Things I Ate In General

This is a food blog that isn't always totally about food.

David Sedaris titled an entire book of essays — “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” — after a bit of fractured English he found in a Japanese hotel safety booklet. In one of those essays he writes:
Given the state of my Japanese it seems unfair to criticize some of the English I’ve been seeing. A sign outside a beauty parlor reads “Eye Rash Tint,” and instead of laughing, I should give them credit for at least coming close.
These mistranslations show up a lot on English language menus in foreign countries, and when I saw “Pea Restaurant” under the soup section of the menu at Café Savoy (a very lovely, if somewhat touristy and expensive, belle époque café in Prague) I thought to myself “What the actual fuck?” But then I saw this note:
The name “restaurant” was used for the first time in Paris in 1765. A man called Boulanger was selling soups – sheep’s legs in white sauce. He named his soups “restaurants” or “restoratives” because with them one could gain ones physical strength again.
Well, okay. My mistake. That seems legitimate. One pea restaurant, please.
Let’s talk about the fact that THERE ARE MASHED POTATOES IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS SOUP! My bowl was set down in front of me and it was empty except for a little mound of mashed potatoes with those crouton things stuck in it. Then our waiter poured a pitcher of pea soup around the mound, at which point I said “Thank you. That was beautiful.” 
I love soup very much. I love soup enough that I can, off the top of my head, without giving it any prior thought, make a detailed list of my top five soup memories. So here it is, an impromptu list of my top five soup memories:
TOP FIVE SOUP MEMORIES (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):
1. Eating the chicken noodle soup from Q. Cumbers buffet restaurant in Edina, Minnesota. My parents and my sister and I ate dinner here with my paternal grandparents AT LEAST once a month for a good chunk of my childhood. I always got a bowl of the chicken noodle soup, which was kind of peppery and had nice pieces of carrot and celery and onion in it. (My own chicken soup with homemade noodles is basically just an imitation of the Q. Cumbers soup.) For some reason the soup section of the buffet was next to the bakery section, where I would always get several mini chocolate muffins.
2. Eating a bowl of cream of mushroom soup at Palomino during a lunch that was a ninth (I think?) birthday present from my Aunt Lisa. Palomino was a downtown Minneapolis restaurant that closed in 2010 and was replaced by a stupid fucking Crave. This lunch was super cool because I got to invite two friends and we sat at our own table, like adults, and ordered for ourselves and Aunt Lisa had given me her credit card ahead of time so that we could pay for ourselves. We were nine! It was so cool and grown up.
3. Eating the “soup trio” or whatever it was called at Zander Cafe in St. Paul. For some reason my family insisted on calling this place Cafe Zander, which was not actually its correct name. Zander closed in 2008, and things got kind of rocky at the end there in terms of quality/consistency, but they had this great soup that was actually three soups (hence trio) in the same bowl. It was a cream of mushroom, a cream of carrot, and something green…maybe a cream of asparagus? They were served all carefully ladeled together, like a little pie chart of soup. The cream of mushroom was the best. I miss this soup every time I drive down Selby Avenue.
4. Eating the broccoli cheese soup at Jason’s Deli during my senior year of college. This is a more recent memory which lacks that childhood patina but bears mentioning regardless. My friend Caroline introduced me to Jason’s Deli, which is a Texas-based chain that she had been to in her hometown of Nashville. In 2010 the company had just started opening locations near DC, where we went to college. They now have restaurants in 29 states, including Minnesota! Caroline really liked Jason’s Deli because she’s a vegetarian and they have a massive salad bar and free soft serve ice cream. On our first trip to Jason’s Deli my then-boyfriend ordered a bowl of the broccoli cheese soup, which I wrinkled my nose at (broccoli is one of my least favorite vegetables). He forced me to try it, because he was kind of an asshole, and I immediately went up to the counter and ordered my own bowl. This soup is basically just thick liquid cheese with some green specks (hopefully broccoli) in it. Eating it is kind of like eating an entire bowl of chili con queso with a spoon. Going to Jason’s Deli was always a special treat because the only locations were in the suburbs, which you needed a car to get to. I think that I may have gotten major food poisoning eating this soup at the Timonium, Maryland location, but I still have very fond memories of it.
5. Eating my Nana’s matzo ball soup at basically every “occasion” dinner she ever had at her house. By “occasion” I don’t mean Hanukkah or Passover or Rosh Hashanah. No. Our family’s brand of reform Judaism was SO reform that Jewish holidays, if celebrated at all, fell in my (Irish Catholic convert) mother’s domain. Nana would make matzo ball soup for occasions like the Super Bowl, or Father’s Day, or maybe Labor Day. In my taste memory (is there a word for this? “Gustatory Memory” sounds so douchey) this soup is practically mythical. So, when I finally learned the recipe, I was surprised that it was basically just: fill a pot with some chicken and some water and an onion and some celery and some carrots. Cook it for a long time. Add salt until it tastes like chicken broth. Buy a box of Manischewitz matzo ball mix and follow the directions on the back. Serve.
I could easily keep going on this bent, but I’ll spare you. The point is that the “pea restaurant” from Café Savoy immediately earned itself a spot on the soup memories list. It is one of the best soups I’ve ever eaten. It was comforting and creamy and maybe slightly parmesan-y and perfect. In a few days I’ll write about how I tried to recreate it when we got home from Prague, which of course isn’t possible. But I did try. View high resolution

