Belizean Brown Sugar Mini-Donuts Recipe

Not sure what came over me, but I woke up early Saturday morning with loads of energy, inspired, and ready to bake. I haven’t had a working oven down here in Belize in well over a year, but I recently moved into a new condo that has a beautiful American style stove and oven. Figured it was time to try it out, and I baked a lot in Taiwan with horrid humidity, how bad could it possibly be here, right?


Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa Donuts #recipe #belize #donuts #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa Donuts


I attempted two recipes, and while my mini-donuts were quite good, I had an epic fail with my cookie butter cardamom cookies. What was supposed to be a batch of light and fluffy cookies ended up as a single, very thin cookie-blob that might as well have been run over by a steam roller.

Thank you humidity!

I should’ve known better after having to freeze the dough to even roll the cookies in the first place. My mistake was not putting the dough balls back in the freezer to set up before putting the cookies in the oven to bake.

Despite their hideous appearance, the cookies were rather tasty and I’ll try them again so I can write up a recipe.

In the meantime, I did manage to pull off pretty tasty mini-donuts that were baked rather than fried. And the best part is, these were made utilizing local ingredients like Belizean brown sugar and cocoa.

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa

Belizean Brown Sugar and Cocoa

If you have a Wilton Nonstick 12-Cavity Mini Donut Pan, try your hand at baking these Belizean brown sugar mini-donuts.

Dining in Belize: Casa Picasso Offers Caye Coffee Experience

Spending most of my time in Belize doesn’t afford me as many opportunities to attend the fancy wine pairing dinners I was so fond of in Taiwan; however, every once in a while something interesting pops up that I just can’t resist.

Casa Picasso in San Pedro, Belize, has become one of my favorite restaurants for a nice night out. Each week, the creative culinary minds come up with a new theme for “Tasting Thursday,” a multi-course Chef’s Tasting Menu dinner, usually available with a paired wine flight.

This month they came up with a tasting menu that instantly caught my eye — coffee. We have a local coffee roasting company here on the island, Caye Coffee Roasting Co., that is quickly climbing the ranks as one of my top coffees from around the world.

Caye Coffee Roasting Co. in San Pedro, Belize #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Caye Coffee Roasting Co. in San Pedro, Belize

For the special event, all five courses were created utilizing Caye Coffee products as an integral part of each dish. Wondering how a five-course dinner paired with coffee and a wine flight turned out? Here you go!

Casa Picasso’s Espresso Martini on the Rocks

Not your average espresso martini. Made with Caye Coffee, vanilla vodka, creme de cacao and Kahlua, this was the perfect pick-me-up to start the dinner off right.

Casa Picasso Espresso Martini Aperitif #cocktail #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Espresso Martini Aperitif

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte

We started off with the first course, “Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte.” Local shrimp, flash sautéed with garlic, espresso, and a touch of cream, served over crispy, grilled cheddar grit cakes and a bourbon espresso glaze.

I loved so many aspects of this dish, but it was a little much for my palate when put all together. Not sure if it was the “bite” from the espresso, combined with the sweet glaze, heavy cream, etc., but with the acidity of the wine, it didn’t work strikingly well. That being said, the dish on its own was great and so was the wine.

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte

Wine Pairing — Yalumba, Y Series, Sauvignon Blanc, South Australia

Front Street Coffee Encrusted “Jerk” Chicken

Each of the Caye Coffee products is named after one of the three main streets here in San Pedro, Belize. While the streets have official names, we typically refer to them as Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street.

Casa Picasso nailed a home run with this course in my book. The chicken breast had a spicy jerk marinade, crusted with the Front Street grounds and then slow roasted. It was served over fried plantains with a chipotle mole sauce. I have to admit, while I love a good mole sauce, I found myself eating the chicken and sauce separately. I loved the coffee crust on the chicken so much I didn’t want anything to detract from it. And the mole sauce? Trust me, not a drop left on my plate! I could’ve brought home a to-go container of the mole to use on everything.

Coffee Crusted Jerk Chicken #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Front Street Coffee Encrusted “Jerk” Chicken

Wine Pairing: Duck Pond, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Lobster Cappuccino

Throw out the Italian rule of no cappuccino after 11am here. I was excited for this course after having a number of cappuccino soups in Taiwan over the past few years. Certainly a heavy dish, but worth it. Casa Picasso’s Lobster Cappuccino was made with buttery poached lobster, served in a rich Caye Coffee cappuccino-infused lobster jus, and topped with lemon thyme cream. This is how all cappuccinos should be served!

Casa Picasso Lobster Cappuccino #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Lobster Cappuccino

Wine Pairing: Antinori Bramito del Cervo, Chardonnay, Italy

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragù

This was a hard one…my pick for the best course of the night was between this and the jerk coffee crusted chicken. The creativity in this one really impressed me. Caye Coffee does not make a Turkish coffee, so Casa Picasso made a Turkish-style coffee ragù using the bold Back Street blend.

The dish was made with a braised pork shoulder in the Turkish coffee ragù, complemented by hints of balsamic, black olives, cardamom, and sweet tomatoes. The noodles it was served over — delicious homemade vanilla-scented, buttered noodles.

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragu #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragu

I have to comment on the wine pairing with this course again…surprisingly, I loved it. I was never a fan of Seghesio Zinfandels despite so many people raving about them in Northern California. Living close to Lodi’s famed Zinfandel region and drinking 100-year-old ancient vine Zins out of Contra Costa County probably keeps me a bit biased. This is the first time I can say; I really loved a Seghesio Zin!

Wine Pairing: Seghesio, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California

Caye Coffee Dessert: Irish Coffee Crème

Prior to attending this dinner, I politely offered to take all donations of this course from any local CrossFit people who are bulking, shredding, avoiding carbs, eating paleo, or whatever else I’m missing. Sadly, no one took me up on it. Guess they wanted this for their “cheat day,” and who can blame them! If I could’ve gotten away with it, I might’ve tried to smuggle a couple of these out of the kitchen (sorry Jackie!)

This was a miniature chocolate cup filled with Jameson’s whiskey and Caye Coffee liqueur, topped with a Bailey’s whipped cream and chocolate covered coffee beans.

Casa Picasso Irish Coffee Crème #food #dessert #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Irish Coffee Crème

So, what will a dinner like this set you back in Belize? Try only 75 BZ for the dinner itself and the wine flight was another 45 BZ. In US dollars, that is only $60 for a five course chef’s tasting menu and four glasses of wine.

If you’re coming to Ambergris Caye, I highly recommend reserving one night to visit Casa Picasso. They are closed Sunday and Monday and open for dinner Tuesday – Saturday. Be sure to try one of Nicolai’s amazing martinis, and tell the owners, Jackie and Adam, I sent you! They will take excellent care of you on your special night out. And, since you won’t experience this particular tasting menu, be sure to grab a bag or two of Caye Coffee to take back home with you — it’s better than Starbucks…sssshhhhh!

