as one of my favorites – but it just tastes so differently here. So much better! Even though its a hard cheese, I find it a bit softer here than abroad, and it has a milder nutty taste (maybe this is related to its aging – I’m really not an expert!). It was fascinating to learn about its history and production in La Maison du Gruyère (right after eating a shameless amount of cheese). Gruyère is one of the cheeses used in fondue moitié-moitié (the other one being Vacherin), but is also used for many other plates such as the french onion soup or quiches.

 

  • Queijo de Serra. Remember that cheese I ate in Lisbon? Now that has been a great find. Serra da Estrela (commonly called Queijo de Serra) is from Portugal and is made of sheep’s milk. The maturer the cheese is, the harder it will be. I have a devotion for creamy cheese (can you tell from my previous choices?), so the one I really like is the amanteigado – when its young and liquid, so liquid you can (and will) eat it with a spoon.

 

 

  • Tomme Vaudoise. Up to now, many of these cheeses are known internationally; but let me tell you about a little regional secret – the tomme vaudoise. One of my favorites because of its mild taste, this cheese is from my current canton – Vaud. It’s made of raw cow milk and ranges a wide range of textures and intensive tastes depending on its matureness. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all (no, really) – and my very favorite one (a fresh one) can’t be found in regular supermarkets. I always have to wait until saturday and search for it at the farmers market. That’s my plan for saturday by the way!

 

Now its your turn: Which cheese would be on your top 5 list?

Countries in tropical zones aren’t always as paradisiac as one could imagine. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Cuba, but this second visit to the island has opened my eyes to another truth: temperatures might be relatively stable all year round, but it’s climate is really volatile.

Last time I visited the island, back in October 2010, it was hurricane season and, as such, temperatures dropped significantly from one day to another and it was pouring so much that I had to get a cab to go to the office (which, by the way, was about a 50 meters walk from my hotel). Strong winds rushed through the city as a hurricane was approaching the east of the island.

This time, it was so hot I thought I would melt on the streets. Despite this, every afternoon was greeted with 10 minutes of heavy rain followed by a thunderstorm that would continue until right before dinner. Quite unstable, isn’t it?

But although tropical climates have this catastrophic downturn, there are some upturns as well – that is, the ability to grow fantastic fruits!

Disclaimer: There are many more upturns to cuban climate – or, say, tropical climates in general – but for the purpose of this post, I’ll only concentrate on what takes such an important part of my life: delicious food.

Watermelon – Mamey – Papaya

The Watermelon is originally from the south of Africa. How did it make all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? Given the country’s history, I would think it was introduced during the times of African work force, that had been introduced to Cuba by the Spaniards from early 16th century. The fruit thrives best in warm an humid climates that both, receive good sunshine and are well watered (sounds like Cuba, huh?).

Mamey is exotic and rare outside the growing regions, which is mainly Central America and the Caribbean. It has brown skin and a fleshy orange pulp that is really sweet – it’s actually a bit too sweet for my taste, but everyone else loves it, specially in milkshakes and smoothies!.

The Papaya, which looks very similar to Mamey, has a completely different taste – it’s soft, juicy with a very delicate sweet flavor that ends up a bit sour (in a good way). Cubans press fresh lime juice over it, to intensify its flavor.

Guayaba – Mango

Guayaba (Guava) is, personally, one of my favorites. From the outside, it looks like a pear (and it’s texture is also a bit grainy), but the taste is very different from what one expects it to be! The Guava is best to prepare jams and was my daily breakfast drink in Cuba (it contains a lot of vitamin C).

Mangos originally come from India, but frankly, I can’t imagine them tasting anything better than the ones I had this afternoon in the island. I wasn’t a fan of it before I ate it this last time, and I realized it was because I hadn’t tasted the real mangos. No fibers, pure taste, juicy, almost melting in my mouth… do I need to say more?

Chirimoya – Guayaba

Chirimoya is another exotic food not so easy to find. This ancient Incan fruit was originally reserved for royalty. Its custard like flesh (which is why in english its called custard apple) is said to taste like a combination of all tropical fruits in one (my palate is not that delicate though). I love it.

Mango – Pineapple – Guayaba

Pineapple has a very refreshing taste, perfect for the summer. No wonder it is grown in hot climates! Comparing with what you may get in a supermarket in Switzerland, Cuban Pineapples are really sweet and juicy – no offense, Europe, but the Pineapples here just look like Pineapples, don’t taste like them!

