Friday, 29 May 2015

Tour of Food and Fun 2015 restaurants in Turku

The readers of this blog already know Turku has become one of my favourite foodie destinations in Finland. Click here to read all about our last culinary road trip! And in case you've never been - there's no better time than this autumn. Beginning of October marks second Food and Fun festival in Turku and I'm not going to miss that.

Beginning at September 30th 12 chefs from all over the world take over the kitchens of the 12 restaurants taking part in the hoolabaloo. I took part in a press tour to get to know some of the restaurants. 

We kicked off our tour at Kaskis, which has become a bit of a legend. Table at them is probably as difficult to come by as world peace, but well worth the wait, I keep hearing. They only seat 36 people so in case you intend to join them (and me! AND ME!) for some foodie fun this autumn, you'd better secure your reservations now. 

In case you can't wait that long, here's a tip: from Tuesday July 21st they'll be having a walk in week meaning no reservations are accepted and you can just... well, walk in. 

The first dish of the day was this Kaskis classic. Every bit was good as it was pretty. 

Our ingredients look and taste the way they're supposed to, chef Erik Mansikka commented. "None of those mousse balls over here!"

In one shape or another this dish has been on Kaskis' menu since the start. This time it featured whitefish, pickled veg, mini potato pancakes and a herby buttermilk dressing. 

For lunch, we went to Ludu. While I liked the ambiance, the lunch menu left me a bit cold. (Though, maybe lunches always do that? Unless you're in Juuri, that is...!)

I'd give their á la carte a go any day though and this is one of the restaurants we're planning on including in our Food and Fun- weekend (yes. Restaurants as in plural...)

To start with we were served a very nice gazpacho. Very balanced and I loved the use of yoghurt and that seedy crumble.

Next stop was Restaurant Boat Cindy. I admit straight away: I am a little skeptical about restaurant boats. In Finland, anyway, where all too often the food is watery , luke-warm fish soup and a couple of dried out slices of dark bread.

Well, not here. The decor, on the other hand was what it always is. 

Restaurants in Turku are famous for their prolific use of local produce, though Cindy takes it all to a hole new level. Practically everything on their menu is locally produced and their Journey of Taste- menus are celebration of all the local produce they feature - from Finnish prosciutto to organic duck; from pollen to hemp seed ice cream (!)

Next restaurant also proved my narrow-minded ideas oh, so wrong.

Chinese restaurant in Finland are notoriously bad (with the exception of Peninsula 1886!), but Italians are not famous for quality either. Sergio's has been proving people like me wrong for 12 years now. The competition in the restaurant business has gotten tougher and tougher, but Sergio's is in a league of its own. While Osteria Ovo (our review over here!) serves nice, rustic home-cooked fare, Sergio's is clearly about finer dining. And won't apologize it. No red and white checkered table cloths, no reed-covered Chianti-bottles for candle sticks, no plastic grapevines anywhere.

Instead they have a location in one of the beautiful, historic riverside houses and a gorgeous view overlooking the Aurajoki river. 

And the food? Probably the biggest surprise all day. I mean, just look at those. I bet you didn't expect to see that in an Italian restaurant either?

One of the three chefs is crazy about Finnish ingredients, by the way and continuously incorporates them into his food. This breathtakingly beautiful dish for instance is an ode to Finnish whitefish.

And this beauty features marinated pike perch and basil sorbet.

Of course Sergio's draws from Italian culinary traditions (age-old and varied, the restaurant reminds), but in a very contemporary way. Would you recognize this as Melanzane Parmigiana?

Or this as tiramisu? Oh yes. This was definitely one of those days when I remember why I live what I get to do sooo, sooo much!

The presentation here is quite simply stunning. As is their hospitality. They also import their own wine (all 120 different varieties of it!) and have got almost all of the Italian wine regions covered. They also have some Italian beer, though mention of this makes one of the restauranteurs grimace theatrically. "Beer? That's against my religion!" After this he proudly proceeds to pour us another round of Prosecco. "Made in Lombardia! With love!"

Gotta love them.

Sointu is a restaurant I remember walking past the last time we were in Turku. The humble appearance did not warrant a second look, but weheey again. Our loss.  

They keep their menu short and change it every 2 weeks, based on what's available at the local market. The restaurant's been up and running for only a couple of years and this year is their first taking part in Food and fun. The atmosphere is a pared-down version of your grandmother's place but according to the chef the style of their cooking is modern Scandinavian. 

They do like to experiment with other directions too... our rather tropical pudding shows. Mascarpone and milk chocolate crème brûlèe with pineapple candy and banana ice cream. 

Great fun - great taste. 

We finished our day at Bar 4, which most certainly deserves a place on our list of Turku favourites. Click here for previous list of our favourite joints in the city!

Ooh, things are looking good. While we have Food and Fun reservations to sort out, we also have Taste of Helsinki and Taste of London to look forward to - all in the next month!

