Thursday, March 17, 2011

Food Finds

Being a big time foodie, I am constantly on the lookout for new food experiences: restaurants, cafes, grocery stores to find ingredients for my recipes, and mostly to discover new flavors that inspire me in my recipe-creation endeavours. I find Zurich a particularly generous city in terms of exposure and access to diverse culinary adventures. Some people have complained about prices (too high), variety (or lack thereof), and quality (volatile), but my experience so far has been extremely positive and I will try to address the objections strictly from my own personal experience.

On the money side, I should mention that food, together with traveling, is one area where I allow myself to "splurge": my budgeting, financially conservative, living-way-under-my-means and bargain-savvy happy self will not blink a second time at spending a ridiculous sum of money for a fine dining experience (which I will have saved the cash in advance for - sorry, I am that way and I can't help it!). Therefore, while I agree that eating out in Zurich can be expensive, my saving nature, and the fact that I perceive eating out as a treat (to myself and to my loved ones) rather than a habit make me more inclined to spend the money on that.

On the variety side, there are very few foods I don't like or eat*, and so far I have not been disappointed by the availability of choices in Zurich. Also, if I crave a certain type of food and I either can't find it or I am not particularly impressed with what I found in a restaurant, I will most definitely try and make it from scratch. Chicken fried steak and homemade biscuits, anyone? Of course, if I expected to eat Korean food like in Korea, or Italian food like at home, I would be sorely disappointed, but this is true for all places I have been to/ lived in the world.

On the quality side, well, it is all a stroke of luck in my opinion, wherever one is: the chances of finding good food and the misadventure of eating bad food can happen.

The questions I ask myself all the time are the following: 1) Is there enough variety of food here to keep me entertained/ not bored? 2) Does a particular food satisfy my taste buds and experience demands? 3) Can I find the ingredients to make what I want to eat from scratch?

Zurich's answers to these questions has been "YES" so far, with one important exception. Until now, I have not been particularly impressed by any Japanese restaurant I have been to, neither in taste (nothing truly outstanding) nor in variety of available choices (nothing exceptionally creative). Being my favorite cuisine, I will admit that it is somewhat hard, and I still cannot bring myself to cook it from scratch. So for now I will keep on looking, until I find my happy Japanese spot here in Zurich.

Lastly, I would like to share some interesting food finds that I stumbled upon lately.

Churrascaria Rincao, a Brazilian restaurant located near Sihlpost. I went there with a big group of people for an all-you-can-eat-meat type of evening. We were served all types of meat, some more satisfying to my taste than other, but while the quality was good and I enjoyed most of it, it was nothing to write home about. I have definitely had more interesting all-meat dining experiences in the past (such as the Argentinian Pampas in Palo Alto, California and Papagaio in Tel Aviv, Israel). The company was amazing though, so all in all a good experience.

Abyssinia, an Ethiopian place where we had a buffet with different plates and again a big group of people. I am a lover of Ethiopian cuisine, and I truly thought that this place was amazing - particularly, I loved lamb in a spicy sauce and the beef tartare. And that bread...yum....A definite positive on my "great restaurants" book, I will go back again for sure, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Le Cedre, a Lebanese restaurant I checked out with a friend who was a newbie at this kind of food. I liked the way they cooked the usual things, eggplants, hummus, falafel, their meats were good, their wine was good. I was disappointed by one thing though: I wanted kanafeh, and that's why I went there - because I read they make it. However, they told me they make it only in the morning, and therefore only have it for lunch - they are right that it must be eaten hot, so they cannot keep it until evening, but still...oh well, the excellent company of the friend I went with erased the disappointment for missed kanafeh, at least a bit ;) No, seriously, I had a fine time and I recommend the place.

Currently, there are a couple of stores I am looking forward to visiting, as well as a couple more restaurants, on which I will share my impressions in a later post.
*For the records: I don't particularly like cucumbers and would not consciously choose them, but will eat the occasional ones if they are already there in a dish. I will not eat blood sausage, even if it was the last available food on earth. I love oysters, but for some reason my stomach does not, whether they are raw, grilled, fried, or whatever, and so I won't eat them if I can avoid it. Aside from these, I eat everything, and I will try everything at least once.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Impressions Genevoises

A few weeks ago, I spent a wonderful couple of days in Geneva. I must say that, ever since I saw it for the first time, I always love when I go back and visit the city. The reasons are several: I enjoy speaking French and understanding the random conversations taking place all around me; people are cold but friendly, and this reminds me of a more laid back and sleepy version of Paris; finally, when I go there I somehow feel relaxed and on vacation.
This time I met a friend from school in the States, and we caught up with each other’s lives, dreams, directions, and recent happenings. We had a coffee by the lake, then excellent Vietnamese food at Cho Lon (Rue de Zurich, 43). As everyone knows, I love food and I always enjoy trying new recipes and discovering new ways to spoil my senses. However, of all the possible world cuisines, Vietnamese was never on top of my list, albeit I have a deep love for noodles (particularly egg noodles, rice noodles are ok); it’s not that I dislike it, on the contrary: what I want to say is that, whenever I happened to go to a Vietnamese restaurant, I generally liked it, but it’s not the type of food I would look for nor crave. Perhaps the best way to describe my relationship with Vietnamese food is that I am neutral to it.
I was in for a surprise: as I sat in front of an outstanding bowl of pho, I realized that I had really missed Vietnamese food. After years of Vietnamese food overload in California (and thanks to the culinary skills of very capable friends with Vietnamese heritage) I had not had it ever since I moved to Switzerland, and it never occurred to me I’d miss it. Craving Korean food - perhaps. Craving Japanese food - for sure. But Vietnamese food…My taste buds and brain thought differently though, and I highly, highly recommend the place if you ever visit Geneva.
My friend and I walked around and saw all the United Nations buildings, and I even got the “insider tour” – for me, an economist with a focus in international institutions and business who originally picked her college major with the idea of becoming a diplomat, it was like heaven. It was excellent to share personal impressions about our experiences in Switzerland, which are different, but at the same time there is a sort of fil rouge.
Later I said goodbye to my friend, and headed for a walk in the old part of Geneva, which I did not know: a cobweb of quiet cobblestone streets, a two-faced heart of Catholicism and Reformation. Somehow, I couldn’t help but think that Geneva is the perfect place to have a coffee, go to the hairdresser, buy cute jewelry and lingerie, bon bons, and rose-scented products. Funny enough, to this day only two other places in the whole world give me this feeling, which is a mixture of decadent paresse and uninterrupted intellectual stimulation: Paris and New Orleans. It was nice to find the same sensations in Geneva.
I wish I’d had more time to wander around, and also go shopping more seriously in the new part of town, but I had to go back to Gare Cornavin to catch my train back to Zurich. I said au revoir to Geneva, and hopped on the train accompanied by pleasant thoughts of the weekend, as well as the perspective of upcoming fun in Zurich. Little did I know that I was in for a shocking surprise in Zurich too!
Destiny is cruel – sometimes you meet wonderful people and never see them again even though you would die to, and some other times you meet people who pierce your heart ruthlessly, whom you hope, for your own sake, never to meet again and not reopen the wounds, and you bump into them months later, on a random evening, as you exit the Hauptbanhof, cross the street, and turn right on your way to the grocery store. Natürlich…