Where to Eat on Santorini: Assyrtico Wine Restaurant in Fira

It’s no secret that eating on the island of Santorini can be pricey, especially at restaurants in Fira that offer stunning views back to the sea. While some tend to be tourist traps offering ‘ok’ food at inflated prices, there are some definite gems on the island, like Assyrtico Wine Restaurant.

Returning to Santorini after seven years, I was determined to locate a restaurant that not only offered good food with a view, but also one whose menu featured a number of local Santorini specialties. We found this in Assyrtico Wine Restaurant. You might recognize the name Assyrtiko, as it’s one of Santorini’s best-known wines; however, the restaurant is actually spelled Assyrtico.

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant Santorini Entrance #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant’s entrance

The masterminds behind this innovative venture are two of the best chefs on Santorini. Nikos Pouliasis from Koukomavlos and Vasilis Zaharakis from Nichteri joined forces to create Assyrtico Wine Restaurant, offering a creative take on some traditional Santorini dishes.

And the view is pretty amazing. Assyrtico is located up a set of stairs where you are met with a beautiful arched balcony that looks directly back to the caldera of Santorini. It was pretty windy the day we were there, but we braved the less than ideal weather to sit at one of the best tables.

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant View #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Oh what a terrible view in Santorini!

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant Santorini #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Just in case you didn’t get enough of the “terrible” view from Assyrtico Wine Restaurant

Assyrtico offers an excellent Greek and International wine list. If you are interested in trying some of the best local varietals, the staff is quite knowledgeable. We opted with a P.D.O Assyrtiko from Hatzidakis Winery as recommended by our server.

Assyrtiko Wine #wine #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Local Santorini specialty is wine made from Assyrtiko grapes

Normally, I have trouble choosing between appetizers to try and this was my worst challenge yet. Assyrtico’s six different starters made it so hard to choose – we opted to forgo an entrée and try all six since they represented some of the best in local Santorini dishes.

Amuse Bouche – Homemade Breads and Hummus

We started off with a basket of homemade breads and hummus. The bread had local Santorini capers baked inside and the hummus was one of the best I’ve had in Greece.

Assyrtico's homemade bread with local capers #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s homemade bread with local capers

Assyrtico's fresh hummus #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s fresh hummus

Tomato Ball Pancake

Made with sundried tomatoes, spearmint and watermelon chutney with lime and feta cheese from Tripoli. Light in texture, the tomato ball pancakes were well balanced and the watermelon chutney with feta was a nice way to cut the richness from the pancake.

Assyrtico Tomato Ball Pancakes #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Tomato Ball Pancakes

“Like” Zucchini Fritters

These are giant beans from Prespes and zucchini from Santorini, mixed with a sesame crust and served atop a curry avocado yogurt sauce. I was worried the sesame crust was going to overpower the delicate bean and zucchini flavors, but they worked well together. The curry sauce added some cool spice and a subtle hint of sweetness that was a nice finish.

Assyrtico Zucchini Fritters #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

The “Like” Zucchini Fritters appetizer at Assyrtico


If you try only one thing in Santorini, it should be fava. Fava beans are locally grown on the island and absolutely delicious. Typically served as a puree, Assyrtico’s version is served with pickled onions in forest fruits, mousse of smoked pork from Mani, capers and sage scented olive oil. This was easily my favorite dish – the fava puree was divine and the pickled onions were so flavorful, but not overpowering in the slightest. I could’ve eaten two, maybe three of these myself!

Assyrtico Fava Puree #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s phenomenal Fava dish made with locally grown Santorini fava beans


The saganaki appetizer at Assyrtico features Gruyere cheese from Mytilini Island aged in olive oil. It’s wrapped in a pastry crust and served with a chutney of Greek dry fruits marinated in Vinsanto wine. The chutney on this dish was a clear winner with both of us. The Gruyere was mild and the pastry crust not soggy in the least.

Assyrtico Saganaki #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Saganaki Cheese – another specialty in Greece

Kataifi Fillo

The kataifi fillo was one of the most stunning dishes we had that afternoon. It’s made with four types of Greek cheese, scented with mastic, mandarin sauce, and rose petals confit. It’s hard to argue with this dish just looking at it. It’s delicate – both in presentation and flavor. If you’ve never heard of mastic, it’s a Greek specialty product. Mastic is a “gum” found only in the mastic tree, which is grown in only one part of the world – the Greek island of Chios. Mastic is used in a variety of products, from culinary specialties to skin and beauty products made in Greece.

Assyrtico Kataifi Fillo #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Kataifi Fillo featuring four different types of local Greek cheeses

Assyrtico Kataifi Fillo 2 #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Loved the presentation on the Kataifi Fillo so much I had to post both photos!


“Santorini” Bruschetta

The last dish featured several Santorini products as well – sautéed squid, smoked mouse of white Santorinian eggplant, topped with an aioli sauce with cuttlefish ink and seaweeds. At first glance, the seaweed and the thick cuttlefish ink may be a turn off to some, but don’t skip this one. The squid was perfectly prepared and the white eggplant mousse was sublime. The seaweed and cuttlefish ink were perfect accompaniments for this appetizer and had we still been hungry, I would’ve been tempted to order another Santorini Bruschetta.

Assyrtico Santorini Bruschetta #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s take on local Santorini Bruschetta was amazing

Due to Santorini’s landscape of volcanic ash, there are no natural trees and very few plants, making local food products somewhat of a rarity. Items like fava beans, tomatoes, and certain grape varietals thrive in volcanic soil, helping earn the island an excellent reputation within the gastronomic community. Santorini’s fava bean production is so respected, it has been granted P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) status.

Prices at Assyrtico are reasonable, especially as compared to similar restaurants along the “waterfront”. Appetizers range from 8 euros to the most expensive at 11.50 euros (as of May 2014). Assyrtico’s main courses looked amazing as well but we obviously didn’t have near enough room to try one nor the desserts sadly. We definitely plan to return again and try the chefs’ individual restaurants as well.

Assyrtico Restaurant

Φηρά, Σαντορίνη (Fira, Santorini)
84700, Ελλάδα  (84700, Greece)
Phone: +30 22860 22463,
+30 22860 34255


This is the first in a series of upcoming posts from Our Tasty Travel’s 23 day tour of the Mediterranean on Holland America’s MS Noordam. Follow the hashtag #OTTMED14 on Twitter and Instagram for more yummy photos and social media recaps from our incredible adventure of the local culinary culture in many parts of the region. 