So, make sure to join us, here on the blog, on Facebook, on Instagram and on Twitter!




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Monday, 25 May 2015

Chorizo and squid salad with crunchy chickpeas

One of the things I love most about Spain is chorizo. There aren't many things that it wouldn't work with. Its spiciness brings extra kick to creamy, rich ingredients (like in this roasted pumpkin and chorizo pizza) and works well with the gentle flavour of seafood (as this crayfish and chorizo tart or these chorizo and prawn cocktail treats prove).  Mar y montaña; combining meat with fish/ seafood is typical feature of Spanish cooking - especially around Catalonia. Chorizo is one of the staples of our fridge. Another thing we always have in one shape or another is squid. Good job we do, too: as Tzatziki Champion arrived for lunch a while back she made her wishes clear. "Squid! You've got to make me some squid!!!" And that's what I did.

This salad is easy and uses only a handful of ingredients. Crunchy chickpeas make for a nice finishing touch. Yummylicious!

Always thaw squid in plenty of cold water - if you let them thaw in their package the're easily left with an unpleasantly stale taste.

I tossed the chickpeas in a bit of oil and seasoned them with just salt and pepper, but if the chorizo you're using is not very spicy, add to oil pimentòn, garlic powder, ground cumin and ground coriander (about 1/4 tsp each).

Serves 2-3, as tapas 4-5

Squid, chorizo and chickpea salad:

225 g chorizo
1 kg squid (once thawed and cleaned, about 600 g)
1 smallish red onion, finely sliced
1 large bunch of parsley
salt, black pepper

Crunchy chickpeas:

1 can chickpeas, drained and picked
2 tsp oil
salt, black pepper

For serving: lemon wedges

Start the salad by roasting the chickpeas. Pat the chickpeas dry and toss in oil. Spread onto a tray lined with parchment and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 180° for 30-40 minutes until crisp, shaking halfway through.

Fry red onion for a couple of minutes until softened a bit. 

Cut chorizo into 1/2 cm thick slices and fry on a pan until crisp and golden. 

Clean squid, rinse and pat dry. Cut the body to 1 cm thick rings. Season with salt and pepper and fry in a hot pan quickly in batches.

Alternatively you could just throw the ingredients onto a barbecue!

Combine the ingredients, drizzle with lemon juice and serve.

The wine choice was not the result of a thorough investigation and analysis - I had bought it solely based on the label. The origin, to be precise: it comes from Luberon in the South of France, famous from both Peter Mayle's Provence books and the film A Good Year (based on one of his books, BTW!). I've recently been enjoying both in a bid to find cure for the chronic travel fever.

The wine is a blend of four varieties: Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc and Roussanne. The wine is dry with ripe fruitiness and acidity which make this an easy wine to combine with variety of dishes, especially ones with richness and spiciness.




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Saturday, 23 May 2015

The ultimate travel guide to Riga

Riga is an amazing city that truly has something for everyone. For history buffs, architecture aficionados, culture vultures, foodies... you name it. Now that we've survived of the blog's virtual tour of Latvia, it's time to put it all together for the ultimate, one-stop-guide to Riga.




Even in the supermarket era, markets have retained their popularity. Riga Central Market is the biggest in Europe and it's easy to spend hours poring over the selection. In the summer do check out the nightly Farmers' market! 

Read all about it on the blog over here.

Kalnciema market is one of Saturday highlights. In the summer it's also open on Sundays. Local small producers and artisans bring wonderfully bohemian feel to this charming wooden house district. 

Read all about it on the blog over here.

Berga Bazar's Saturday market is full of similar bohemian charm. The area is also home to a restaurant called Andalusian Sun (!) but unfortunately we didn't get a chance to try it...


Sunday can only get off to a fantastic start over brunch at  brilliant restaurant Bibliotēka no1. 

Read all about it on the blog over here.

For more brunch suggestions, please see here.

Dinner here is a spectacular experience that no foodie should miss. Best dinner of my life.

Read all about it on the blog over here.

Restaurant ran by a new generation of chefs. Treats for eyes and stomach. 

Read all about it on the blog over here.

Good value for monet, this restaurant is popular among the locals, too. Combines Latvian traditions with international cuisine. Famous for cocktails based on green juices.


Old town and historic centre house more adorable cafes and patisseries than you can count. Rigensis is a charming Old Town staple - cafes don't get much more traditional than this. Try their strudels. 

Parunāsim advertises itself as the most romantic cafe in Old Town. This small, cosy cafe tucked away in a quiet courtyard has coffee, cakes, wines and music with great service.

In case you happen to find yourself around Gertrūdes iela street, do check out quaintly Parisian Muffins and More (no prizes for guessing what their specialty is!) A big recommendation for the lemon!

For wine lovers

Wine culture is a relatively recent arrival in Latvia, but quickly becoming more and more popular. Riga has some lovely wine bars that you should make time for. 
Vīna Studija for instance has has a couple of places around the city. They also do theme evenings and tastings.

