i just returned from what i seriously consider the best weekend of my italian sojourns thus far. it was a weekend filled with wondrous sights, challenging climbs, good food and wine, and just about the most perfect beach outing that has me seriously contemplating a career as a beach bum. wowzers.

but the beach comes much later – let’s visit the first city along the cinque terre (translates as five lands) trail – riomaggiore, which was the place we stayed for the night. i’m really going to shut up and just let the pictures do (most of) the talking.

the beautiful city and marina of riomaggiore – no sandy beaches here though, but the water is typically crystal clear for most parts

every scene gives one a certain sensation of idllyic carefree-ness. work is pretty much a thousand miles away.

overlooking the main street of riomaggiore, via colombo

riomaggiore connects to the next terre, manarola (which is actually a hamlet of riomaggiore), via a picturesque mountainroad aptly named via dell’ amore (love road). its the earliest of all the paths to walk and correspondingly, the most touristy. and as per all things in italy associated with love, we see tons of padlocks chained to any possible niche or fence along the way.

gee whiz

gee whiz (part 2).

meals here are obviously sea-inspired – and accordingly i chose the spaghetti allo scoglio along with some cinque terre vino bianco. ah, life…

riomaggiore after hours – and yeah, people are still swimming.


roadside shot in flaminio area

three months have really just flown past, and now i have with me a crummy certificate telling me that i have ‘graduated’ from the beginner Italian class from my language school, along with a handful of broken italian phrases and a genuine steely determination to speak better italian. =)

i think learning a language is so essentially to understanding another person’s culture, because you start to understand how people think and how they process information. case in point, i was casually commenting to my colleague how i found it interesting they essentially said “take a coffee” and “make a break” because essentially thats how its translated in italian.

language is so powerful because it constrains how one can express oneself — its like how in japanese one becomes ultra polite and starts learning all about kinship and “amae“, or the feeling of contentment one gets when he feels like he is exactly where he needs to be in life. i think in an american context the term would be “underachieving” or “easily contented“.

some other interesting titbits from my 3 months of language course:

– my sis mentioned how certain words are hyper-conscious within one’s culture, citing examples of like freedom and self-expression in an American context. in italy, i seem to be bombarded with words of “lavoro” (work) and “sciopero” (strike), which is a scary reflection of the current sentiments in Italy where unemployment is sky high. and coincidentally, there seems to be a sciopero planned tomorrow. -_-

– ya know how its wierd when you start frequenting a new place because of class and you tell yourself you will start exploring the nearby area after lessons and find some nice food but it somehow never works out? well, true enough, i ended up rushing home everytime after class to eat near my place and it was only today that i chanced upon a (finally!) healthy salads, sandwiches and fruit juice bar that doesn’t burn a whole through my wallet!

called Fa-Bio, it’s at Via Germanico 43 and sandwiches go for 4 euroes whilst fresh fruit juices go for 2.50 euroes! and what’s cool is that whilst i was there, there was a english-speaking tour guide chattering excitedly to the server (i think tour-guides frequented areas counts as a badge of good-food in its own right) and i was soon involved in the discussion as well, talking about.. well.. how rome is like. =) its gonna be such a waste that i won’t be heading back to the area that often anymore. =(

– and incidentally, the discussion was about the difficulties living in Rome. simply put it, my best advice to expats coming to Rome?

learn. the frigging. language.

then go make italian friends and see all the doors unlock for you. rome doesn’t work by accessing online blogs and recommendations (despite me wishing it would be) but rather through recommendations of friends who frequent so-and-so’s store and knows so-and-so.

yup. that’s the way it works.

segovia’s a beautiful place that’s an hour away from madrid, and is pretty well known for a few things — an ancient roman aqueduct, a beautiful alcazar (fort/castle) and well.. for suckling pig. the suckling pig is like the dish of the town, with practically every restaurant serving the pigs (poor pigs), making it really difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

so first up, the roman aqueduct — yet another testament as to how amazing the romans were in the past, and kind of a sad reminder as to how much rome needs to work to catch up on their former glory. its one thing to remember the past, but it is another to really get yourself together and move forward.

