Sunday, 11 September 2016

Top 10 films every foodie should see

What does a foodie do when she's too sick to cook or eat? Watches other people do it! Here are my favourite foodie films ever!

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I've spent the past week firmly in bed (no, not with my New Love... unfortunately). My flu once more escalated into a bronchitis so agressive it wouldn't have had any problem taking on John McEnroe at Wimbledons Centre Court. 

As I've spent my days trying not to drown in phlegm (which the body can apparently produce in amazing quantities!) I've been really low on energy and haven't done much cooking. No, make that haven't done any cooking at all

Climbing out of bed turned out to be process that warrants such superhuman efforts it wasn't until the 4th day I finally managed to drag my zombie-like arse to the shop across the street to fetch some ice cream to soothe my sore throat.

That, by the way, just goes to show what a horrible world we live in.  Internet access and credit card enable me to order so many wonderful things online, delivered to my doorstep: pizza, Indian food, plane tickets to Africa, prostitutes.. but no ice cream. Where's the sense in that?

I quickly realized everything on m y to do-list wouldjust have to wait for next week and the day I'd finally be a) able to stand again and b) actually taste anything.

At first I tried to use this sudden spare time in a constructive way. The truth is, however, that when your concentration span is that of a carrot and you can only keep your eyes open for 20 minutes at a time, you swiftly have to abandon any dreams of catching up on film adaptations based on all those Russian literary giants. Which is just as well, seeing how any given film lasts about 3 weeks anyway. Turned out there are only so many (not many) Holocaust dramas one can take when already feeling frazzled. 

So, I sought solace in my true love: food. Here's my Top 10 of best foodie films ever made.

1. Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

Classic of the classics and one of my first ever foodie film discoveries. 

A retired chef tries to keep his family together by gathering them around weekly dinners. Elaborately cooked dishes are a feast for anyone's eyes.

And if Latino kitchen is closer to your heart...

*Make sure to check out

Tortilla Soup (2001)

The inevitable American take on the previous film, this time with a Mexican twist. Not quite up to the original, but hey, this one's got Hector Elizondo in it. 

2. Like water for Chocolate (1991)

Based on Laura Esquivel's fantastic novel by the same name, this movie is a celebration of carnal pleasures (in every sense of the word) in that unabashedly sensual way South Americans do so well. 

Dysfunctional families play crucial part of this film as well, as does communicating through food and trying to mend the ties by gathering everyone for a meal.

3. Julie & Julia (2009)

This film depicts the lives of two very different women in two very different times and the love they share for food. 

A delightful film despite the fact both Amy Adams' lacklustre blogger character and Meryl Streep's flamboyant portrayal of Julia Child (which, in all fairness, she was in real life, too) occasionally do my head in. 

Vive le cooking! Vive le blogging! Vive le enjoyment!

*Do also check out:

Haute Cuisine (2012)

If French cuisine speaks to you (and pourquoi on Earth wouldn't it?), this film; a celebration of French culinary traditions and local produce they take such pride in, is pour toi. 

4. Big Night (1996)

Drama, comedy, melancholy, passion... and lots and lots of lovely Italian food.

The final scene of this film that charts the fateful moments of an Italian restaurant owned by two brothers is full of wistful beauty and reminds that at the end of the day a family that eats together, stays together. 

* Do also check out:

Dinner Rush (2000)

Also taking place in an Italian restaurant this film has no shortage of any of the classics/ clichés... including organized crime.

When do We Eat (2005)

Though not the food porn that the other films on this list are, this film well and truly warrants a place on my list (and no, it's not just because of the Holocaust reference...)

Dysfunctional families and attemps to fix things with food are seem to be a universal thing that all cultures and religions share. Perhaps those two themes pretty much sumarize what life is al about? 

This one deals with one Jewish family and their rather unorthodox Passover seder. Next year in Jerusalem? Next year in nowhere? Who can tell. Oy, vey.

5. Today's Special (2011)

This film, too, depicts the harsh reality of restaurant world. Other key ingredients are rediscovering one's cultural and culinary traditions, finding one's place in the world, crazy families, masala... and love.

*Do also check out:

The Lunchbox (2013)

This is another film that celebrates the delights of Indian cuisine; cooked with time and love.

6. Mostly Martha (2001)

German romantic comedy about a chef who only lives for her profession.  Life has some serious lessons in store for her on life, relinquishing control and finding happiness. 

*Do not check out:

As can be expected, the Americans came out with a reake of this called "No reservations" and starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhardt and some seriously lukewarm chemistry.

7. Burnt (2015)

Located in the ruthless and fascinating world of Michelin restaurants, this films examines its huge egos, their unwavering passion, incredible skills and continuous fight for the spotlight. 