Street Food Eats: Kushikatsu in Japan

Many people feel Osaka is more the food capital of Japan over Tokyo and in many instances, I won’t disagree. When it comes to street food eats, I’ve definitely experienced some of the best during my visits to Osaka. One of the specialties in the area is Kushikatsu. The Shinsekai neighborhood is among the most well-known areas for this Japanese specialty.

Kushikatsu in Osaka #japan #food #travel #ourtastytravels

One way to spot a kushikatsu restaurant is to look for a giant skewer outside

Kushikatsu is simple — it’s basically a deep-fried kebab. It can be made with meat, vegetables, pork, seafood, and even cheese! The word kushi refers to the skewers used in holding these tasty treats together, while katsu refers to the deep fried cutlet. One of my favorite dishes is katsu, especially with a curry sauce.

Kushikatsu menu #japan #food #travel #ourtastytravels

Menu of some Kushikatsu offerings in Osaka

Kushikatsu are often served plain or with a Worchestershire-based sauce called tonkatsu sauce.

A variety of Kushikatsu skewers #japan #food #travel #ourtastytravels

A variety of kushikatsu dishes

I ate at several kushikatsu restaurants in Osaka and tried everything from quail eggs and vegetables to Camembert cheese and chicken organs. The options are varied and rather extensive so it’s easy to sample a number of specialties, even if you are not keen to try some odd or bizarre eats.


And don’t forget the ‘golden rule when dining at a kushikatsu joint — only dip once as it’s a community sauce bowl!

Have you tried kushikatsu in Japan? Where is your favorite spot?  

Street Food Saturday: Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

I will never forget the first time I ever tasted an empanada. I was 18 and working with a girl from Argentina who brought them in one day for us to try.

I was immediately hooked. 

Those empanadas were definitely integral in opening my eyes to the world of culinary travel an unmentionable number of years ago.

For today’s post on the A to Z Blog Challenge, I can’t resist sharing a photo of my favorite empanadas here in Belize. They are masa based, stuffed with fish and served with a cabbage relish that is divine. They are lighter and less filling than many other empanadas I’ve had, which means I can easily scarf down an entire order on my own.

If you visit Belize, I definitely recommend giving these a try! Also, try the coconut shrimp curry – it’s one of my favorite dishes of all time! 

Empanadas from Elvi's Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize #food #travel #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

DimDimSum Dim Sum in Hong Kong

On a recent trip to Hong Kong, we were hoping to find a new dim sum joint to check out and DimDimSum Specialty Store came highly recommended from a number of ‘foodie’ resources, including from several notable Hong Kong chefs.

There are several locations including two in Kowloon (Jordan and Mongkok), Wan Chai, and Shatin. We attempted to locate the one in Wan Chai, which proved to be quite a challenge at first. After several attempts of getting lost, we finally landed in front of DimDimSum.

DimDimSum in Hong Kong's Wan Chai District #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

DimDimSum in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai District

DimDimSum was named one of the top 101 places to eat by the 2012 Newsweek Foodie Awards, Time Out Hong Kong named it best dim sum in 2011, and it’s part of the book “Where Chefs Eat — The Ultimate Insiders’ Guide”.

After a pretty short wait on a Sunday morning, we secured a table for two in the corner and ordered every recommended dish we could. The verdict? While it was definitely good and reasonably priced, it didn’t knock my socks off or wow me a lot more than any other dim sum place I’ve tried. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the better dim sum joints I’ve been to, but perhaps my expectations were too high based on everything I read? I will definitely go back on a future trip and try one of the other branches as well.

My favorite dim sum joints in Hong Kong are still the original Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok, Langham Place, Mongkok’s Two-Michelin starred Ming Court, and Ritz-Carlton’s Two-Michelin starred Tin Lung Heen

Here’s a look at the dishes we tried at DimDimSum:

BBQ Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bao) 巧製叉燒包

BBQ Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bao) #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

BBQ Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bao)  巧製叉燒包


Apple and BBQ Pork Pastry 蘋果叉燒酥

Apple and BBQ Pork Pastry #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Apple and BBQ Pork Pastry 蘋果叉燒酥

 Pan-Fried Radish Cakes 香煎蘿蔔糕 

Radish Cakes #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Radish Cakes

Rice Flour Rolls with BBQ Pork 蜜汁叉燒腸

Rice Flour Rolls with BBQ Pork #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Rice Flour Rolls with BBQ Pork

Stuffed Bean Curd Wraps with Oyster Sauce 蠔汁鮮竹卷

Stuffed Bean Curd Wraps with Oyster Sauce #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Stuffed Bean Curd Wraps with Oyster Sauce

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) 晶瑩鮮蝦餃

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow)

Deep Fried Dumplings with Wasabi 芥末咸水角

Deep Fried Dumplings with Wasabi #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Deep Fried Dumplings with Wasabi

Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (Siu Mai) 蟹子燒賣皇

Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (Siu Mai) #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (Siu Mai)

Pan-fried Stuffed Eggplant with Teriyaki Sauce 燒汁釀茄子

Pan-fried Stuffed Eggplant with Teriyaki Sauce #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Pan-fried Stuffed Eggplant with Teriyaki Sauce

Roast Pork Belly and Taro Bun 芋香燒腩卷

Roast Pork Belly and Taro Bun #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Roast Pork Belly and Taro Bun

Shanghai Soup Dumplings with Black Truffle 黑松露小籠包

Shanghai Soup Dumplings with Black Truffle #dimsum #hongkong #ourtastytravels

Shanghai Soup Dumplings with Black Truffle

DimDimSum Dim Sum Specialty Store

Jordan Shop: 23 Man Ying Street, T: 2771-7766 H: 10am-1am
Mongkok: 112 Tung Choi Street, T: 2309-2300 H: 11am-2am

Wan Chai: 7 Tin Lok Lane, T:2891-7677 H: 10am-12am

Shatin: 1st Floor, No. 108, Citylink Plaza, T: 2285-8152, H: 8:30am-10:30pm

DimDimSum website


This post is part of the 2014 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Upcoming tomorrow for Street Food Saturday is Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in Belize! 

Previous Posts on the A to Z Blogging Challenge:

A is for Announcements: Updates and Where Our Tasty Travels is Headed Next

Understanding Wine Terminology: Botrytis or Noble Rot

C is for Carlsberg Brewery — Copenhagen, Denmark 

An Obsession with Asian Dumplings: My Favorite Picks

After living abroad for five years and traveling to over 60 countries, I have figured out I have a problem.

I am obsessed with Asian dumplings.

I dream about them when I sleep. I drool on my keyboard thinking about them.

I have a friend here in Belize who swears she could eat tacos everyday; I think I could easily eat dumplings every day.

Fried, boiled, steamed…no matter how you cook ‘em, I’ll eat ‘em.

