Top Tips On Visiting Petra and a Recipe for Jordanian Shorba


View towards the Monastery and Umm Sayhoun in the distance

One of the (many) highlights of visiting Jordan is exploring the magnificent Nabataean red rose city of Petra, which is believed to have been established in the 4th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom. I thought it might be useful if I provide some helpful tips, which will hopefully make your visit to this UNESCO world heritage centre truly memorable. I visited in August, when it is searingly hot, but totally doable at the same time.

 First glimpse of The Treasury whilst waking down the Siq

When is the best time to visit Petra?

The cooler periods to visit Petra are autumn and spring when I hear the crowds are less heaving. We visited in August and didn’t come across any other British tourists in Petra, although it seemed to be very popular with the Italians and Spanish. Whatever time of year you visit the quietest time to explore Petra is as soon as the park opens at 6am and in the late evening 6-7pm. In the summer months it closes at 7pm and the winter at 4pm, but I don’t think they are too strict about this- we stumbled out just before 7pm and there were still a number of people we had passed going up to the High Place of Sacrifice as we were coming down. Although do bear in mind that once the sun sets it gets dark FAST and navigating getting out of Petra in the dark, without a torch could be rather tricky, although I guess it would make a good tale to tell the grandkids!

Even though there were lots of people mulling around by the Treasury when we first entered via the Siq, once you go further in, the crowds disperse and you are free to explore the caves and sites without huge swathes of people.

Having walked down the Siq you arrive at The Treasury

To Guide or Not to Guide?

Hiring a local Bedouin guide has it’s advantages if you want to hike some lesser known trails around Petra. Also it might be good to hire one for a few hours before breaking away on your own to explore. If you have a good guidebook, however, you can  read up about the various key sights while you are there. Everything is well signposted and you are provided with maps from the visitors centre at the entrance. The key places to visit are: the Siq (which you will walk along to actually enter Petra), The Treasury, Street of Facades and The Great Temple excavations undertaken by Brown University, Theatre, Royal Tombs, Colonnaded Street, The Monastery and the Place of High Sacrifice.

Tickets to enter Petra for one day are JD50 (£50/$70) for two days only 5JD more and three days 10JD more. Children under 15yrs old get in free. In hindsight I wish we had spent an extra day in Petra so we could explore more of the trails instead of walking 15 miles in one day.

Colannaded Street with local Bedouins on their donkeys

Donkeys, Camels, Mules and Horses

Local Bedouins are eager to offer tourists rides to and around Petra on their various beasts of burden. Whilst I realise this is an income for them and that most of the animals looked in fairly good condition, I passed up on their offer, preferring my own two feet to carry me everywhere. Climbing up to the Monastery were dozens of donkeys carrying weary walkers to the top. It’s steep and as a walker you need to be careful for fear of being knocked over the edge by the animals as they clamber with their heavy human loads. I almost saw one mule, carrying a tourist, go over the edge of a precipice. Coming down on the donkeys looked really precarious so I will leave it to you on what you decide. I think it’s an easy decision mind you!

Don’t let the bazaar vibes get you down

Most of the Bedouins living in Petra are from the B’doul tribe and many now live in the purpose-built settlement of Umm Sayhoun, which you can see in my first photo in the distance on the far right. Most work in the tourism industry working in hotels or camps or as horse riders, tour guides or souvenir sellers. One thing I noticed was the huge amount of souvenir sellers  all around Petra, all the way along the trails to the main sites. Whilst it does seem rather overrun with stalls, there are some good souvenirs to buy, many made by the local women, so its worth looking at what they have to offer. Remember it is not like shopping here in the UK. When they offer a price you need to haggle a little bit – it’s what they expect, so don’t agree with the first price.

Meeting Marguerite van Geldermalsen

One New Zealand tourist visiting Petra in 1978 fell for the charms of one of the souvenir-sellers – Mohammed Abdallah Othman and never left. She learned Arabic, converted to Islam and gave birth to three children, who are now all grown up. Mohammed has since past away sadly, but Marguerite still lives there. For seven years she made a home with him in a two thousand-year-old cave carved into the rock hillside, living like a Bedouin. Whilst she now lives in Umm Sayhoun, she can be found most days in Petra selling her memoir, sometimes with her grown-up daughter, as well as some beautiful jewellery that she has designed and made with the help of a local women’s co-operative. Her shop is very close to where her troglodyte dwelling used to be in fact.

Are Food, Water and Facilities Available in Petra?