David Sedaris titled an entire book of essays — “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” — after a bit of fractured English he found in a Japanese hotel safety booklet. In one of those essays he writes:

Given the state of my Japanese it seems unfair to criticize some of the English I’ve been seeing. A sign outside a beauty parlor reads “Eye Rash Tint,” and instead of laughing, I should give them credit for at least coming close.

These mistranslations show up a lot on English language menus in foreign countries, and when I saw “Pea Restaurant” under the soup section of the menu at Café Savoy (a very lovely, if somewhat touristy and expensive, belle époque café in Prague) I thought to myself “What the actual fuck?” But then I saw this note:

The name “restaurant” was used for the first time in Paris in 1765. A man called Boulanger was selling soups – sheep’s legs in white sauce. He named his soups “restaurants” or “restoratives” because with them one could gain ones physical strength again.

Well, okay. My mistake. That seems legitimate. One pea restaurant, please.

Let’s talk about the fact that THERE ARE MASHED POTATOES IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS SOUP! My bowl was set down in front of me and it was empty except for a little mound of mashed potatoes with those crouton things stuck in it. Then our waiter poured a pitcher of pea soup around the mound, at which point I said “Thank you. That was beautiful.” 

I love soup very much. I love soup enough that I can, off the top of my head, without giving it any prior thought, make a detailed list of my top five soup memories. So here it is, an impromptu list of my top five soup memories:

TOP FIVE SOUP MEMORIES (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):

1. Eating the chicken noodle soup from Q. Cumbers buffet restaurant in Edina, Minnesota. My parents and my sister and I ate dinner here with my paternal grandparents AT LEAST once a month for a good chunk of my childhood. I always got a bowl of the chicken noodle soup, which was kind of peppery and had nice pieces of carrot and celery and onion in it. (My own chicken soup with homemade noodles is basically just an imitation of the Q. Cumbers soup.) For some reason the soup section of the buffet was next to the bakery section, where I would always get several mini chocolate muffins.

2. Eating a bowl of cream of mushroom soup at Palomino during a lunch that was a ninth (I think?) birthday present from my Aunt Lisa. Palomino was a downtown Minneapolis restaurant that closed in 2010 and was replaced by a stupid fucking Crave. This lunch was super cool because I got to invite two friends and we sat at our own table, like adults, and ordered for ourselves and Aunt Lisa had given me her credit card ahead of time so that we could pay for ourselves. We were nine! It was so cool and grown up.

3. Eating the “soup trio” or whatever it was called at Zander Cafe in St. Paul. For some reason my family insisted on calling this place Cafe Zander, which was not actually its correct name. Zander closed in 2008, and things got kind of rocky at the end there in terms of quality/consistency, but they had this great soup that was actually three soups (hence trio) in the same bowl. It was a cream of mushroom, a cream of carrot, and something green…maybe a cream of asparagus? They were served all carefully ladeled together, like a little pie chart of soup. The cream of mushroom was the best. I miss this soup every time I drive down Selby Avenue.

4. Eating the broccoli cheese soup at Jason’s Deli during my senior year of college. This is a more recent memory which lacks that childhood patina but bears mentioning regardless. My friend Caroline introduced me to Jason’s Deli, which is a Texas-based chain that she had been to in her hometown of Nashville. In 2010 the company had just started opening locations near DC, where we went to college. They now have restaurants in 29 states, including Minnesota! Caroline really liked Jason’s Deli because she’s a vegetarian and they have a massive salad bar and free soft serve ice cream. On our first trip to Jason’s Deli my then-boyfriend ordered a bowl of the broccoli cheese soup, which I wrinkled my nose at (broccoli is one of my least favorite vegetables). He forced me to try it, because he was kind of an asshole, and I immediately went up to the counter and ordered my own bowl. This soup is basically just thick liquid cheese with some green specks (hopefully broccoli) in it. Eating it is kind of like eating an entire bowl of chili con queso with a spoon. Going to Jason’s Deli was always a special treat because the only locations were in the suburbs, which you needed a car to get to. I think that I may have gotten major food poisoning eating this soup at the Timonium, Maryland location, but I still have very fond memories of it.