When I first moved to Taiwan, I became instantly enamored with xiao long bao from the famed Din Tai Fung. Those little pockets of perfection quickly became my comfort food for nearly four years — I’d eat them pretty much every Monday without fail. My unconditional love for xiao long bao is so deep that they were the basis for our site’s prior header image and, well, you can’t miss the cartoon cutie who is the inspiration behind our new Our Tasty Travels logo.

Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan #food #dumplings #taiwan #ourtastytravels

Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan

Now that I am living on a small island in Belize most of the year and a tiny village in the Netherlands the remainder of the time I’m not on the road, my access to good Asian dumplings has dwindled, becoming nearly non-existent at times.

Like any good dumpling addict, I have helped drag others down by cooking them on a fairly regular basis here in Belize. I mean, friends shouldn’t let friends eat dumplings alone right?

As an ode to my current culinary obsession, here’s a look at some of my favorite types of dumplings and some of my recommended spots on where to get them!

Pot Stickers — Dumpling Inn, San Diego, California

I’ve had pot stickers in a number of spots, but I have to say the ones at the Dumpling Inn in San Diego, California, have been among the most memorable. We ventured there under the premise of their xiao long bao being some of the best in California and yeah, they didn’t rank among my top picks, but the pot stickers were killer.

Chinese Potstickers from Dumpling Inn in San Diego, California #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Chinese Potstickers from Dumpling Inn in San Diego, California

Crispy Pork Buns — Kao Chi, Taipei, Taiwan

Yes, they are more buns than dumplings, but since they often creep into my dumpling dreams, I’d be remiss in not including them. Kao Chi’s crispy pork buns are often considered the biggest rival to Din Tai Fung, but there is definitely enough room in my heart to love both places. Kao Chi’s buns have the more dense and fluffy dough typically found in other pork buns, but with a combination of steaming and pan frying, these are addicting.

Crispy pork buns from Kao Chi in Taipei, Taiwan #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Crispy pork buns from Kao Chi in Taipei, Taiwan

Pork Xiao Long Bao — Din Tai Fung, Taipei

The original pork xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung in Taipei is pretty much unsurpassed. Aside from looking absolutely perfect, they taste as good as they look. The skins are so delicate in comparison to other xiao long bao I’ve had in various Chinatowns. Even the Din Tai Fung locations outside of Taipei are noticeably different. And yes, there are some other really good xiao long bao available in Taipei, but I’d rather spend the extra time and a few dollars more to get the dumplings I really like.

Pork Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Pork Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan

Truffle Xiao Long Bao — Din Tai Fung, Hong Kong

I hate to say it but the truffle xiao long bao are better now in Hong Kong than the Taipei locations. When these were first introduced, it was about $30 US for an order of eight, and they were filled with chopped black truffle. Now, they a bit cheaper, available in smaller quantities, and with that, less noticeable truffle flavor as I think they use truffle paste. When I was in Hong Kong for New Year’s Eve, we stopped by the Wan Chai Din Tai Fung and wow…the truffle xiao long bao there are more truffle than pork as you can see in this photo below!

Inside of Truffle Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Inside of Truffle Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong

Truffle Xiao Long Bao #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Truffle Xiao Long Bao

Spicy Pork Wontons in Chili Oil – Din Tai Fung, Taipei

Yes, another Din Tai Fung specialty. Their spicy pork wontons in chili oil with green onions are far better than any others I’ve had to date. Having made these at home several times, I am continually impressed at the quality of Din Tai Fung’s wontons. They don’t break and the the chili oil is the perfect mix of flavor and some potent heat.

Spicy Pork Won Tons from Din Tai Fung #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Spicy Pork Won Tons from Din Tai Fung

La Zi Ji (1,000 Chilis) Dumplings – Rojo Beach Bar, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Good Asian food is quite hard to come by in Belize, especially in the Cayes. What you find here as “Chinese” is not even what I am typically used with American Chinese. Here they refer to Chinese more as fast food versus authentic Asian cuisine. However, if you head a few miles north on Ambergris Caye, Rojo Beach Bar is my Asian food safe haven. Aside from amazing noodles and pork bao, they have some delicious spicy Asian dumplings that keep me satiated in between trips home and my own attempts at dumplings in the kitchen.

Rojo Beach Bar's Asian Dumplings #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Rojo Beach Bar’s Asian Dumplings

The list of my favorite dumpling types is probably never ending. Here are some general recommendations on Asian dumplings to try on your travels:

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, Hong Kong

One of the most common dumplings you will find in Cantonese dim sum is the Ha Gao, Har Gow, or Chinese Shrimp Dumpling. These are easily identifiable by their translucent sticky wrappers. Done wrong, they can be gooey, rip apart and be far too chewy. But done right, they can be downright delectable.

shrimp dumplings dim sum hong kong #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Shrimp dumplings available at dim sum restaurants

Chiu Chow (Teochew) Dumplings, Hong Kong

Another interesting dumpling often seen at Hong Kong dim sum joints is the Chiu Chow, Teochew, or fun guo. Like the steamed shrimp dumpling, it’s a translucent skin, but the filling differs greatly and they are much crunchier than a steamed shrimp dumpling.

Chiu Chow dim sum dumplings #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Chiu Chow dumplings from dim sum in Hong Kong

Japanese Gyoza, Japan

Japanese Gyoza are fundamentally the same as Chinese potstickers. Steamed and pan-fried, the notable differences are typically thinner skins and more pronounced garlic flavor in gyoza. Sauces can vary and since the Chinese potsticker, or jiaozi, can vary by region, you may pick out other differences.

Japanese gyoza #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Japanese gyoza

Indian Samosas

Can’t leave out India’s contribution to the Asian dumpling scene. I haven’t been to India so I can’t actually compare, but the samosas I’ve had in other countries like Egypt, the Netherlands, and even Taiwan were surprisingly good. I’m guessing anywhere with a good Indian population is going to have some awesome offerings. Now, culinary travelers who have been to India may debate me on this one obviously!

Indian Samosas Taiwan #food #dumplings #ourtastytravels

Indian Samosas from street food booth in Taipei, Taiwan

What are some of your favorite Asian dumplings? Any recommendations on xiao long bao places I need to try?

Cookbook Review: Takashi’s Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi

Undoubtedly, one of the most important staples in Japanese cooking is the noodle. Whether it is a trying a simple ramen dish, making handmade soba noodles, or just understanding the great cultural divides within regions of Japan, noodles are an important part of both Japanese culture and cuisine.Chef Takashi Yagihashi is a top Japanese chef in America and his book, Takashi’s Noodles, is definitely a book you will want on your culinary reference shelf. Harris Salat, a food and culture writer for renowned publications like Gourmet, the New York Times, and Saveur, contributed to Takashi’s Noodles as well.

