Category Archives: Food and Beverage

Why I paid 24 franc for macaroni & cheese

In Grindelwald, Switzerland there is a tiny little restaurant called Memory. It could not be more appropriately named. The macaroni & cheese I ate there will live in my memory forever. I understand that might sound a bit extreme, it’s just mac & cheese after all, right? Wrong. It was heaven in the cutest Swiss-red polka dotted bowl, I had ever seen.

Browsing the menu, everything sounded delicious, though everything also had a 15 franc or more price tag. I was hesitant, could I really afford to splurge like that on lunch? Turning to the last page on the menu I saw the ‘Aepler Makkaroni mit Knoblibrit’. Now, my German may not be any good, but ‘makkaroni’ is something I understand very well. Reading the English description, “Aepler maccaroni with garlic bread, potatoes and bacon, cream sauce, served with
apple puree,” I threw all sensibility to the wind and went for it.

When my food arrived and I took the first bite, the pain of the 24 franc price of the meal fell away. I dug into a bowl of potatoes, noodles and bacon drenched in Swiss fondue cheese. The cheese strung up with my fork as I lifted noodles out of the bowl, creating a cheesy delectable mess. I ate every bite. I was plenty full by mid bowl, but this macaroni & cheese was so sensational, I kept eating without shame until the bowl was completely empty.

Looking back at this memorable lunch with my friend in the Swiss Alps, I don’t dwell on the price of my meal. Sure it was expensive, but it was also magnificent. I remember how much enjoyed my food and my friend laughing at me as I got stringy cheese down my chin. I remember the view out the window, of snow covered houses and mountains. I remember being happy and enjoying my life.

Budgeting is definitely an important part of traveling, but money is  transient. Sometimes life is worth the extra splurge, because as they say, “travel is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer.”

The other side of the Arno

Florence is easily one of the most prominent tourist destinations in Italy, and for good reason. Brunelleschi’s Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery and Michelangelo’s David are all intriguing sites. However, these sites often become overrun and strip Florence of any feeling of authenticity. Even restaurants and local bars can become overwhelmed by noisy Americans having read about these “authentic” places online. In times like theses adventurous youths, trying to escape, should venture to the illusive other side of the river, away from city center.

Transverse the Ponte Vechhio and tuck into the side streets and be transported to an entirely different Florence. Here you can find locals sitting at a café, sipping their espressos and enjoying a hearty bowl of pasta. These locals are here for a reason, they know that the other side of the Arno holds all of Florence’s finest things.

The shops on the undisturbed streets boast compelling goods, from paintings and sculpture to local grocers. The fronts of Frutticoli sprout forward brightly colored and arrayed fruits, while across the street a butcher shop is filled with tantalizing prosciutto and parma ham.

Santa Spirito is the other side of the Arno’s best center square. Away from the hustle and bustle of Palazzo Pitti (the south side of the river’s main tourist destination), the piazza sits in the shadow of the Santa Spirito church, surrounded by restaurants, cafés and bars; not one which you could go wrong with. Having a sit in this simple piazza can easily make you feel like real Italian, especially if you are consuming one of the famous pizzas from every local and expats favorite spot, Gusta Pizza, located right of the corner of Santa Spirito.

However, no trip to the authentic side of Florence would be complete without gelato, which may be the real prize of crossing over. The front counters of these Gelateria’s are lined with tempting silver tins, filled with creamy gelato in a range of fascinating flavors. For instance, Gelateria della Passera’s “7 Spices” flavor is a taste sensation not to be missed. Or, better yet, head on over to Gelateria Vivaldi for a large creamy dollop of their homemade gelato and sit on one of the benches outside. From this bench you will be able to see the river and across it. The Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio will easily stand out in your line of vision, and as you enjoy your gelato among the serenity of the area, you will be completely contented with your choice to venture away from the chaos of city center.

Traveling by cheeses

Ah, cheese. Crumbly, sharp, gooey, sweet, melty, fresh, aged…I love it all. So where to get the best varieties? Well, friends, you are in luck. I’ve done the legwork and researched the top spots in Europe and discovered why it’s worth country-hopping solely to sample the native cheeses. It was tough work, but since cheese-tasting is where I really shine, it only seemed right to share the wealth of information.

Interlaken: There’s more than just Swiss cheese in this Alpine haven (although that’s delicious too). Melty, gooey, absolutely delicious fondue is the perfect accompaniment to chilly days. What’s cozier than dipping bread in melted Gruyere cheese after a night sledding down the Alps or a day of snowball fights?

France: Saying you have to go to France to try the cheese is a little obvious, but it’s worth repeating, because the cheese there is everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Snacking on brie and a baguette in front of the Eiffel Tower is one of life’s greatest joys. Venture away from the capital to the Riviera, and you’ll find farmer’s markets galore, each one rife with fresh cheese for the picking. Sample a nice Salers de Crandelles for a sharp bite, or a truffle brie for a special spin on a favorite.

Amalfi Coast: All over Italy, you’ll find mozzarella that will make your mouth water but the Amalfi Coast really takes it to another level. Chow down on a Caprese Salad in Capri and you’ll see what I mean. Soft, bursting with flavor and the perfect complement to some fresh tomatoes and basil… you may never want to leave the island.

Prague: You might not think to travel to the Czech Republic for delectable cheesy treats, but you would be wrong. One of Prague’s most traditional foods is, in fact, smažený sýr, which basically translates to fried cheese. At any number of street vendors and sit-down restaurants alike you’ll find this on the menu, and if you’re like me, you’ll be a little surprised when they serve it to you on a bun like a hamburger. But slap some ketchup on it and embrace it for what it is, and TGIF’s mozzarella sticks just might have some competition.