5. Eating my Nana’s matzo ball soup at basically every “occasion” dinner she ever had at her house. By “occasion” I don’t mean Hanukkah or Passover or Rosh Hashanah. No. Our family’s brand of reform Judaism was SO reform that Jewish holidays, if celebrated at all, fell in my (Irish Catholic convert) mother’s domain. Nana would make matzo ball soup for occasions like the Super Bowl, or Father’s Day, or maybe Labor Day. In my taste memory (is there a word for this? “Gustatory Memory” sounds so douchey) this soup is practically mythical. So, when I finally learned the recipe, I was surprised that it was basically just: fill a pot with some chicken and some water and an onion and some celery and some carrots. Cook it for a long time. Add salt until it tastes like chicken broth. Buy a box of Manischewitz matzo ball mix and follow the directions on the back. Serve.

I could easily keep going on this bent, but I’ll spare you. The point is that the “pea restaurant” from Café Savoy immediately earned itself a spot on the soup memories list. It is one of the best soups I’ve ever eaten. It was comforting and creamy and maybe slightly parmesan-y and perfect. In a few days I’ll write about how I tried to recreate it when we got home from Prague, which of course isn’t possible. But I did try.

By American standards, Belgrade is an amazingly cheap city to visit. We rented an apartment for $38/night. Pretty much every cab ride we took was $4 or $5. We ate lavish three or four course meals at fancy restaurants that cost a total of $70 for three people, including wine and cocktails and multiple bottles of sparkling water. “This is what it must be like to be rich!” we said to each other.
I could write some things here about my observations, as an American 20-something, of the differences between Serbia (the first former Yugoslav country I’ve been to) and other Eastern Bloc countries I’ve visited. I could also write some (hopefully insightful) things about what it’s like, as an American 20-something, to visit a country that the US was helping to bomb 15 years ago. A fun anecdote for this section would be the bake sale for Kosovo that I helped organize in 3rd grade. The penultimate sentence would probably be something that links these observations with my first paragraph about how cheap everything in Belgrade is. The final sentence would be about Serbia’s bright future. It practically writes itself.
Instead, I’ll tell you that we ate a lot of salmon tartare in Belgrade. We ate it at Dijagonala 2.0 and Supermarket (pictured above) and Homa. All of these restaurants felt modern in a way that no restaurant in Baltimore feels. I don’t think there’s anyone who has asked me about my trip to Belgrade without getting an earful about “the amazing avant-garde food scene.” People will tell you to go to Belgrade for the nightlife, but you should really go to Belgrade for the food. View high resolution

By American standards, Belgrade is an amazingly cheap city to visit. We rented an apartment for $38/night. Pretty much every cab ride we took was $4 or $5. We ate lavish three or four course meals at fancy restaurants that cost a total of $70 for three people, including wine and cocktails and multiple bottles of sparkling water. “This is what it must be like to be rich!” we said to each other.

I could write some things here about my observations, as an American 20-something, of the differences between Serbia (the first former Yugoslav country I’ve been to) and other Eastern Bloc countries I’ve visited. I could also write some (hopefully insightful) things about what it’s like, as an American 20-something, to visit a country that the US was helping to bomb 15 years ago. A fun anecdote for this section would be the bake sale for Kosovo that I helped organize in 3rd grade. The penultimate sentence would probably be something that links these observations with my first paragraph about how cheap everything in Belgrade is. The final sentence would be about Serbia’s bright future. It practically writes itself.

Instead, I’ll tell you that we ate a lot of salmon tartare in Belgrade. We ate it at Dijagonala 2.0 and Supermarket (pictured above) and Homa. All of these restaurants felt modern in a way that no restaurant in Baltimore feels. I don’t think there’s anyone who has asked me about my trip to Belgrade without getting an earful about “the amazing avant-garde food scene.” People will tell you to go to Belgrade for the nightlife, but you should really go to Belgrade for the food.

I read a few articles about Belgrade’s booming design culture before our trip, and they pretty much all mentioned an ice cream shop called Moritz Eis. This 2013 NYT piece on Belgrade’s recent transformation uses a picture of the Moritz Eiz flagship store as its main image. So, that was pretty much all of the urging I needed to put it on my list.
We went to Moritz Eis several times while in Belgrade, including on International Women’s Day (March 8th), when my ice cream happened to be free. The scoop shown in this picture is hazelnut. They also had great cappuccinos. View high resolution

I read a few articles about Belgrade’s booming design culture before our trip, and they pretty much all mentioned an ice cream shop called Moritz Eis. This 2013 NYT piece on Belgrade’s recent transformation uses a picture of the Moritz Eiz flagship store as its main image. So, that was pretty much all of the urging I needed to put it on my list.