Absolutely yes to all three. Deliciously cold bottled water is available all over Petra, although prices range on where you buy them. At the bottom of the hike to ‘The Monastery’ they were half the price to what they were at the top. The main restaurant in Petra is ‘The Basin’ and whilst it’s ok, I think opting for a packed lunch and sandwich is a better option. I didn’t really feel like eating that much in the heat, and besides I was there to explore and hike and not eat copious amounts of salads and hummus. You can pick up some snacks Wadi Musa – the town that has built up outside Petra, or get your hotel to make up a packed lunch for you. Another option is to pick up a fresh sandwich at ‘The Monastery’ with a cold orange juice when you get to the top.

You will also find Bedouin ladies making tea at a number of opportune places. In the late afternoon we climbed to ‘The Place of High Sacrifice’ where we had the place to ourselves. Then behind a rock we found the lady in the photo on the right beckoning us to have some tea and sit with her. At which point she got out her tin flute and played us a tune as we sipped our sweet tea and watched the sun reflect brilliantly over Petra. Hauntingly memorable.

Made it to The High Place of Sacrifice - incredible view from the top

 

Where to stay in Petra?

All the hotels and camps have been built in and around Wadi Musa, which has grown as the tourist industry has thrived. We stayed at the Movenpick Hotel, which is perfectly positioned at the entrance to Petra. The hotel would not win awards for architectural beauty from the outside, but inside is far more appealing than you would be led to believe, especially the atrium where you can linger over a cold drink and a good book. There is an outside pool, which was much needed after 10 hours on our feet and a great roof terrace where you can watch the sunset/rise. The rooms and bathrooms are a little dated, but the beds perfectly comfortable so overall the hotel was an excellent choice for our adventures in Petra.

Where to eat when you stay in Petra?

There are a number of restaurants in Wadi Musa all offering similar type dishes. We ate at a couple of restaurants – the best being ‘My Mom’s Recipe Restaurant’ which serves Jordanian fare in an atmospheric restaurant. It  is reached by climbing a couple of flights of stairs with rugs adorning the walls and ceilings. It was cosy and welcoming with good views of the nights sky and a local musician playing live music. I was also very impressed by the waitress who was Yemeni and spoke Arabic; English; Hindi and Filipino.

We also had an excellent buffet lunch at Al Qantarah where there was a wide selection of cold and hot dishes as well as some tasty falafels, which were freshly made.

I craved a hot soup (I know this may sound strange when it was mid 30’s outside), so ordered a local Jordanian favourite, Shorba, made of red split lentils, spices and lemon. It is similar to Indian dal, but with an Arabic twist.  I ate it quite a few times in Jordan so thought you would like the recipe too as it will be perfect for the months ahead.

Jordanian Shorba

serves 4-6

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

2 cups of red split lentils, washed under cold water and strained a couple of times

2.5 litres of water

1 chicken/vegetable stock cube

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

 juice of one lemon, or to taste

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 tsp salt

handful of fresh parsley, to serve

 

  1. In a deep pan heat the oil and add the onion, bay leaf and carrot and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and cooking for a further 2 minutes.
  2. Add the red split lentils and cover with the water and stock cube.
  3. Cook on a medium to low flame for 15 minutes, skimming any scum that may come to the surface.
  4. When it has softened, add the cumin and turmeric powders, lemon juice, freshly ground pepper and salt.
  5. Remove the bay leaf and then using a hand blender blitz the lentils so that they are smooth. You may need to add some more water if the soup is too thick.
  6. Taste test and add more salt/pepper/lemon juice as you see fit.
  7. Pour into bowls and add a little fresh parsley on top.

 

Exploring Little Petra - we pretty much had the place to ourselves

What is Little Petra?

Little Petra is about a 15 minute car ride from Wadi Musa. It is another archeological site located north of Petra. It is also Nabataean with buildings carved into the the sandstone walled canyon. It is thought to have been built to house visiting traders on the Silk Road – much like a caravanserai. It is free to visit and takes between 30 mins -1 hour to explore and there were only a handful of tourists when we visited. At the end of the canyon is a precarious climb to a view point with a souvenir seller at the top and a place to have some tea and cold drinks.

There are some other hikes, which start from Little Petra which take you further into the arid, mountainous desert region which look interesting if you have more time in the area. I would advise to get a guide if you want to venture further on this hike and make sure to carry lots of water and supplies as there will be no sellers offering food and beverages on the trail.

Local Bedouin man playing his Oud

Petra Night Tour – worth doing or not?