Greece: Soft, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth little nuggets of goodness, feta goes with literally every food you might want to sample while in Greece. Fresh feta is a wonder to be savored, and it should be a personal goal to eat it at every meal if you’re lucky enough to travel to this country. Let’s just say it: the feta is betta in Greece.

Ireland: Pub food is all well and good, but Dubliner cheese is really where it’s at in the Emerald Isle. Similar to a white cheddar but even more scrumptious, you can practically taste the fresh mountain air of the rolling green hills that characterize this charming country.

Budapest: Cheese and chocolate? What, where? Budapest brings the greatness of the two together in the candy Túró Rudi. Look for white and red polka-dot wrappers at any grocery store in Budapest, and enjoy a chilled candy bar that’s essentially cheese encased in chocolate. Weird? Yes. A surprisingly delightful combination? Also yes.

A scoop of America in Trastevere: Old Bridge

It’s inevitable, you’ll miss some things about home during your semester abroad and, of course, once you get home you’ll miss some things about Europe. Gelato will be one of those things, guaranteed. Old Bridge gelato, specifically. Because as someone who prides himself on knowing a good cone of gelato from the watered down, artificial tasting stuff, Old Bridge is pretty much constantly on my mind. The new peanut butter gelato…good lord.

You may know by now that peanut butter is incredibly tough to find in Europe, so when I caught wind that Old Bridge was using one of the greatest (and most American) flavors of all time for their latest gelato, it was game over. Don’t get me wrong, all of their gelato flavors are phenomenal and it’s a lock that you won’t find anything that compares in the States. Whereas I used to strictly be a pistachio guy, ever since Old Bridge peanut butter entered the ring it has been a total knock out and no other places have it. Trust me, I know because I’ve walked around Trastevere looking for it.

Old Bridge is already known for their generous portions. For a small cone you can choose three flavors. The size of the small cone is as big as a large from any other ice cream place in Rome.

The best part? Recently Old Bridge has partnered up with Bus2alps, so Monday  through Thursday Old Bridge offers small cups or cones for 1 Euro. I’ll say it again: the best flavor of the best gelato in Rome is all yours for a single for four days of the week. Perfetto!

Sara Eats Her Way Through Italy: Da Enzo

By Sara Kotcher

My friend Hannah went on a food crawl of Trastevere, our neighborhood in home sweet Rome. She ended up at a spot called Da Enzo. When she suggested it to me, little did I know she was offering up a hidden gem of Trastevere’s restaurant scene. Da-enzo was da-mazing!

Although the dining experience did not begin so smoothly; we showed up as a party of 3 with no reservation around 7:45pm, early for Italian standards, and the place was packed. Whoops, our bad. I have never made a dinner reservation in Rome because usually you can stroll in and they’ll find a way to make it work, true to Italian form. However, it had been torrentially down pouring all day. I know because I literally got caught in it in between classes and walked around all day drenched. Not fun. So I was obviously really hungry. Finally they seat us outside but they said that if it rains, there’s nothing they can do about it – again, so Italian.

The waiter comes over, speaking perfect English in an Australian accent but then I heard him speaking to the table next to us in fluent Italian. Amazing, and atIMG_5235 this point I’m not really surprised.  For a restaurant known as one of the best in Trastevere, the waiters probably are used to dealing with non-Italian tourists all the time.  We order the specials right away – burrata, artichokes, and some zucchini flowers. The burrata was about the size of my face and we ate it all. It tasted so fresh, practically straight from the dairy farm I swear it was deliciously creamy but somehow not too rich. Only order the zucchini flowers here if you’re a fan of anchovies. Da Enzo goes heavy on the anchovies, unfortunately for us since we don’t love them. Artichokes were perfectly crispy and sautéed to perfection, however if you want the real deal visit Piperno in the Jewish Ghetto.

Main course comes out and by this time we had started talking to the table next to us, since we were basically sitting on top of them.  The outdoor tables at Da Enzo is basically one communal table. Small world though, since the mother-daughter duo next to us were from the same town as my cousins. Not only that, but the daughter had babysat for them and the Mom was friends with my aunt. My friends laughed since they were saying, “if anyone would know someone here, its you.”

IMG_5243The pastas were our first order of business. We had ordered the cacio e pepe, a Roman classic, and the special which was a fettucini in a sausage, pea, and mushroom sauce. While both were superb, the polpette (meatballs) we ordered stole the show. I would come back here for those alone. Best I’ve had in Rome, possibly life actually, except they could never rival my own Grandma’s.

So because we weren’t in enough of a food coma by now, my friends begged me to order the tirimasu for dessert. They didn’t have to twist my arm. Out it comes and WOW – delicious. Sweet, refreshing, full of coffee bean, just how any tirimasu should be. Definitely lived up to any tirimasu standard I have created over the years with the help of my brother, the tirimasu expert.

All in all, Da Enzo was a truly authentic and original Italian meal through and through. The service, the food, and the company alike were all a win. Also, it is very well priced down to the house wine which we guzzled like water, per usual.

Sara Kotcher is currently an Emory University junior studying psychology and media studies studying abroad in Rome through John Cabot University.  She is originally from New York.  Follow Sara directly on her personal blog  cucina-di-kotcher.tumblr.com and her comprehensive guide for all different cities blog allabroadstudents.com.