aside from the main attractions, segovia is a really pretty, picturesque countryside town filled with beautiful churches but yet not completed gutted out with tourists. its really quite charming to be honest.

lunch was.. suckling pig of course! my thoughts on the dish? just alright to be honest.. the meat was tender and the skin was a crispy piece of pleasure but the amount of oil within the plate made me cringe and honestly, i just don’t see why its so acclaimed. maybe its because we chinese have a suckling pig dish as well that is pretty darn good – which sets humongous standards for other versions.

i love this shot, taken within the alcazar and has the silhouette of both my sisters.

this should be what my sisters were looking at… and what a view. the inhaibtants of the alcazar must have really had it good.. imagine having high tea and glancing out at such a gorgeous countryside view.

beautiful stained glass windows

view of segovia from the alcazar tower – it somewhat reminds me of minas tirith from lord of the things what with that spectacular cathedral structure

ahh, the great outdoors [spanish countryside shot from inside train going to madrid]

ya know, growing up as a singaporean boy and having liked impressionist art since young, I always gawped at the beautiful landscape paintings of say, monet or matisse and the likes, thinking how beautiful the sceneries were and exclaiming just how masterful these painters were at creating such dreamlike images.

well… not to take anything away from these painters, but after travelling round the european countryside, you pretty much realise they had nature’s best as their master to inspire them. i mean, the landscape of the spanish countryside was nothing short of breathtaking.

but I digress. this post is about the food we had in barcelona before heading off to madrid. and boy.. the fact that i still salivate on the thought of two of the meat dishes i had in barcelona (and the trip was like more than a month ago) is a strong testament of how good the food is.

grilled pork on mashed potatoes | murmuri

i sometimes judge my food based on just how reluctant I am to share my food with my dining companions, and this dish scored top marks for the fact that I was fully contented to wolf down the entire dish by myself silently, had no one asked for a slice of it. the smell of the pork and the perfect, absolutely juicy and tasty meat enhanced by the nuanced sweet sauce drizzled on top made for an utterly unforgettable dish. honestly i was beaming from ear to ear eating this dish.

and well, the rest of murmuri’s offers were slightly gimmicky, with attempts at asian-spanish fusion that sometimes didn’t work too well. but the pork dish was really perfect. =) the restaurant is located within a boutique hotel of the same name, and exudes a certain air of classiness and elegance. service was attentive and perfect and because we came during lunch and had the lunch set, we had a three course meal, complete with wine for just 20euros per pax. and that’s a serious steal considering the level of the quality of the food.

but if we thought that was good…

exhibit 2: golden pepita (toasted bread with beef, foie gras and fried eggs) | la pepita

this is the shit man. i googled pepita, assuming it to be some sort of bread dish but it terms out to be a spanish culinary term for pumpkin seeds. wierd. but this “bread” pepita dish seriously pulls out all the stops. topped with a succulent meat which is perfectly seared and then topped with generous, utterly sinful but mouthwatering foie gras and paired with a perfectly fried egg (ie. the egg yolk bursts and flows out adding even more flavor to the dish). you know, i once commented that anything with foie gras tastes good, just like anything with truffles tastes good. but boy, i never knew that foie gras that is perfectly done, warm and slightly melted due to the heat from the beef could taste so good.

if i rated murmuri’s pork on a “will not share with others” level, this dish ranks as “people will insist on getting a bite” level. and by insist, i mean employing every form of tactic ranging from zombie-like ravenous attacks to puss-in-boots pity looks. guard your golden pepita well, my friend.

oh, in case you’re wondering, la pepita serves awesome tapas as well. come for lunch (once again), and you avoid the crowds and have the devoted attention of the chef. perfect!

murmuri | rambla catalunya 104 | 08008 barcelona, spain

la pepita | c/corsega 343 |08037 barcelona, spain

that cheesy, eggy, bacon-laden goodness.

there’s something about carbonara that makes it so good (and bad for health at the same time) that you wouldn’t expect it to be simple to make. but trust me, if frank can make it, it must be something somewhat easy. i mean, i think that’s why italian cooking has hit it off so well with me — the fact that the emphasis is more on selection of quality ingredients and produce and not so much on the chef.