We did NOT do this ourselves, owing to the fact we were too shattered after our 15 mile hike around Petra and quite honestly could not face walking another 2.5km down the Siq and another 2.5km back in the dark.  Our legs had given up on us and we fancied a leisured evening and rest, before visiting Little Petra the next day. It also sounded a bit of a tourist trap if I’m honest and on Trip Advisor has mixed feedback. If you fancy giving it a whirl however, it happens on Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8.30pm when the tour walks from the visitors centre down the Siq to the Treasury. Apparently it is all lit up with candles and is very atmospheric, albeit you are witnessing this wondering with hundreds of other people. There are some locals playing instruments, some Arabic singing and story telling and tea drinking but apparently as there are so many people receiving tea is not guaranteed with that number of people. The whole experience lasts two hours and once the sun has gone down it gets cold, so bring sufficient clothes to keep yourself warm.

Tickets cost JD17 (£17/$24), children under 10 are free, and it last for a couple of hours.

 

Sitting with my back to the Royal Tombs overlooking the Street of Facades and Colonnaded Street

Memorable Eating in Florence

Arriving in any new city is exhilarating and thrilling and Florence is no exception. I’ve been a few times in the past but it had been a decade since my last foray in the city so remembering where to eat needed fresh research. One exception is Il Latini, which is a Florence culinary institution, that is always worth seeking out.

Il Latini: Via dei Palchetti, 6R

Hams hang from the ceiling at this charming Florence eatery that has exceptional Florentine food and welcoming staff. It is a place to linger and enjoy the buzzy atmosphere and a real sense of occasion when you go there.

So the other places to recommend when you visit are as follows:

Trattoria Mario: Via Rosina, 2r,

This place is a real gem, that was so good we returned to twice. The first time it was so busy that we were ushered to what seemed like a store room in the cellars with wine stacked up. Tables were huddled together and we all felt rather grateful to have been giving a table at all as its the kind of place that you want to arrive as close to noon as possible to guarantee a table. The menu changes daily – its short, which all good menus should be (in my view). It is equally loved by tourists and locals as the food is excellent, very kind to the wallet and has a good traditional trattoria vibe. Be warned if you are in small group you will be sharing a table with others, but that makes it all more fun right?

We had to wait for about 5 minutes on one occasion otherwise we were seated immediately. The courgette ravioli, below was very memorable and I will certainly try to replicate it myself in my own kitchen.

Got to love a birds eye view!

L’Giuggiolo – Osteria/Pizzeria: Viale Augusto Righi, 3 A/D

Recommended by the taxi driver who was extremely enthusiastic that we go. Within a few mouthfuls of food we understood the reason for his pride. We would not have naturally visited it as it sits anonymously on the road at the outer environs of Florence, just outside Fiesole. You can take the bus to Fiesole or a taxi which takes around 15 minutes. The food is sublime and the service is relaxed giving us a very comforting Sunday lunch experience. The pastas were perfectly cooked and generous and the bistecca was as good as any we have eaten. Furthermore being outside the tourist centre the bill was much more modest. It’s location makes it a good place to have a post or pre-lunch hike, so take some good walking trainers.

 La Menagere: Via de Ginori 8r

This places oozes cool with its crittall windows, arched vaulted ceilings, its mismatched lamp shades and stone flooring. It’s one of those concept stores that gives you the option to buy all manner of wonderful things – whether its some beautiful flowers, music, a pastry and coffee, breakfast or perhaps a more refined evening meal. Whilst we did not eat here, it goes on the list as it is very different from anything else I saw in Florence and is a good place to have a pre-dinner cocktail or a coffee and watch the world go by. It would not be out of place in London’s Shoreditch, New York’s Brooklyn, Tel Aviv’s Jaffa or LA’s Echo Park or Silver Lake.

Gelateria Santa Trinita: Piazza Dei Frescobaldi, 8/red

Florence is teaming with gelateria but if you are not careful you will be paying overinflated prices if you opt to buy one too near the Ponte Vecchio. Gelateria is perfectly positioned just by the Ponte Santa Trinita, which affords excellent views of the Ponte Vecchio. Portion size is super generous – I opted for the smallest size in a cone and as you can see from the photo below I could pick two flavours – nocciola (hazelnut) and black sesame (definitely try this one if you have not done so before). It came to 2.80 euros – the same portion at one near the Ponte Vecchio was 6.50 euros. There is lots of choice and the quality is very good.