Some serious eye candy for any foodie (and no, I wasnät even thinking about Bradley Cooper!)

* Do also check out:

Chef (2014)

Another film that explores the themes of pride, the fall and sunsequent rise. In this one the passion is rediscovered through cheerful Cuban sounds and street kitchens. 

8. The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

This film takes a rather wonderful book and turns it into Hollywood candy. Many things that made the original story so great and scintillating are left out and replaced with overtly obvious accessories, but for a foodie it is so full of such gastronomic bliss that it more than warrants its place on the list.

Incredible performances by Helen Mirren and Om Puri leave one thinking how anybody else could have even played those parts.

* Do also check out:

Chocolat (2010)

Directed by the very Lasse Hallström that was responsible for the previous film, this, too, oozes diabetes-inducing saccharine sweetness.

This, too, is largely saved by fantastic actors and the dhamelessly hedonistic scenes of turning chcolate into, well, magic. 

Make sure to watch it with a huge box of chocolates!

9. Jiro dreams of sushi (2011)

Stunning documentary of a stunning master of his trade. Jiro Ono owns a tiny sushi place (the restaurants only seats 10) in a Tokyo metro station and is the first ever sushi chef to be awarded 3 Michelin stars.

His dedication to his craft leaves the viewer speechless even if you thought you were not into sushi.

* Do also check out:

Spinning Plates (2014)

This film sends shivers down one's spine - it is that good. It showcases three top restaurants and the geniuses behind them. Ever wondered how much work and effort and time and development can go into a mouthful of food that's devoured  seconds? A lot. 

A lot. 

Chef's Table (2015 -)

This TV series that can be found on Netflix is made with such passion, which is fitting considering it follows such passionate restauranteurs. 

After watching this anyone is guaranteed to finally understand what Earth-shattering art for all senses food at its very best is. 

10. Foodies (2014)

This documentary turns the spotlight to the other side of the table: to the most discerning and devoted of foodies. 

Whether or not their hobby and passion have (in some cases) slipped into an annoying display of conceded snobbery is, of course, in the eye of (a very jealous?) beholder. 

How many of these have you guys seen? Did I leave out something I shouldn't have? Make sure to let me in on your recomendations as well!





Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Ravinteli Bertha gives Tampere some serious foodie credibility

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Ravinteli Bertha in Tampere is a great combination of stylish decor, relaxed and knowledgeable staff, interesting wines and menu that makes the most of offcuts and veggies alike.

* * * 

I like my own company. I'm not saying it's particularly good, but I've learnt to enjoy it. Sometimes too well, I think. But sure, by this age I've come to realize that being part of a couple has its perks, too. 

There are the obvious reasons (it's so much nicer to have someone to sleep next to and... well, analyze what's going on in Premier League's transfer window...) and then there are the less talked about ones:

- You're part of a team. It's you against the world. A.k.a. someone with whom to succumb into that blissfull bubble of conjoined contentment and condescendence and bitch about the stupidity of the rest of the world
- You only have to do laundry half as often: once you run out of your own, you can always borrow steal the other person's socks!
- You instantly double your wardrobe. Ok, this only works if you, too, have always dreamed of wearing nothing but boxers specifically manufactured for the army and special forces T-shirts.
- At restaurants you get to sample twice as many dishes.

Knowing me, you probably guessed right now the last one is the key factor improving the quality of my life, right? Though... do not ask what I'm wearing right now...

Last week I found myself in Tampere, a city 3-hour ride from Helsinki. Wondrful as it might be in many ways (the cradle of industrial revolution in Finland which has won it the nickname of Manse - after Manchester-  and home to FC Tampere United) it's not what you'd call a foodie destination. So far its culinary contribution to the word has consisted of blood sausages and chicken wings, which the city has developed a bizarre passion for. 

Though the motives behind the weekend getaway were not of the gastronomical kind ( I even left my camera at home! At home!), of course I had to squeeze in some of that, too. 

So I booked a table at Bertha, whose peculiarity at last year's Taste of Helsinki left an unforgettable impression (smoky bacon toffee with chocolate mousse and beef blood meringue, anyone...?)

The choice was a good one. We went for 4-course menu (€52) as the 6-course one (€66) seemed a bit too much at the time. In addition we went for the wine package (€43), though I asked mine with half pours. This was swiftly forgotten by the waiter, but as soon as he realized it, he apologized and suggest "I drink how ever much I feel like drinking". 

And yes, I was only charged for the half package. Nice going. We liked.

To start with we had Champagne which charmed us with its toasty elegance. This is the only place in Finland where you can get it and I admit that nugget of information would be more beneficial in case I actually remembered what it was. But I don't. And for that I'm sorry.