Besides all these, we also had Plantains and Bananas, which account for over 70 percent of national production. Plantains are often used for delicious entries like tostones and plátano frito.

Which is your favorite fruit? What exotic fruit has surprised you?

When Summer approaches, the only thing I can possibly think of is spanish food. Could there be anything that screams beach and sunshine more than a paella with meat and sea food?

I’m grateful for having found a bunch of people that feel the same way I do about food (and drinks) in Switzerland. People that, just as me, enjoy preparing copious meals just for the sake of it. People that prepare a paella with meat and sea food on a sunday, to share with a group of friends.

Spending a sunday afternoon getting tipsy on spanish wine and Orujo, talking about ingredients, cooking techniques and taste or texture preferences just felt great. Yes, I have been savoring some haute cuisine. Yes, I’ve also found spanish tapas near my work place.

What I didn’t find, until today, was the spanish attitude towards food, in general.

Switzerland enjoys a good meal, there’s no doubt about that – but once its finished, you’ll move on to the next activity. Spain, on the other hand, can spend 5 hours having lunch. Better – it can combine a lunch and a dinner, without ever leaving the table.

I have a confession to make.

Ok, it might not be exactly a confession since you will probably have noticed and deduced it from my blog – Switzerland has turned me into a bon vivant.

I’ve always enjoyed the taste of food. It was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to resist in Switzerland – host of the two best hotel schools in the World according to the annual TNS Global Survey: Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne and Les Roches (in Crans-Montana). I would have never thought that Switzerland had such a broad variety when it comes to restaurants. There’s a plate for each palate – from the classic fondue to molecular cuisine. Your pocket (and maybe transport) is the only limit.

I had heard that the best restaurants are often hidden gems in tiny villages that are rather difficult to spot. When my mom came to visit, we rented a car and took this chance to explore Vaud’s less obvious gastronomic treasures. This is how we found Le Guillaume Tell, in Aran-Villette, a cozy fairy-tale village with a population of less than 600 people.

We entered into a living room with not more than 8-10 tables and were kindly seated on the only remaining table (we were lucky – we should have reserved!). The decoration was warm and one immediately felt at home. No opulent adornments, lushness or luxury. I like that – it proves that the food is the star and there’s nothing that will distract you from savoring it.

To start with an amuse bouche (appetizer), we were surprised with a wasabi snowball and the below gazpacho, which was followed by our entrées: duck liver terrine and a deer and veal carpaccio.


Followed by a pigeon and its own foie and a tender beef filet with two sauces.

To finish, we had home made sorbets and a crème brûlée with orange confit.

I left the restaurant happier than ever. Not only did I had an unique dinner but I also realized that, when it comes to food – small is beautiful. Why eat 500g beef steak if you can eat less and therefore have a first course and desert (and maybe even a cheese plate) as well? The joy is in the variety of flavors and one of the main elements of haute cuisine, I guess, is finding the right combination.

Would you rather have one plate or several smaller portions?

Filets de Perche

Filets de Perche: A speciality in the area of Lac Léman

On my first trip to Geneva, back in 2006, a friend’s family took us unexperienced spaniards to a small restaurant near the lake. Its speciality was local fish. We ordered filet the perche – an indigenous specie in Lac Léman served in small fillets that traditionally is served with sauce tartare and french fries. Going out for filets de perche is a good excuse to sit on a terrace next to the lake on a sunny afternoon and its a must try when in any of the villages surrounding Lac Léman.

During the last year and a half, filet de perche have been many of my lunches and dinners in Switzerland. However, they were not always as good as I expected.

I soon found out that Lac Léman does (by far) not have enough perches to satisfy its demand – the local catch only covers 6% of swiss consumption and so the remaining 94% are frozen filets coming all the way from Estonia.

How can one escape from the frozen filets offered in many restaurants?

The high season for filets is between July and October, that is, its likely that a restaurant announcing filets de perche in January will be importing them from Eastern Europe. Obviously, there are some exceptions – restaurants specialized in these filets will have a deal with local fishermen who will exclusively deliver to them all-year-round. My personal favorite is Café de la Poste, in a fairy tale lake village called Lutry (where I took the picture above).

