Food

I ❤️ TLV

IMG_3604-0.JPG The beautiful city of Tel Aviv, viewed from the equally stunning adjoining town of Jaffa. Friday 19th September 2014.

As expected, I absolutely adored Tel Aviv. I had been avidly looking forward to the trip since we booked flights six months prior, and I’d had a deep yearning to visit Israel for many years, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. I’d flirted with the idea of becoming a kibbutznik right after leaving university, but being offered a graduate job knocked that idea into the recesses of my mind, and my ensuing career erased any chance of it becoming feasible. As someone interested in modern history as well as having a passion for travel, and adventurous travel at that, Israel had long been on my must-visit list. The pictures I’d seen, the things I’d read on the rich culture and the fascinating, sad and complicated history, as well as its relative omnipresence in the news, meant that the country had attained an almost mythical status in my “places I must visit” list. Compounding that were the fascinating and unpredictable issues with Israeli stamps in your passport. I knew I had to go.

Easyjet flights from London Luton to Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion were around £200 return when I booked them. Sadly this was cheaper than El Al, with whom I would have much preferred to fly with in order to have a truly Israeli experience from start to finish. Easyjet are the quintessence of ordinary in my eyes, having flown with them from Glasgow to Bristol and back every week for a year in a previous job. Nevertheless, they got us from Luton to TLV in just shy of five hours.

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I had read something of the security procedures at Ben Gurion Airport, and was anticipating some light questioning upon arrival. However, presenting my passport at the immigration booth, the friendly young woman merely asked me if it was my first visit to Israel, where I was planning on visiting and if I knew anyone in the country. Those few questions answered, she scanned my passport and quickly returned it with a slip of paper poking out of the top.

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This is the new B2 tourist entry visa, as opposed to getting a stamp in your passport. It’s great for travellers like me who appreciate stamps and visas in their passport, and it means you’re free to visit any of the countries that regard Israel as an enemy without issue in future (this one isn’t mine of course, merely an example I found online).

We hopped on the train to the Tel Aviv HaShalom station, located close to the city centre. One of the first things I noticed immediately upon leaving the station was that armed soldiers in uniform are everywhere, both on duty and seemingly travelling to and from their bases. Also of note is that the entrances and exits of each railway station in central Tel Aviv have airport-style metal detectors and baggage scanners, and in the HaShalom station there was a bomb shelter on platform level.

Our hotel was located on the famous Dizengoff Street, conveniently. Lined with shops, bars, restaurants, falafel and shawarma vendors and cafés, the street was considered “the Champs-Élysées of Tel Aviv” until its decline in the 1970s. I loved it, and I loved staying right on it. As well as being alive with Tel Avivim eating, drinking and shopping, everything felt so close; falafel, bars, the beach a short walk away up Gordon or Frishman Street.

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Frishman Street needs a special mention here for being the location of the best falafel I’ve ever tasted: Frishman Falafel. Delicious freshly deep fried balls of chickpeas and fava beans, in a soft pita alongside delicious humous, salad, tahini, pickles and a crunchy potato croquette on top. Amazing and highly recommended. Adjacent to Frishman Falafel is Frishman Sabich, which I regret we didn’t try on this trip. Next time for sure though.

(more to follow…)

Israeli Roast Chicken & Salad

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In preparation for my upcoming trip to Israel this autumn, I’ve been reading up on everyday Israeli culture, including as much as I can find on Israeli food. Although nothing I could ever make would be anywhere close to the real thing of course, this afternoon I came across a simple and tasty-looking recipe for Israeli roast chicken.

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I’ve already adopted the traditional “Israeli salad” as my preferred accompaniment to humous, halloumi and other light dishes of late, and this recipe seems like an interesting way to liven up some roast chicken. It’s extremely simple – basically, I filled a roasting tin with chunks of red onion, cloves of garlic (unpeeled) and rosemary (I used basil as we have a plant growing in our kitchen).

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Then I rubbed salt, paprika and pepper into the chicken breasts and thighs, before lightly browning them in a frying pan. Finally, I placed the browned chicken atop the bed of onion and garlic, and placed it in the oven for about forty minutes at 180ºC.

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It emerged from the oven roasted to perfection, with the roasted onion and garlic giving off a wonderful aroma that filled the kitchen. It wasn’t the most complex or demanding meal to make, but served up with humous, Israeli salad and the roasted onions it was a delicious and easy evening meal. I can’t wait to taste authentic Israeli food in a couple of months!

Recipe here: http://thewanderlustkitchen.com/2014/01/20/israeli-roast-chicken

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Burgermeister, Berlin

Alongside travel, food is one of life’s most wonderful pleasures in my opinion. One of the things I enjoy the most when travelling is the opportunity to try new foods, or variations of foods I already know and love. For example, I’m spending a week in Israel this coming September, and ever since I booked my flights I’ve been driving myself wild thinking about all the amazing food I’ll be able to savour.