(OK - that's kind of one of the downsides of being part of a couple: you're far too occupied marvelling at the person you're with to actually pay attention to things that really used to matter. Like, wine)

Vendace, potato and dill was lovely plate of summery flavours. The wine pairing (Austrian Grüner Veltliner- Riesling - Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay-blend Stammerdorfer Gemischter Satz Satellit 2015) was intriguing and worked well, actually igniting an enological debate.

"This smells like gas", the date pointed out, picking up on the petroley notes typical for high-end Rieslings. That's my boy. 

Goat cheese, rose and beetroot was something even the date, an ardent follower of "none of that vegetarian food for me"- school of thought, loved. 

Wine pairing for this was one of the most sublime ones of the evening: Chilean Rucahue Pinot Noir Reserva from Maule Valley had wonderful vivaciousness that complimented gloriously especially the rosy notes of the dish. 

Another round of starters started with pork, durum and Indian cress. The dish had such a depth of flavours it evoked yet another spontaneous "Oh, my god" from me. The date was suitably impressed, too. 

Langhe Dolcetto DOP Visadi was a great companion. 

Beef, chantarelle and buckwheat was a celebration of offal and featured beef heart. I was jubilant as, much like the restaurant, I am a firm believer in making the most of every part of the animal. 

Lammershoek's Lam Pinotage from South Africa was a surprising new acquaintance: in its lingonberry-like tart lightness it was reminiscent of Old World Pinot Noirs. 

Mains had two choices, one of them (wait for it...) vegetarian option. Spelt, porcini and onion was not the prettiest of dishes, but rather surprisingly one of our favourites, even though it was preceded by the following exchange of words:

"You're not going to tell anyone I just voluntarily ordered vegetarian food, ok? Not. A. Word. To. Anyone. "

Wine pairing for this was another winner: Montenidoli's 100% Vernaccia. Rich, dry and wondefully aromatic wine. 

The other main continued making the most of offcuts: Nero cavolo, beef and turnip had slowly roasted shank and beef tongue in it. I was in Heaven, the date not so much. Don't you worry though - I'll get him onboard...

With this we enjoyed Selvapiana's Chianti Rufina Vendemmia 2013.

First dessert consisted of buttermilk, blackcurrant and currant leaves, which lent the sponge its delicate green colour.

The wine for this was a Seifried's beautifully concentrated yet zesty Sweet Agnes Riesling from New Zealand, which hit the spot. 

The apple, oat and juniper wasn't far behind either, though to accompany the toastiness of the sauce I would have longed for something in the line of Pedro Ximénez instead of Barbeito Delvino Reserva Madeira that it was served with.

Service was great throughout the dinner, wines were interesting and the food was excellent. Thank you Tampere! 

Next trip is scheduled for a couple of months from now - let's see what other treats we'll be in store for...!



   Kaks Kokka 3   


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Around Aland - history, surprises, amazing people and creative craziness

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Aland's hundreds of islands all have their own vibe. They're full of history, sights, hidden gems, amazing people and creative craziness. 

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There's plenty to see between Mariehamn and Havsvidden and it soon becomes evident, why Aland isles are such a popular destination for those traveling by bicycles.

Next time that's exacty what I'll do, too: explore islands' wonderful nature on a bicycle; with the sun on my face and wind in my hair. With a fully stocked picnic basket in tow, of 

In case you didn't bring your own, you can also hire them at Ro-No Rent at Mariehamn's Western Harbour (Länsisatama). Prices start at €10/day or €50/a week). In case you're staying at our favourite; Hotel Arkipelag, you can borrow a bicycle from there.

Aland charms with its archipelago ambiance and amazing views and a bicycle is the best way get to know them.

The distances between different isles are short and a bicycle gets you quickly from one gem to another. The isles also surprise with their versatility: each of them has their own personality and vibe.

And surprises are something Aland has no shortage of. In the middle of nowhere you'll discover all sorts of hidden gems, such as this Café Stickstugan in Lemland.

Another delightful discovery is Judy's, a British potterymaker's place in Gölby.

An antique shop? Workshop? Vintage store? Café? Oh, yes, And then some.

That's the thing with the people in Aland: everywhere you go, you bump into people cheerfullt pursuing their creative passions. No matter how crazy they are. 

That's how it should be, says Christian from Stallhagen's Brewery, himself a 17th generation Alandare. "If what you're doing isn't at least just a little crazy, it's not worth doing!"

His latest venture is a rock festival, held on the beach next to his pub.

As I said: crazy. But in the best possible way.

In addition to all things foodie, we made it our business to see some real sights, too. Such as Bomarsund fortress in Sund. 

Destroyed in the Crimean war, Bomarsund fortress was built by the Russians who at the time ruled over the region. At the time it was the largest building in the whole of Aland. After the war Aland was declared a demilitarized zone and no more fortresses have been erected here.