Takashis Noodles

Takashi’s Noodles is a great resource for learning more about Japanese noodles

Introduction to Japanese Noodles — Buying and Cooking Noodles

Yagihashi starts off with an introduction to his experience growing up in Japan and how his humble kitchen beginnings propelled him to the culinary success he shares today. His simple approach to explaining the various types of noodles, and how they vary in different parts of Japan, make this not only a source for recipes, but a true educational read on Japanese food culture.

Integral pats of the Introduction include an explanation on how to buy and cook noodles. The key element in much of Japanese cooking is the source of ingredients and preparation of the base ingredients. Since Yagihashi is a Japanese American restaurateur, the sourcing of ingredients is well-suited for a U.S. based audience that may not be familiar with what options ethnic aisles or Asian grocery stores offer.

Other components of the Introduction include an explanation on the proper way to blanch vegetables and what dashi is, one of the most widely used ingredients in Japanese cooking.

Recipes in Takashi’s Noodles

Takashi’s Noodles contains six chapters devoted to all things noodles, and a seventh that is a welcome surprise containing popular Japanese style appetizers. Chapters include:

  • Ramen
  • Soba
  • Udon
  • Somen
  • Asian Noodles
  • Pasta
  • Appetizers

Yagahashi’s recipes are very straight forward and easy to follow — even for a less experienced cook. All soup bases and sauce accompaniments have recipes included as well. And, of course, there is the signature recipe for the dashi. Dashi is actually a type of stock that is added to numerous noodle dishes and other Japanese dishes. It had its beginnings in early times when butter and animal fats were not found in Japanese cuisine. The dashi provided the flavor and is often regarded as the “umami” element in many Japanese recipes. While its derivation of dried kelp and shaved bonito flakes may sound less than appetizing, trust in its ability to elevate your noodle dish to the level of those found in Japan’s most popular noodle stalls.A few recipes of note in Takashi’s Noodles include the Cold Soba Noodles (page 43), Curry Udon (page 68), Beef Short Ribs with Saifun Bean Threads (page 96), Rice Noodle Pho (page 106) and the Gyoza (pages 148-150).

Cold Soba Noodles in Japan

Learn to make dishes like cold soba noodles.

About the Author — Takashi Yagihashi

Chef Yagihashi grew up 100 miles northeast of Tokyo in a small city called Mito. He grew up near neighborhood noodle shops that cultivated his love for noodles at an early age. Attending school with a kid from one of these noodle shops gave him an inside look at the world of noodles — one that he likened to a Japanese noodle version of the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory.

Yagihashi had an earnest start in local mom and pop kitchens that eventually launched an international culinary career that sent him to Tokyo, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Detroit. He has received countless accolades for his cuisine, including a prestigious James Beard award.

He opened his restaurant Tribute in Detroit in 1996 to rave reviews, and he went on to create Okada in 2005 for the Wynn Las Vegas. He became a member of the Macy’s Culinary Council and opened Noodles by Takashi at Macy’s in Chicago and then opened his namesake restaurant Takashi in 2007. Takashi received one Michelin star in both 2010 and 2011. In late 2011, Chef Yagihashi opened Slurping Turtle in downtown Chicago, focusing on what else but Ramen, along with items from the bincho grill and sashimi.

Our Tasty Travels Experience with Takashi’s Noodles

This is an ideal book for both inexperienced and experienced home cooks looking to learn more about Japanese noodles. The recipes are very straightforward and I’ve made a number of the dishes already. If you are in an area with Asian markets, some of the ingredients you can purchase (dashi for example), but it is more fun to take on the challenge to make your own. If you are unfamiliar with ingredients and Japanese terms, there is a great glossary included explaining some of the most common ones. Even Brett, who is a wee bit challenged in the kitchen, could create a traditional Japanese noodle dish (if he actually tried! Ha!)

  • Title:Takashi’s Noodles
  • Author: Takashi Yagihashi with Harris Salat
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (2009)
  • List Price: $24.95 US, 168 pages
  • ISBN: 9781580089654


Dining at One of the World’s Best Restaurants: Two Michelin-Starred Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan

Last year, S. Pellegrino released their “50 Best Restaurants in Asia,” a spin off of the regular World’s 50 Best list. Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan, topped the 2013 list — and Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa has been awarded two Michelin stars on top of it. Everything I read indicated it was nearly impossible to get a reservation. We’ve had magical luck in the past with securing reservations at some hard to get into places (still never made it in French Laundry through, go figure), so why not give it a shot for my birthday?

If only I had as much luck picking winning lottery numbers, I’d be set!

So what’s the verdict? What’s the Best Restaurant in Asia like? Here’s a detailed look at our impressive lunch at Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan.

Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Narisawa menu and building in Tokyo, Japan

The menu at Narisawa is continually changing, and the day we dined was part of the “Spring Collection, 2013.”  The theme for this collection was Evolve with the Forest.

Chef Narisawa is known for his mastery of French cooking techniques while showcasing Japanese ingredients, with a heavy emphasis on flora aesthetics. The wine list was quite impressive, featuring a number of local Japanese offerings as well. We opted to go with the suggested wine pairings for each course.

Wine: Champagne Vilmart et Cie

We started off with a glass of Champagne from one of the premier houses in France. The Premier Cru estate dates back to 1890 and is located in the Montagne de Reims region. Beautiful Brut fermented and aged in oak casks for 10 months and specifically labeled for Narisawa.


Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

I knew we were in for a treat when we were told that the interesting concoction on the table was bread…which would be fermenting right before our eyes!

“Forest 2010″ Bread of the Forest and Moss Butter

Chef Narisawa is noted for his “Bread of the Forest” which rises with the use of candlelight. Several courses in, the bread has grown enough where it is popping over the sides and they bake it table side in a stone pot for 12 minutes. The stone pot has an oak tree lid, with the faint aroma of yuzu seeping through.

Narisawa Bread of the Forest

Chef Narisawa’s creation of “The Bread of the Forest” fermenting at the table

Baking Bread of the Forest Narisawa

Baking the “Bread of the Forest” tableside

Accompanying the bread was a very interesting butter, resembling a pile of moss! The black is dehydrated black olive and we were told the green powder was parsley.

Moss Butter Narisawa

Moss butter served with “Bread of the Forest” at Narisawa

Essence of the Forest

Starting off lunch, we were served three small dishes at once. The first of the courses to arrive was called “Essence of the Forest” and it was meant to symbolize the Spring forest season. Definitely a lot going on with this course and we were told, “it’s ok to eat with your hands.”

Really? In a Michelin-starred restaurant with perfectly pressed white tablecloths? Needless to say, more of my forest ended up on the table cloth versus in my belly.