My recommendation is to always search for filets de perches frais du Lac Léman to get the real taste. Due to the low local supply, restaurants that actually do serve the fresh catch will make sure that’s clear for their customers

It’s not all about filets de perche

There are more than 50 fish species in Lac Léman – why obsess with one kind when you can eat your way through the lake? I’m putting this concept into practice since saturday – having started with these filets de féra with pommes frites and Lavaux wine at Chateau d’Ouchy.

filets de féra Pommes frites Glass of White Wine (Lavaux)

Crêpe in Annecy, France

One and a half years of life in the french speaking side of Switzerland have taught me a lot of things – most of them on food, and concretely on cheese (but you already know about that). Anyone living in this country develops his / her sense for tasty food – you really can’t get around it. And what’s tasty and french, besides for cheese? Crêpes!

Back in Spain, crêpes were sweet treats that I would only order in very limited occasions. I still remember ordering a crêpe filled with dulce de leche and topped with vanilla ice cream in an argentinian lounge bar in Madrid. Three minutes walk from my faculty, free wifi, comfortable armchairs, air conditioning and those delicious crêpes with dulce de leche made this place my favorite spot for preparing group presentations.

Crêpe in Lausanne, Switzerland

But just when I thought that crêpes couldn’t get any better, I moved to Switzerland. Here, people don’t leave crêpes for special occasions (or in my case, stressful occasions), but include them in their healthy day-by-day. And so, I’ve discovered my love for salty crêpes.

Salty crêpes in Switzerland are very thin and crunchy, and often made of wholemeal flour. I’ve seen cooks adding some light beer to the batter (you can’t really taste the beer afterwards – I wouldn’t even know about it if I hadn’t seen it). The fillings can be anything from ricotta, spinach & parsley (one of my favorites) to salmon, onions and mushrooms, which is precisely what I like most about them – their large list of possible fillings! I couldn’t choose only one favorite combination, but can assure that any thin crunchy crêpe filled with spinach and fresh cheese is already in my top list, and adding mushrooms, lard and/or fresh parsley can make it even better.

Whatever you finally decide on the filling – enjoy it with a cup of cider, the french way!

French Cider in Annecy

Which is your favorite crêpe filling? Have you tried making them at home?

We all have preconceptions about a country (even if we don’t admit to have them). When I accepted the job in Switzerland, I pictured the Alps, fondues, chocolate – and lots of bankers. Sure, Switzerland does have all this – but it has so much more that is less known to the World.

The Lakes

View from Vevey, Switzerland

Switzerland encompasses a huge diversity of landscapes on only little more than 41,200 km2, ranging from 195 m to 4,634m above sea level. No wonder that, besides for having some of the greatest mountain scenery Worldwide it also houses a surprising amount of lakes. There are more than 1,500 lakes spread across the country, although only 16 of them are larger than 10 km2 (being Lac Léman the largest one).

Wherever you are, you will surely not be far from a lake. During summer, Switzerland’s lakes are painted with sailing boats that go out to enjoy the late afternoon and watch the sunset on the quiet water. When I first moved here, I wondered why someone would own a boat in Switzerland when you couldn’t get anywhere with it. The truth is – the point is not to go somewhere, but to enhance the quality of life by allowing beautiful day trips with family and friends.

The Vineyards

Lavaux, Switzerland

Lying in the shadow of its neighbors, France and Italy, swiss wine is almost inexistent outside of the country. Although annual production can reach 150 million bottles, only about 2/100 are exported. Putting this into perspective: with a population of 7 million people, each person would consume 21 bottles of swiss wine per year. This turns Switzerland one of the top wine consuming countries Worldwide!

The country houses around 20,000 winegrowers, many of which have small productions that serve personal use. It’s not rare to meet people who own a little vineyard in the back of their house, specially in Canton Vaud. Switzerland may have several wine growing areas, but my favorite one is Lavaux, which aside from producing high quality white wine offers one of the greatest views over Lac Leman.

The Cheese

Cheese (London Borough Market)

Cheese might be nothing new about Switzerland – But if you google swiss cheese, you will get more than 3 million images, out of which most of them depict the cheese with the holes in it. Yes, that’s a swiss cheese. It’s called Emmentaler. But this is only one of the more than 450 varieties of cheese the country has to offer. Other swiss cheese you may have come across in supermarkets worldwide are Raclette cheese, Gruyère and Appenzeller. Most of the cheese is made out of cow milk, but you can also find it made of goat milk or sheep milk. Every region has its own local cheese. Swiss cheese range all prices imaginable and can be filled or topped with fine herbs, mushroom mousse, pepper, or truffles (among many others). In fact, one of my favorites from the Canton Vaud is Tomme Fleurette, which is made out of raw milk (a real speciality!).

What qualities does your home country have that aren’t well-known?