Part of the fortress and the town-like community that sprung up around Bomarsund is Notvik tower, who, along with its cannons, was supposed to protect the Northern way in, which the Russians though was the only way battle ships could use to attack Bomarsund.

But oh, how wrong the Russians were: the enemy arrived using the Southeastern strait of Ängösund. And rest, as they say, is history. 

So long, suckers! 

Visit to Notvik is highly recommended for the spectacular views over the archipelago alone. 

Free admission to both of these.

While we're bona fide foodies and shameless culinary escapades are what we do best, we decided to continue nourishing our souls and focus on satisfying that  hunger for history.

For that Jan Karlsgården's open air museum is a great destination. Much like Seurasaari in Helsinki, it consists of buildings brought over from other parts of country (in this case Aland), with the aim of recreating the spirit of late 19th century village.

Admission here is free, too. For more information check out the museum's website.

Right next to it there are the ruins of  Kastelholm Castle, one of the most popular sights in Aland.

Built in the late 14th century, this castle has hosted Swedish royalty from Gustav Vasa to Duke of Finland John III along with Eric XIV and his wife Karin Månsdotter, though the last two stayed here as Eric's brother's prisoners. 

The fire of 1619 damaged the castle but its master at the time tried to repair the place to its former glory. Not long after that, though, Kastelholm lost its administrative status, resulting in loss of overall importance.

The following fire of 1745 destroyed the castle almost completely.

I want me a castle, too! Oh, and minions. I've always wanted to have an army of my very own minions!

The castle caters to all sorts of visitors. Children, for instance, get to play dress up. Being slightly over 120 cm, we had to make do with admiring the props, which was a bit sad considering we even have our tiaras. 

(That, for the record, is no joke. Others have might guest towels and what have you, but the Cat Blogger actually has her own guest tiara at mine.)

Views from here, too, are...well, rather majestic.

...over the river and the charming countryside surrounding the castle...

... and what do you know: a restaurant! And not just any old restaurant: Smakbyn, the #1 destination for any self-respecting foodie!

At this point our bodies needed some nourishment, too, so we happily succumbed to what we do best: eating.

Smakby's  location couldn't be more ideal. And there are several reasons why it tops the list as a must see- foodie destination.

There are the luscious cocktails they make using alcohol they distill themselves...

...and their excellent, robust food.

The owner's, Michael Björklund's laid back attitude and cheerful character won over even the Finnish-speaking nation's hearts during his stint at a Swedish-speaking TV series Strömsö. 

You shouldn't let that fool you though: the man is a culinary star. In 2011 he represented Finland in Bocuse d'Or, finishing at 5th place. The result was best ever for Finland and the only one to do better since was Matti Jämsén, who came in 4th in last year's competition. 

Oh, and in case you need more reasons to head over here, there's the distillery downstairs, where you can freely tour.

Unfortunately (because of Finland's backward legislation) you can't buy any of the products to take home with you, but there are drop-in tastings here from Tuesdays to Saturdays (€25 pp).

You don't need to leave empty-handed though - adjacent to the restaurant there's a charming little shop that sells local produce.

And soon you won't have to leave at all: Smakby is about to open their own inn!

Another place that's in the process of opening their own inn is Stallhagen Brewery, another great destination for those travelling in the search of good food and drink. 

The brewery also operates a gastro pub (a proud purveyor of nose to tail-thinking) and their future plans include gastrotours, during which foodie travellers get to know the producers behind restaurant's dishes and cook with top chefs.

"We're really not much of beer drinkers", we tried to protest in vain as we were invited to sample brewery's selection and were swiftly proven wrong. 

Out of all the beers we tried, we loved... well, every single one of them, much to our surprise. I can tell you, that now, when ever we see Stallgahen on the menu, we go for it. Back here on the continent it is available in more than 50 restaurants in 18 different cities.

New, at times rather quirky-sounding additions are launched every couple of months. We were particularly enamoured with blueberry ale and raspberry stout.

Our biggest favourite, however, was probably Historic Beer 1843, which won us over not just with its fruity smoothness combined with crisp freshness but also with the story behind it. 

Its recipe is carefully reconstructed based on the oldest survining beer in the world, which was found in a shipwreck discovered in front of Aland. 

Drick mindre, drick bättre. "Drink less, but drink better".

Words painted on Stallhagen's gate greet us on our way out. Wise words and like so many other things we learnt during our stay here, they will stay with us for a long time. 

Aland has made itself a home in our hearts and we can't wait to return. 

I hope you enjoyed our trip as much as we did? What was your favourite part of it?

Aland's soul-nurturing nature?
Mariehamn's wonderful villas?
Capital's sights and restaurant finds?
Or Havsvidden's luxurious surroundings?

* In collaboration with Visit Åland