While intimidating to eat, Essence of the Forest was an impressive presentation. The cup was the key to the forest and contained its “essence”. The cup was Japanese cedar filled with oak-infused water. The forest was created with Japanese herb tempura, the “bark” is skin of the Jerusalem artichoke, while the orange is a kumquat. The forest floor scattered around the plate was made with Japanese soy pulp mixed with green tea powder and black tea powder mixed with bamboo powder.

Essence of the Forest Narisawa

“Essence of the Forest” course at Narisawa

Chiayu, Japanese Sweet Fish

Baby sweet fish in Japan are a delicacy, often called chiayu. We were told the livers were left in, which gives a very bitter contrast. The green dots are sansho pepper leaf sauce and the fish are topped with additional sansho leaves. Lightly tempura fried, the taste of the chiayu was surprisingly mild, however a definite contrast with the bitter livers.

Chiayu sweet fish Narisawa

Chiayu sweet fish with sansho chili pepper sauce and leaves


Sumi means charcoal and this is an important element in chef Narisawa’s creations. In this instance, it was akin to a charcoal deep fried onion bread.

Sumi Narisawa

Sumi “charcoal”

Wine Pairing — 2008 Toriivilla (Imamura) Blanc Cuvee Tradition

This pairing was for all three dishes — the “sumi charcoal”, chiayu and “Essence of the Forest.” It’s a local Japanese wine made in the Bourgogne style — very smooth with elegant honey-apple flavors. The mix of mountainous soil and wind coming down from Mt. Fuji makes for a complex minerality on the palate as well.

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

“Soil 2001″

As the name suggests, the next course was not just paying homage to the soil of the forest — it was the soil of the forest. Now, before you go, “ewwww dirt soup”, it was a very calculated course with the terroir of Japan being recreated in a soup. Chef Narisawa created this recipe in 2001 and it comes from the Nagano region. The soup contains no salt or pepper, only burdock root seasoning. We were told the winter soil makes for a tastier soup.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soil 2001 soup at Narisawa

So how was the soil soup? Surprisingly quite tasty. It was one of my favorite courses. And maybe I am just easily swayed once you throw the term “terroir” at me as I’m very aware of the role soil composition plays in the flavor profile of wine grapes.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soup made with “terroir” of Japan — chef Narisawa developed this in 2001, hence the “Soil 2001″ name

Spring Garden

Green asparagus cooked over broiled chicken to retain its flavor and texture — compared to a chicken butter vinaigrette.  In the mix was snapper sashimi with a seaweed sandwich. Pan fried oysters and basil rounded out the dish, which was a wonderful blend of color, texture, flavors, and aromas.

Green Asparagus Narisawa

Green asparagus with sashimi, salad and floral accents

Wine Pairing: Riesling Lion, Edel Wein, 2011

Japanese Riesling from the Iwate Prefecture. Very few vineyards make rieslings in Japan and this is a hybrid of Riesling and Koshu Sanshaku grapes. It is said this wine was once deemed “too delicate” to serve with food and was not that popular, however, this crisp and refreshing  wine has been gaining notoriety in the past few years. Narisawa’s talented Sommelier, Yoshinobu Kimura, does a magnificent job at including this gem in the tasting menus. 

Riesling Lion 2011

Riesling Lion 2011

“Ash 2009″ Scene of the Seashore

The presentation of “Ash 2009″ was rather impressive. The course started off with a beautiful piece of squid and then the ash was created table-side from a mix of olive oil, lemon juice and liquid nitrogen. The ash was spooned over the squid which released a stream of liquid nitrogen across the table. The red sauce was puree of paprika and salami. Very delicate flavors, nice grilled essence from complex paprika sauce, and the squid was perfectly cooked.

Narisawa Ash 2009

Ash 2009 – Scene of the Seashore done table-side at Narisawa

The scene of the seashore concept is to represent the typical Japanese fishermen returning with their catch, the misty ocean at night and the smell of charcoal as they cook the day’s bounty.

Want to attempt this at home? Chef Narisawa shared his grilled squid recipe on Fine Dining Lovers

Wine Pairing: Domaine Andre Vatan 2010 Sancerre Les Charmes 

Hailing from the Loire region of France, this is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Some vines are planted in limestone, so look for a zesty minerality with some smokiness on the palate. This was the perfect wine to cut the richness of the squid.

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Fugu, Blowfish, Hagi, Yamaguchi

Deep fried fugu or blowfish. This was the first time I’ve had fugu outside of a dedicated blowfish restaurant in Osaka. Despite the hype of the dangers surrounding eating fugu, it’s a relatively uninteresting flavored fish (at least how I’ve experienced it). Chef Narisawa managed to make it interesting, give it texture through deep-frying it and a tart finish from the Japanese sudachi. Sudachi is a small round citrus that is primarily used for flavoring rather than eaten. Served on butcher paper, we were told to eat with our hands again.

Fugu Narisawa

Deep fried fugu or blowfish

Wine Pairing: Beblenheim Riesling, Domaine Trapet, Alsace

Alsace is definitely the spot in France for quality Riesling, but add the name Trapet, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit. Jean Louis Trapet is a very well-known name in Burgundy, especially among the great estates of Gevrey-Chambertin. His wife’s family has the property in Alsace and both estates produce biodynamically-farmed wines.

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

“Luxury Essence 2007″ Ise Ebi, Lobster

This complex dish showcases Narisawa’s talent for creatively combining flavors and textures. The lobster was lightly deep-fried and served in a broth made with chicken, pork, ham, and water cooked in a convection oven for eight hours. Add Japanese radish, Brussels sprouts, carrot and more for a unique dish.

Luxury Essence 2007

“Luxury Essence 2007″ with lobster and a broth that requires 8 hours of cook time

On sensory overload at this point, I accidentally missed snapping a separate photo of the glass drop bulbs suspended on a hanging rack that held the steaming broth for “Luxury Essence.” You can get the general idea with this overall table photo I took when they first brought the dish out.

Luxury Essence Narisawa

The start of “Luxury Essence 2007″ before pouring the broth

Wine Pairing: Domaine de L’Hortus Grand Cuvee 2010

This beauty is from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Nice oaky nose with fruity notes on the palate.


Domaine De L'hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Domaine De L’hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Rockfish, Odawara Bay

The next course was Rockfish from Odawara Bay, served with Japanese nanohana greens.

Rockfish Odawara Bay

Rockfish from Odawara Bay in Japan

Wine Pairing: Chateua De La Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

This premier cru (1er cru) from Meursault is made from Chardonnay grapes and  comes from Côte de Beaune in the Côte-d’Or region. It’s balances nicely with dishes like the rockfish.

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

“Sumi 2009″ Hilda Beef

The last savory course is where the sumi made an appearance again. The beef was covered in charcoal, made with carbonized leek powder. It was presented whole on the small grill and removed for carving. The meat undergoes a slow cook with heated olive oil continually poured over it for 30 minutes.

