Travel


We are on the road — in our Mercedes-Benz bus, Abba and Beatles and the Who playing in the background — having left Berlin, now heading to Dresden. 

I am sad to see the Berlin leg of our visit end. Several of the other journalists will be returning — many of us not. 

I’m having my lunch on the bus right now – made from our hotel breakfast buffet. Cheese with little salami bits and another slice of stinky cheese. Bottled water. And a few crudités. All wrapped in plastic bags from our hotel bathrooms. 

I do have to laugh — one morning someone in our group said they were “sick of the bread.”

Really?!? They have the most incredible bread here. From hearty wheat to even sliced white. How can you get sick of this bread? I am reminded of people I knew back when I was in high school who, for one reason or the other, had the opportunity to travel to Europe (much rarer in those days of Pan Am and TWA). And they would come back 10 pounds heavier because of “all that bread!”  I understand. 

More coming for Dresden, I’m sure. More news. But also (hopefully) more bread. 

Pretty much you cannot go to Berlin without getting a curry-wurst — even better with frites. My first trip here in 2013, I went to one of those simple street stalls near Checkpoint Charlie, and had my first curry-wurst experience.

This trip — while visiting the studio of the artist who first devised the idea of making one very large section of the Berlin wall, a “canvas” for 180 artists (called the East Side Gallery) — our group leader pointed out Curry 36 — allegedly (one of) the most popular curry-wurst joints in town.

So – this is what it is:

Big ol’ bratwurst, cut into small rings, sprinkled with some kind of curry powder-salt mix, topped with a high quality ketchup. Served with a tiny red plastic fork, the likes of which I would love to have the patent on those perfect little plastic tined instruments. 

You can order the wurst with or without the casing. Mit darm means with the casing. With or without French fries (“frites“) plain or with ketchup or with mayo. All, some, none. 

OH

MY 

GOD


I’ve written about foreign translations of food before – like the “fantasy of artichokes” in Sicily. But — as I sit waiting – in the charming outdoor alley of Brauhaus Lemke — for what was described to me by a colleague as “the best spaetzle in Berlin” — I notice on the German language menu (in other words: not translated) under the Schwein category – a dish called Steak “Western Art”.

But we’ll have to leave this pondering for later because OMG — the best spaetzle in Berlin was just delivered to my table. Served in a hot shallow pan, the most delicate noodles in a light cream sauce, with peppers (red, green and yellow), scallions, onions, and leeks (white and green parts) – topped with a julienne of salty, crisped ham and melted cheese. 

So incredible that even the rat that ran by several tables away didn’t spoil the mood. 


 

In these days of global cuisine, food shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. So when I ordered a seasonal salad at my Berlin hotel with “fried” monkfish, bacon and shiitake mushrooms, I figured I knew what I was getting. 

Not. 

The vinagrette was berry-based, yes — except it was elderberry. The “fried” fish was lightly sautéed and tender: we’re not talking fish fry here!

The bacon was not “his first name is O-S-C-A-R” — if you get my drift. The shiitakes were soft to the tooth, not reconstituted and chewy. And the seasonal greens were heavy with the red of radicchio, though absolutely not bitter. 

Even the vinagrette receptacle was slightly altered: square with a delicate little spout at the corner.

Ah, yes. It is, indeed, the little things.  

20130929-173537.jpgEvery night I walk through Saint Mark’s Square in Venice — because it is my landmark compass to get myself to my hotel. And, it’s the same thing.

The piazza is filled with Bangladeshi vendors: selling dying roses, those squishy gel animals, and these contraptions that soar up high, dotting the sky with ghastly neon green light.

I wonder to myself if centuries ago there were immigrants in the Piazza San Marco selling stupid trinkets.

Were there Renaissance versions of drunken American students singing college beer ditties?

Did fellow travellers think to themselves “stupid tourists!”?

A simple post about a simple observation of a simple snack: the egg.

After a long day at the Giardini portion of the Venice Biennale (think the MN State Fair of art, albeit the nominally best art in the world) — and a long vaporetto ride going nowhere (at least I had no other goal in mind than to spend some time on a boat in the Venetian lagoon) — I decided, what the heck, I’d head back to the hotel and rest a bit.

Oh wait, gotta stop writing for a second, must be on the hour because the bells are ringing all over the island: my god that’s beautiful.

Here’s a picture from my room while we wait:

20130927-180334.jpg

Okay, where was I? Ah yes, the incredible, edible egg. I stopped to get a caffè and some water. No, I answered, I did not want a cicchetto. And then I saw it! A small plate holding little halves of hard boiled egg. Yolks deep golden and all glistening with the sheen of smoky green olive oil.

Oh, I answered, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have that!! €0,50 for each mezzo uova. When they say, it was the ambrosia of the Gods, I think I just discovered on that little cobblestoned Venetian street what they’ve been talking about. It was that egg.

20130926-232632.jpg
Sing it with me now:
You say chee-ketty, and I say key-chetty.
Chee-ketty. Key-chetty.
Let’s call the whole thing off!

There are these Venetian bar snacks, something Venetians pride themselves on — and many of us just stumble upon, called the Cicchetti. They are properly called chee-ketty — don’t embarrass yourself and pronounce it like we would. ‘Cause frankly it feels sometimes that the Venetians just tolerate us. Grudgingly. The way I guess those of who work around Rock Center feel about tourists during the f’ing tree season. Yes, that is what we call it: the f’ing tree. Not sure who I’m cleaning this up for, but I feel compelled.

As usual, I digress.

I was the Cicchetto of some voracious kick-ass mosquitoes my first night in Venice, so I didn’t get much sleep. And once I did, I slept past breakfast time at the hotel. By the time I got moving, it was noon. A tiny bit too early for proper lunch (well, probably not, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it) and way too late for breakfast.

I went on an errand to pick up a fan to fight the skeeters. Got the last ventilatore at the Venetian hardware store (totally COOL) experience — and on the way back to the hotel, grabbed a couple of dates from the miniature “farmers market” near my hotel. Two succulent dates and a handful of filberts I’d bought at the market in Rome later — I headed out for my first full day of art and magic. Even a trip across the Grand canal on a traghetto. The poor man’s gondola. 2€ (€0,70 for locals) and you are propelled across the water while standing.

20130926-234815.jpgI highly recommend it!

I set out to seek the best cicchetti I could find for my meals on this (again) bella giornata — beautiful day. This was not some food-on-a-stick affair although I did approach it with the same fervor I display at the Minnesota State Fair.

Oh, one type of cicchetto is a clever topping on a slice of soft, fresh of course, Italian bread. More like a Danish Smørrebrød than bruschetta. Another type of this Venetian tapas best described here by Rick Steves is a simple bite on a toothpick.

This is what I found.
A lightly cured prosciutto with a dollop of black olive tapenade on a schmear of crema.
(Strictly speaking not a cicchetto but) A tramezzino (sandwich made with crustless white bread with a filling) of egg salad, smoked salmon and thinly sliced dill pickle. I know – sounds ick. Wasn’t.
Grilled charred baby octopus, wild mushrooms, pine nuts and crema.
Lightly-vinegared sardine on a slice of tomato.

Made a reservation for dinner at the same place I got those last two cicchetti. I’ll let you know. That is, if I can find the joint again.

Ah, Venice. To be here is to get lost here.

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