For more wine bar recommendations, just check here.


Located at the edge of the old town National Opera is worth a visit, too. Ornamental, traditional and full of gilded glamour it's everything you would expect. It's affordable, too: ticket prices start at €10. We went to see Madama Butterfly (the highlight of The Boy Next Door's trip) but the calendar for the remaining has other treats in store too: for instance Tosca, Rigoletto, Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake.


If you're into architecture, Riga is for you. From the picturesque old town to the Art Nouveau glory, there's plenty of eye candy. For blog's tour of the old town, just go here.

For the most impressive views (a.k.a. the best selfie settings!) check out St. Peter's cathedral.

I myself fell in love (is it possible to fall in love with a building in a non-insane-as-seen-on-Channel 4-documentaries-sort of way?) with this Latvian Science Academy that majestically towers over the neighbourhood of Riga Central Market. For me it was so very New York, locals on the other hand call it "Stalin's birthday cake" (?!)

A tour in tram 11 (departs from behind Opera) gives you a great insight on the bewildering diversity of architecture in Riga.

You'll see the Art Nouveau gems in Krišjāņa Baronan street, oh so bohemian wooden houses of Miera Ielan street, the Soviet-era blocks of the suburbs and the very weird mix of Kokneses Prospekts. The are houses Tudor-style mansions, castle-like structures, sleek contemporary houses, Chechovian villas and derelict small sheds that can only house axe-wielding, serial killing rapists. 


The museum, located at the corner of Brīvības iela and Stabu iela street is a great way to get to know this very sinister chapter of Latvian history. Open daily (except on Tuesdays), admission €5. Guided tours in English available at least on Sundays at 11am. Creepy, but informative. 

Real all about it on the blog.

Located in the area next to the Central market, this museum has an interesting approach to the very dark time in Europe. Open daily (except on Saturdays), free admission, donations welcome. 

Read all about in on the blog.

When planning a trip, we found Riga tourism agency Live Riga extremely helpful. Their website has all the information you could possibly need and it's available in English.

For our full trip, just click here!




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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Asian apricot and ginger glazed chicken skewers

Surely it's time to kick off the barbecue season? Or, as my alter ego Hyacinth Bucket would probably put it: a "Shakespearean banquet of carnivorous delights followed by piano recitals". 

Asia is a veritable treasure trove for this: just imagine the endless street food stalls full of delectable meaty treats shoved on a stick, cooked on the grill, incredible scent filling the evening air... Uhh, don't know about you guys but I'm getting hungry over here - let's eat!

The surprise hit of our BBQ season last summer was chicken hearts. I have a feeling these sweet and tangy Asian-inspired chicken skewers just might be one of favourites this summer...!

In case you find some, I recommend you use boneless thighs. They are packed with flavour. If you can't, use what ever you can find. Marinating injects the chicken with Asian awesomeness, but in case you're short on time, just skip the marinade-part and boil the marinade directly into glaze.

Depending on the size of the strips and skewers this yields 12-14 skewers

Asian apricot and ginger glazed chicken skewers

600 g chicken, cut to strips


200 g apricot preserve
1/2 - 1 tbsp minced garlic (depending on your taste) 
1 large red chilli, minced
1,5 tbsp minced ginger
1/4 dl soy sauce
1/4 dl rice vinegar
the juice of 1 lime
1/2 dl canola oil
1/2 tsp white pepper

Also: sesame seeds

Pat the chicken fillets dry and cut to strips (unless they already come like that).

Combine the ingredients for the marinade and pour over the chicken. Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge. Or, at least for 4 hours.

Drain the chicken bits (reserve the marinade!) and thread onto the skewers. Remember, if using wooden kind, soak them in water for 10 before this. 

Pour the marinade into a pot and bring to boil. Cook over high-ish heat until it thickens to a glaze. Keep warm.

Grill the skewers, basting a couple of times Towards the end, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve. For instance with these stir fry veggies, this mung bean vermicelli and seaweed salad, this corn and avocado salad or this Asian style coleslaw.

If using oven, bake the skewers at 200 for 4-6 minutes (depending on the size, turning halfway through. Baste with glaze and finish under the broiler. 

And if we're cracking open the barbecue season, we might just as well crack open a bottle of wine, too!

In case you've been following the blog's wine pairings, the Asian influences of the recipe probably hinted what's to come. Yep, another trip to Alsace. Gewürtztraminer would work, as would the trusty Riesling, but in case you haven't tried this one, try. 

Wolfberger is one of my go-to-brands. W3 is a little bit more interesting wine with more character, courtesy of the use of three grapes typical for the region. Muscat adds aromatic sweetness and Pinot Gris lends the wine structure and even hints of gentle spiciness. 

The combination works so well with the fruity tanginess and the toastiness of the sesame seeds. Don't believe me? Try yourself!




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