Sumi 2009 Hilga Beef Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ Hilga beef presented whole

We were given a cup with sake granita to eat in between bites to cut the richness. Served on a plate that also included Japanese white bamboo shoots, onion, and more sansho pepper flowers, which only bloom about two weeks out of the year. The sansho flowers were also the basis for the green sauce swirled on the plate.

Sumi 2009 Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ served with a cup of sake granite to cleanse the palate

Wine Pairing: Lynsolence St.-Emilion 2001

This Grand Cru is produced with 100% Merlot grapes and hails from Bordeaux’s famed Right Bank area of St.-Emilion. Small production (around 625 cases) and only 20 cases of those were brought to Japan. The wine still exhibits rich color, fruity notes and lots of spice on the finish. The 2001 Lynsolence stood up nicely with the rich taste and fatty texture of the Hilga beef.

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Salty Dog

The first “dessert” to arrive was not truly a dessert at all, but rather a cocktail to cleanse the palate. Salty Dog is made with grapefruit juice and vodka, served in a salt-rimmed glass. Chef Narisawa’s version included Japanese grapefruit with pulp, confit grapefruit skin, and a rim that was a bit sweet and salty.

Salty Dog Narisawa

Salty Dog cocktail prior to the grapefruit juice being added

Kuzumochi – Sakekasu – Strawberry

Let the sweets begin! The base was a strawberry sorbet, handmade mochi cakes made with kuzu starch, and sake lees jelly. A fresh milk /cream sauce is then poured over the dessert table side.

Strawberry sorbet Narisawa

Strawberry sorbet dessert

Wine Pairing: Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

This unique wine was more of a fortified wine that had lots of raisin and orange flavors, with a nutty finish. Selosse utilizes a small number of Chardonnay barrels that he leaves outside around six years. He added leftover grape juice from Champagne making and many call it France’s version of Greek retsina. It is called Ratafia and hails from the Champagne region.

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Petit Fours

This was pretty much the equivalent of a dessert buffet. They wheeled over a rather large table filled with an impressive array of sweets. It was overwhelming to choose just a couple, but I did try to refrain some — and then I spotted the tray of mini-macarons. No way was I skipping those!

Petit Fours Narisawa

Petit Fours table at Narisawa

Petit Fours Narisawa

My plate of Petit Fours

Mini macarons Narisawa

A whole tray of mini-macarons!

After the meal, chef Narisawa came out and took the time to say hello to each table in the restaurant. He is extremely down to earth and quite humble. What a pleasure it was to meet him after experiencing one of the best meals we’ve had during our travels.

Chef Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Meeting Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa as lunch was winding down


Minami Ayoyama 2-6-15
Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Tel +81-3-5785-0799

Opening Hours: Lunch 12:00 – 13:00 (last order) Close 15:00; Dinner 18:30 – 21:00 (last order); Closed Sunday

Website: Narisawa

Five Culinary Reasons to Fall in Love with Emilia Romagna, Italy

From the time I became obsessed with art history in high school, Italy was on my radar as one of the first “must-visit” places when I would start traveling years later. Sadly, my first experience with the country was a bit of a let down — from no luggage thanks to the airline stealing it (yes, stealing it) to mass tourism in the big cities, I left feeling underwhelmed. And the food that everyone talked about being the best in the world?

Yeah, apparently I missed that too.

Before you lash out at me, I am not saying places like Rome don’t have good food, I obviously just never hit the right spots.  This was before the heyday of blogging, Foodspotting, and the benefit of specialized food tours. I never had my Julia Roberts, “Eat, Pray, Love” life-changing event while in any of the popular tourist spots in Italy. However, I will admit pizza in Naples with tomatoes grown in Pompeii ash was one of my biggest foodie moments to date. Ruined me from ever eating pizza anywhere else.

I didn’t pay my food experiences in Italy too much mind, as anyone who knows me knows, Italian always landed as one of my least favorite types of food growing up. Mexican reigned supreme while pasta was easily one of the foods I could live without.

When I had the opportunity to come to Emilia Romagna last year with the #BlogVille project, I arrived with a completely open mind. I was excited to see a completely different side of Italy and give Italian food another shot. Purposely, I refrained from researching anything on the region, and now I embarrassingly admit how little I knew about what a culturally important food center this region is.

The first night we arrived, we had a group dinner at a local trattoria, a pretty casual dining option in Bologna. It was wall to wall people, loud, and there were platters of food being whisked in every direction. Our host Nick did all the ordering and within minutes we were sampling local meats, cheeses and breads.

Wait…You eat Parmesan cheese by itself? It’s not just good for grating on pasta? And it’s not that awful grainy stuff in the green Kraft container (sorry Mom!)?

Kraft Parmesan...what?

Wait..that green stuff in the can is not real Parmigiano Reggiano?!?1

Before I had time to really ponder that, the plates of pasta began arriving. A local specialty, Tagliatelle a ragu. The verdict?

Life changing!

From that moment on, I was on the hunt to devour everything Emilia Romagna had to offer. I fell so deeply in love with this region that I came back to BlogVille two more times and even brought my parents to Bologna in December — my Mom’s first trip out of the United States! We visited a number of places in ten different countries and she rated Bologna as one of her favorite stops.

After leaving, I began missing the food in this region immensely.  I headed back down to Belize and eventually, it became too much. I tried my hand at making several specialties from Emilia Romagna. Not an easy feat on a small island! Obviously not as good as what you find in Emilia Romagna, but it satiated the craving until I could visit again.

Earlier this month, I returned to Bologna, Italy for the kick-off week of the second #BlogVille project and I couldn’t be happier. It’s funny how Italian went from being a type of cuisine I could live without to now being one I can’t stop obsessing about.

Welcome to BlogVille 2013 in Emilia Romagna, Italy!

Welcome to BlogVille 2013 in Emilia Romagna, Italy!

And with that, here are five of the many culinary reasons to fall in love with Emilia Romagna, Italy.


1. Traditional Foods from Emilia Romagna

Obviously, this could be reason to love Emilia Romagna on its own. Some of the most traditional Italian foods either come from or were developed in the Emilia Romagna region.

What we call bologna in the United States (oh, the irony) is nothing like the real mortadella you get here in the city of Bologna. Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma both come from the city of Parma. And let’s talk about balsamic vinegar. Not the stuff we use make salad dressing back in the United States, but real balsamic — a very specialized product that comes from Modena, Italy. A good 25 year aged bottle will set you back around 100 euros. And of course, fresh egg pastas like tagliatelle that come from Bologna. Fresh egg pasta is truly an art form and watching some of the pasta masters at work is impressive. After trying my hand at making them last year, I have a much deeper respect for pasta now.