Similarly, at the end of last year, after having arranged our four days in Berlin, we immediately set about trying to locate places to eat that we’d both overlooked on previous visits. One of the first that came to my partner’s attention thanks to TripAdvisor was Burgermeister. At the moment in the UK there’s an ongoing trend for “trendy” and “gourmet” burgers, which although delicious can often be financially ruinous and served by irritating staff who seem to believe they’re New York hipsters. Thankfully, Burgermeister’s utterly delectable burgers are both unpretentious and relatively cheap.

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Based on a quick browse of their website (http://www.burger-meister.de/), we knew we had to put Burgermeister as a priority on our list of things to do during the trip. As we were ravenous upon arrival in Germany it was the very first place we went, en route to our hotel. After landing at Schönefeld and taking the AirportExpress train to Ostbahnhof, we doubled back on ourselves to Warschauer Straße, changing to the U-Bahn to travel one stop across the Oberbaumbrücke. Located under the elevated tracks of U-Bahn line U1, just across the road from the steps up to Schlesisches Tor station, Burgermeister serves amazing food.

Burgermeister’s burgers are without a doubt one of the most delicious things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Additionally, the menu isn’t too big or too fancy, and the overall quality of the food is absolutely excellent. From the seven meat (and one veggie tofu) options available, I decided upon the Meisterburger – fried onions, mustard, bacon and barbecue sauce atop a plump, meaty burger, all sandwiched between two toasted halves of sesame-seeded burger bun. To accompany this flavourful feast of flesh and sauce, I ordered a side of perfectly cooked pommes (fries) and a bottle of Rothaus Tannenzäpfle beer. Juicy, saucy, meaty burger, crunchy bacon and onions… the Meisterburger had it all. I dipped my fries in creamy mayonnaise, and washed it all down with delicious pilsner.

It was almost a shame that it all filled me up just right (and I have a depraved appetite) and thus I had no room for another burger – the Hausmeista (mushrooms, cheese, bacon) sounded amazing. If I were going for the full blow-out, I would have gone for the Meister Aller Klassen – two burgers, double cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce and jalapenos. We considered returning for another go at a later point in the holiday, but with only three full days at our disposal and kebabs, currywurst and other exclusively Berliner treats ahead, we decided that our first mouth-watering visit would be the only one for that trip. Next time…

From a cost point of view, this place has it just right. For two Meisterburgers, two portions of fries and two bottles of Rothaus, I paid around €10. As with the majority of takeaway food available in the city, you can eat something that’s delicious, filling and authentically Berlin without spending a horrendous amount of much-needed Euros.

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Burgermeister has been going since 2006, and in the years since its inception has expanded slightly to include a covered standing bar area (see top photo) as well as the original picnic tables outside (which is still how it appears on Google Street View, from 2008). These true masters of burgers (a clever play on words; in a traditional sense, Bürgermeister means “master of the citizens” in German). Admittedly, it is rather small, can be cramped, and during busy periods it can be difficult to get anywhere to perch within, or anywhere to sit on the few picnic tables outside. HOWEVER, any and all minor tribulations are forgotten once you’ve placed your order and are sipping an ice-cold Rothaus within smelling distance of the food. The food, the food…

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Burgermeister, Oberbaumstraße, Kreuzberg. Closest station is Schlesisches Tor, or Warschauer Straße if you fancy a walk across the beautiful Oberbaumbrücke.

Isle of Man

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Five years ago, I had the good fortune to be able to visit the Isle of Man. Even more fortuitous, my visit coincided with the world-famous TT races, a fortnight when motorcycle enthusiasts converge on the island and the majority of people devote themselves to the pursuit of drunkenness and merriment. I’d never visited the island before, although I had read something of it and had been keen to take a trip there; it sounded fascinating and looked beautiful. Conveniently, an old friend of mine from the USA was coming over to visit someone she knew on the island with her father, and so I was invited across to stay with them for a few days right at the beginning of the races. This coincided with the end of my five years at university; I sat my final exam on the Thursday afternoon, and after this denouement departed for the Isle of Man first thing Friday morning.

At the time I lived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the North East of England, and the only viable way for a poor student to get to the island was across the sea from Heysham Port in Lancashire, on the opposite side of the country. So, I took a very pleasant, scenic (if lengthy) train ride from Newcastle to Carlisle, changed for a train south to Lancaster, and finally changed again for a short journey to the ferry terminal. The rail journey was affordable enough as I still had my student railcard. The SeaCat across from Heysham to Douglas however, cost around £80 return two weeks before the trip, although I imagine this might have been less had I planned further in advance. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (http://www.steam-packet.com/) is the sole operator on this route and sometimes has special, cheaper fares available for foot passengers, but as with all monopolised routes you have to be quick about locating them.