now french food is an entirely different matter

spaghetti carbonara con funghi e salsiccia (for the bachelor)

ingredients: spaghetti (store bought suffices, but if you can, get the freshly made ones — yes it makes a difference) | 1 egg | parmiggiano reggiano (already grated) | garlic (chopped fine, about 3 cloves should suffice) | panchetta | mushooms (sliced) & sausages — both optional to add additional protein to the dish

1. cook spaghetti in boiling salted water (check timing, but taste to ensure it is al dente)

2. in the meantime, fry the panchetta for a few minutes, then throw in the garlic and fry till it is browned slightly

3. combine egg and parmiggiano reggiano, whisk till they mix kinda well.

4. in the meantime, fry the mushrooms and sausages in olive oil.

5. turn OFF the heat on the pan of panchetta/garlic, drain spaghetti before dumping the spaghetti into the pan and quickly adding the egg/cheese combination and toss/mix all ingredients to let the egg coat and cook using the heat of the ingredients (and not the fire, else u get scrambled eggs)

6. top with mushrooms and sausages.

the verdict? (hehe.. the food blogger judges his own food)

mushrooms and sausages don’t add to the flavor, but neither to they really detract from it, so its fine. i think i needed to be slightly more generous with the cheese to get a thicker consistency, and well, i think i want to try it with hand-made spaghetti to see if it makes a difference. but overall, it actually smells and tastes good!

oh.. one annoying thing that occurred to me was that I was struggling with the spaghetti (since it was the pre-processed hard type) – struggling to force the entire straight strand into my pot which was too shallow (as normal pots are..). methinks i need one of those industrial spaghetti pots or just.. buy hand-made ones =)

this dish is worth recreating and perfecting because its the perfect low-investment, high-payouts kinda dish. yum!

image courtesy here

it’s time to pop the corks and drink ourselves silly!

one fine way to find out about events around town is really to walk alot, and peer at the many billboards along the streets. and boy does rome have a plethora of events – i missed the night at the museum (night where museums opened till 2am for free) and rome tennis open. but i ain’t gonna miss this –

vinoforum 2012, from1 jun to 16 jun

seems like more than 500 companies carrying 2500 wine labels have decended in Rome, in a 10,000 square metres wine village for people to sample, drink and be merry. count me in! =) tickets go at sunday – thursday (16 euros), friday (20 euros) and saturday (25 euros), and includes a glass, pouch and free tasting of the wines offered in the Village. err, does that mean wines from ALL 500 COMPANIES?

opening hours are sun – thurs, 7pm – 12am (hur hur..) and fri – sat, 7pm – 1am (wonder where’s the club after). avoid mondays though since its reserved for those in the industry (elitist!). its at lungotevere maresciallo diaz, near stadio olimpico (wah.. how am i gonna get home like this?)

victoria li, you need to fly over. like now.

i don’t know about you, but i doubt i would feel particularly rhapsodic were i to indulge in this dessert. all i would be thinking is.. “i’m paying $25,00 for this!?”

the “frozzen haute chocolate” (yes, with two ‘r’s) is infused with 5 grams of edible 23-karat gold and served in a goblet lined with edible gold. It consists of a blend of 28 cocoas, including 14 of the most expensive and exotic from around the globe, and then topped with whipped cream in (yes, you guessed it) more gold along with a side of la madeleine au truffle from knipschidt chocolatier, going at $2600 a pound.

and yeah they kinda cheated by amping up the price with a golden spoon (decorated with white and chocolate covered diamonds) and an 18-karat gold bracelet with 1 carat of white diamonds for your to remember your decadent episode.

but honestly? methinks this is a classic case of money can’t buy you taste. the dessert honestly looks kinda ugly, with so much gold and embellishments of similar tones it just ends up looking oddly drab and like some decoration you would see at say.. disneyland.

and likewise (this is not the case of being jealous or what), is there any taste to eating gold? like, is this dessert even meant for people to experience epicurean zeniths? there doesn’t seem to be any balance of flavors and the whole thing just feels like a case of just whacking opulence onto something and trying to flaunt whatever wealth you have. its pretty much tantamount to food desecration.

spend your money on better things please?