Traditional foods from Emilia Romagna, Italy

Traditional foods from Emilia Romagna, Italy

Many of the products that come from Emilia Romagna are DOP protected, meaning Denominazione di Origine Protetta. This protects the local producers and ensures consumers are getting the real product, not some imitation. Food items like Parmigiano Reggiano and Modena’s balsamic vinegar are two classic examples. The example people are most familiar with is the DOC French Champagne. Technically, only wines produced in the Champagne region under the traditional rules can be labeled a Champagne whereas others are simply sparkling wine.

Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the highly controlled products from Emilia Romagna, Italy

Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the highly controlled products from Emilia Romagna, Italy

Trivia: Do you know how many D.O.P. and I.G.P. products Emilia Romagna has? At least 30 — ranging from cheese, meat, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, vinegar and even baked goods.

I would be remiss in not mentioning Pellegrino Artusi, a gastronomic icon and writer who is considered the father of Italian cuisine. He was from Forlimpopili in Emilia Romagna, and his book, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene), is regarded as the textbook on Italian cuisine. It’s been printed in various languages and is up to its 14th edition I believe. We visited Casa Artusi, termed the “first living cookery museum,” in his hometown. Here you can take cooking lessons, enjoy local dishes, attend culinary festivals, and learn more about the history of Italian cuisine.

There is no way I can adequately convey the importance of this region’s traditional foods in several paragraphs, but suffice it to say that this is one of the most influential culinary regions I’ve traveled to.


2. Emilia Romagna is Less Expensive

You might argue there are lots of spots in Italy that are cheap so why does that make Emilia Romagna special. Here, you can sample all the locally produced products for much less than if you bought them in other countries, or in parts of Italy in some cases. Especially in cities like Bologna, with its vibrant university region, you can find quality eats for cheap. Restaurants and trattorias line the streets of Bologna and you can find everything from local cuisine to Indian and Chinese. My biggest surprise of this latest trip  – finding a Naples style pizza for 6 euros. We were all completely blown away by not only the size, but the quality. And, if you think the pizza was huge, the calzone must have weighed 10 lbs on its own.

Venture out of the larger cities to some of the smaller villages and you can find local farms and restaurants serving fantastic cuisine for cheap. Also, many offer local specialties that are available onsite for half of what you may pay in larger markets and stores elsewhere.

BlogVille membership has its privileges (while we didn't snag any discounts on food and wine, we did feel special flashing our card ha!_

BlogVille membership has its privileges (while we didn’t snag any discounts on food and wine, we did feel special flashing our card ha!)

Cheap Naples style pizza in Bologna - score! 6 euros for this baby!

Cheap Naples style pizza in Bologna – score! 6 euros for this baby!

Told you the calzone was massive - Randy from did an awesome job devouring most of it I believe.

Told you the calzone was massive – Randy from did an awesome job devouring most of it in one sitting!


3. Emilia Romagna is Home to One of the Top Restaurants in the World

Going the other direction on the dining scale, Emilia Romagna is home to a number of award-winning, fine-dining establishments as well. And that stronghold was reaffirmed with this month’s announcement of the 2013 S. Pelligrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The prestigious honor of the 3rd best restaurant in the world went to Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. It was the only restaurant in Italy to make the top 20. Emilia Romagna is also home to nine Michelin-starred restaurants for 2013, with Osteria Francescana retaining its three star rating.

Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy is no. 3 restaurant on "World's 50 Best List" and holds 3 Michelin stars

Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy is no. 3 restaurant on “World’s 50 Best List” and holds 3 Michelin stars


4. Agriturismo and Food Festivals

The Emilia Romagna region is packed with food festivals year round. It seems as though there is literally something going on every week. I could easily spend a year just visiting the various festivals held in this region. Emilia Romagna is proud of its heritage and its importance as a food center for Italian culture. That shines through in the markets, festivals, and also the agriturismo farms that are popping up in the smaller towns and villages. Everything from the sheep cheese farm we visited in the hills of Rimini last year to the locally produced marmalade at Agriturismo La Piane in Vergato I sampled this year.

Agriturisimo Le Piane in Emilia Romagna, Italy

Agriturisimo Le Piane in Emilia Romagna, Italy

Branching out from the main cities and visiting some of these smaller villages has been one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Emilia Romagna. Most of these products you will never find in markets or stores as they are produced for their families or to serve guests in the farm’s restaurant. They produce everything — pastas, wine, beer, honey, jams, cured meats, and of course, cheese. And what they don’t produce themselves, they support other local farmers by buying only hyper-local products.

These homemade jams and hazelnut spread at Le Piane were out of this world.

These homemade jams and hazelnut spread at Le Piane were out of this world.

While you can make arrangements to visit some of these spots without a car, my recommendation is to rent a car and travel the countryside — something I definitely plan to do when I return to Emilia Romagna again.


5. Carpigiani Gelato University and Museum

If only I had known growing up that someday something called a “Gelato University” would exist! I would’ve much preferred this to majoring in Criminal Justice! Gelato is synonymous with Italian cuisine and the prestigious Carpigiani Gelato University is located just on the outskirts of Bologna. Carpigiani manufacturers the world’s best gelato making machines and now they teach people how to make the best gelato with their machines.

Norbert from Globotreks and I sampling red wine gelato at Carpigiani Gelato University

Norbert from Globotreks and I sampling red wine gelato at Carpigiani Gelato University

I had the luck to sit in on an advanced class where the students were learning about unique types of gelato — alcohol and savory. Post to follow on our afternoon there, but as you can imagine, it was quite a unique experience. Surprisingly, the quality of the gelato from the students was far better than a number of the established gelateria’s I’ve visited both in Italy and other parts of the world.

Carpigiani has what they call the “Gelato Lab” open to the public where you walk in off the street and buy gelato, and you might wonder if people would really drive out of their way to come there just for gelato. There was a steady stream of people coming in and out just during the 20 minutes we sat waiting for our cab to arrive.

BlogVille housemate Peter Parkorr devouring "samples" Carpigiani sent home with us

BlogVille housemate Peter Parkorr devouring “samples” Carpigiani sent home with us

Reflecting back on my five trips to Emilia Romagna in the last year, there are so many reasons why this region has captured my heart, and the food is definitely one of the main highlights, but there are many other reasons to visit the region as well. I’ve fallen in love with the architecture, the region’s history, its people, and most of all, the overall culture here. Apart from Belize and Taiwan, this is definitely somewhere I could see myself calling home one day.

Gelato....heads above traditional ice cream I grew up with

Gelato….heads above traditional ice cream I grew up with

While the bulk of my trips to Emilia Romagna have been hosted during the #BlogVille project, all views, opinions and lbs. gained after eating my way through Emilia Romagna, are entirely my own. 

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