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After the three-hour catamaran crossing to Douglas, I was met by my old friend (reunited after two years) and her Manx friend with whom we would be staying, who couldn’t have been more welcoming or hospitable. The next four days were full of organised fun; everyone I met or spoke to seemed dead set on making the most of this annual blow-out, for us as visitors as well as themselves. Douglas (the island’s capital) is a charming town, reminiscent of the now mostly superfluous coastal resorts on the UK mainland but with a classier, old-fashioned feeling to it, and was where I spent the majority of my trip. Sun-drenched throughout the week, we had barbecues, house parties, street parties, went to seafront pubs, took a steam train to Port Erin on the south of the island for a firework display, watched the Red Arrows on my final evening, and saw a little of the motorbike races. The atmosphere was fantastic, as were the people. Any islander I asked any questions of was all too willing to indulge me, and by and large seemed glad to impart knowledge and their own perspective.

Located in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Great Britain, outwith the European Union and United Kingdom, the Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin in Manx) is a Crown Dependency. This means it relies on the UK for defence and foreign affairs, but is self-governing. Quite apart from these relatively modern matters, the Isle has an ancient and fascinating history that the inhabitants are justly proud of. As well as all the various alcohol-fuelled events I attended, throughout my visit I gleaned a lot of interesting morsels about the island that I had overlooked during the brief research I did before departure. For example, whilst chatting to some friendly policemen on the sea front, I asked why their custodian helmets were white as opposed to black, as is the UK norm; they informed me that the Isle of Man Constabulary has worn these white helmets since 1960 after introducing them as a summer alternative.

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Additionally, my host and her mother were only too keen to answer my questions, and told me that the Manx parliament, Tynwald, is claimed to be the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world. As a languages student, I was fascinated to know that the Manx language is resurgent after being declared extinct in the 1970s upon the death of the last known native speaker. The island is largely rural in nature, but there are six different small railways, including a steam line along the south-east coast, two electric lines to the north, and even a horse-drawn tram in Douglas. Together they comprise the largest narrow-gauge railway network in the British Isles. Antiquated but beautiful, they’re still used as everyday transport as well as heritage railways for tourists. A trip on one of these was an especially scenic part of my holiday, and is much recommended (http://www.gov.im/publictransport/).

Some of my favourite discoveries whilst on the Isle were, perhaps unsurprisingly, of an alcoholic and culinary nature. The island has a beer purity law dating to 1874, akin to the German Reinheitsgebot, and during my stay I was able to savour a number of ales from two long-established breweries. My favourites were Old Bushy Tail (4.5%) and Manx Bitter (3.8%), from the Bushy’s Brewery (www.bushys.com), but I also tried some delicious IPA by the older Okell’s Brewery (www.okells.co.uk). These ales were readily available during my visit, as was what purports to be the island’s “national dish” – chips, cheese and gravy. Vaguely similar to what North Americans know as poutine, this chip shop delicacy is absolutely delicious, particularly after a day spent in and out of seafront pubs. In a similarly cheesy vein, the award-winning Isle of Man Creamery makes some absolutely fantastic cheddar, including a number of varieties I’ve unsuccessfully sought out in UK mainland supermarkets ever since. My particular favourite was the Cracked Peppercorn Mature Cheddar, (http://www.iomcreameries.com/product_page_169644.html) potentially one of the best cheeses I’ve ever tasted. Creamy and tangy, with bits of crunchy peppercorns laced throughout, this particular variant is one I would wholeheartedly recommend, and which myself and my American companion could not get enough of during our stay (it melted in the mouth particularly well atop hot crumpets).

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After four wonderful, hilarious, deliciously drunken, fascinating and fun-filled days spent in Douglas with friends old and new, I was sad to have to leave and return to Newcastle to begin the managed decline of my life as a student. I may have only had a short time on the island, but I felt enriched by my many experiences there. It was one of those journeys where so much fun and new and interesting is crammed into such a relatively short space of time that it was only afterward that I felt able to fully appreciate everything that I was lucky enough to do in less than a week. Five years on, I still think very fondly of the island, the people I met and the time I spent there, and I most certainly hope to return.

Burger Lad review

I’ve been following an excellent food review blog for a while now – Burger Lad – and after seeing his tweet about the McRib (potentially returning to the UK) and tweeting him a picture of my Bremen McDonald’s experience, he asked me to submit a review of it. So, here it is! It’s pretty much an elaboration of the last paragraph of my last Bremen post.

http://www.burgerlad.com/2014/06/mcdonalds-germany-mcrib-and-mcmuffin.html?m=1