We went to Moritz Eis several times while in Belgrade, including on International Women’s Day (March 8th), when my ice cream happened to be free. The scoop shown in this picture is hazelnut. They also had great cappuccinos.

Perhaps one of the most heartwarming moments of my life thus far occurred when I told Vesna, the 60-something Serbian woman who I went to for waxing services in Baltimore, that I was going to Belgrade. She immediately started making me a list of where to go and what to eat. “You can’t make any mistakes,” she told me. “Everything is good there.”

The first thing on the food list was pljeskavica, which is essentially a Balkan hamburger. It’s not always served on a bun, but the ones we had at Loki were. I got mine stuffed with cheese (kind of like a Serbian Jucy Lucy) and topped with mayo and cabbage and onions. Pljeskavica is also often served with a thick, tangy cheese called kajmak. It was basically the biggest, juiciest, most intense burger I’ve ever had. I didn’t finish it. I also haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Cold Soups & Infographics

This Mark Bittman spread on gazpacho has me wanting to rename this blog “Cold Soups I Ate in General” for the month of August. The NYT Magazine knows how to do an aesthetically pleasing infographic. I will give them that.

This is the contents of the little snack bag I was given on our early morning Air Serbia flight from Prague to Belgrade. All of the flight attendants wore little pillbox hats and the same shade of bright pink lipstick. (The sandwich is ham and cheese, the square thing is a piece of banana bread.) View high resolution

This is the contents of the little snack bag I was given on our early morning Air Serbia flight from Prague to Belgrade. All of the flight attendants wore little pillbox hats and the same shade of bright pink lipstick. (The sandwich is ham and cheese, the square thing is a piece of banana bread.)

I pretty much burned myself out on smažený sýr (fried cheese sandwiches) during the five months that I spent in Prague in 2010. But this staple street food is still around, and it’s still good. View high resolution

I pretty much burned myself out on smažený sýr (fried cheese sandwiches) during the five months that I spent in Prague in 2010. But this staple street food is still around, and it’s still good.

The Pentahotel in Prague is worth staying at just for the breakfast buffet. Also, the toiletries are adorable.  View high resolution

The Pentahotel in Prague is worth staying at just for the breakfast buffet. Also, the toiletries are adorable. 

So, yes. The whole point of this trip was for me to go back to Prague, which happens to be where this blog began. Immediately after getting off the train from Budapest at Hlavní Nádraží and dropping our luggage at the hotel we headed to dinner at Pivovarský Dům

My favorite Czech food is a dish called svíčková, which is marinated beef sirloin in gravy. It’s usually served with bread dumplings and a little bit of cranberry sauce. Pivovarský Dům serves my absolute favorite svíčková in all of Prague. They also brew an amazing sour cherry beer. I had been waiting almost four years to eat this exact meal, and it was just as good as I remembered it.

 

I didn’t have a ton of time to plan the details of our time in Budapest because I was out of town for work right up until we left. The bulk of my research consisted of reading this NYT article, which led us to Kádár Étkezde.
In the piece the restaurant is described as a “Hungarian-Jewish spot with self-serve seltzer bottles on the table, red-and-white checkered tablecloths and a packed crowd.” There was no way we were not going there. They have weird hours and at first we tried to go for dinner, found it closed, and then came back the next day for lunch. 
In Central Europe, in my experience, Jewish restaurant is not always synonymous with kosher restaurant. I am glad about this. I have eaten some good kosher food, but I have also eaten some baaaaad kosher food. Even in Jerusalem, which is literally kosher city. So, this food wasn’t kosher. And it was great. I ordered boiled beef with horseradish, which came with perfect, fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes. This isn’t something my Jewish grandmother has ever cooked for me, but it’s related to many things that my Jewish grandmother has cooked for me. That’s what’s cool about heritage. View high resolution

I didn’t have a ton of time to plan the details of our time in Budapest because I was out of town for work right up until we left. The bulk of my research consisted of reading this NYT article, which led us to Kádár Étkezde.

In the piece the restaurant is described as a “Hungarian-Jewish spot with self-serve seltzer bottles on the table, red-and-white checkered tablecloths and a packed crowd.” There was no way we were not going there. They have weird hours and at first we tried to go for dinner, found it closed, and then came back the next day for lunch. 

In Central Europe, in my experience, Jewish restaurant is not always synonymous with kosher restaurant. I am glad about this. I have eaten some good kosher food, but I have also eaten some baaaaad kosher food. Even in Jerusalem, which is literally kosher city. So, this food wasn’t kosher. And it was great. I ordered boiled beef with horseradish, which came with perfect, fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes. This isn’t something my Jewish grandmother has ever cooked for me, but it’s related to many things that my Jewish grandmother has cooked for me. That’s what’s cool about heritage.