Osteria Del Cinghiale Biano: Borgo S.Jacopo, 43r

Located on the ground floor of a thirteenth century tower in Borg San Jacopo, one of the quaintest streets of medieval Florence. The first dining room is situated right in the old tower, with the original antique stone walls in view. The second dining room and the kitchen were built in the tower’s old courtyard, which was covered by vaults in 1500 in order to best bear the weight of the historic building. It’s rustic and charming and the staff were attentive and welcoming. Wild boar and truffles feature on the menu so are definitely worth trying. The tiramsu is also an obvious choice for dessert and got a definite thumbs up from my family. You do need to book though so don’t just turn up.

La Bussola: Via Porta Rossa, 56r

If pizza is what you are after then La Bussola will definitely tick that box. The restaurant is a lot bigger than it appears at first glance, with options to sit at regular tables inside or outside or on stools up at a marble bar. There was a wide choice of pizza – as well as lots of non-pizza options too. I can’t fault the pizzas – they were the right thickness, were generously covered and tasted great. Whilst you probably could walk in off the street, we had made a booking to be on the safe side.

Mercato Centrale: Via dell’Ariento

This place is Florence’s answer to Borough Market. Downstairs artisans sells there wares with hams, cheeses and olives galore, upstairs is a massive food court which is super busy and the perfect place to pick up a snack or two and a beer. Whilst you can eat at that level – which is hard as so many people are trying to also find a seat – I recommend finding your way up to another level, with more seating and a chance to actually sit down.

Alimentari Uffizi: Via Lambertesca, 10/R

A biouji family run deli, a stones throw from the Uffizi gallery down a quiet street. It is a great place to stop for a glass of wine and a plate of prosciutto from the present owners’ son’s farm. You perch on wooden stools and tables and order a range of delicious antipasti. It’s the type of place that you are really happy to have stumbled across as it feels so welcoming and Italian.

 

Ristorante Toto: Borgo Santi Apostoli, 6r,

After arriving into Florence around lunch time we decided to find somewhere close to the station that we could walk to with our luggage and indulge in a bowl of pasta – as you do! After some speedy research we opted for Toto Firenze. It’s spacious and buzzing and the waiters were welcoming as they showed us to our table. The restaurant prides itself on its famous ‘ fiorentina bistecca’ and looking at those served up on other tables (as well as the meat fridge below) it was most impressive, but we were craving pasta so all opted for the spaghetti carbonara. Portions were generous and the food tasted great. Price wise the restaurant is also very good – so a perfect place to go with a family or group.

So that’s it folks. We ate at a few other restaurants that were good, but bang for buck I felt the ones above were more of a ‘home run’.

If you discover any different from this list do leave a comment in the comments box below, I would love to know. Equally if you try any of the above let me know what you think. Did you have an equally good experience?


Grand Blogger Dinner 2019 in the Stunning St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and Watermelon Granita Recipe

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

It’s not everyday that you get invited to the inaugural ‘Grand Blogger Dinner’ in London hosted by Alwin, CEO and co-founder of the creative agency @mrgoodiebag, which is based in the Netherlands in fact. The company has been hosting similar decadent dinners across other European cities and their most recent launch was in London at the stunning ‘Renaissance Hotel St Pancras’.

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Forty food bloggers were invited to attend the sumptuous dinner that a select group of food brands had helped to inspire a different course. The proceedings started however with drinks and canapés, by what has to be one of the most incredible staircases in London.  I discovered the Spice Girls used it in their ‘Wannabe’ single. It is also the staircase that was part of the original Midland Grand Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott, which opened in 1873. Amusingly it was made extra wide  to allow ladies to pass each other with their wide bustle dresses. Can you imagine?

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Peter’s Yard, a brand I was already familiar with, as I adore their sourdough crisp bread, inspired all the canapés.  The smoked salmon, sour cream, salmon caviar, edible flower and leek ash were particularly standout. These were accompanied with deliciously light and fresh sparkling wine by Familia Torres Wines.

Photographs by @annekejagerphotography

 

It gave us all the opportunity to get to know fellow invitees before Alwin, our host for the night, welcomed us and spoke about the various brands that we were going to come across over the course of the evening.

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

After our meet and greet we were then ushered into the most magnificent room that was to host the dinner itself.

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Pretty spectacular hey? I loved the floral arrangements and then discovered they were fakes – but rather brilliant ones don’t you think? They were made by @casashops

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

The menu was included in a little booklet which outlined which brand was supporting the course.

  • trio of canapés with sourdough crisp bread by Peter’s Yard @petersyard
  • red shrimp crudo on orange and strawberry panzanella with aceto balsamic di modena’ by Ponti @pontiofficial
  • pearl barley ristotto, laverstoke burrata, fresh English peas, pea tendrils, lemon, ramson flowers @stpancrasren
  • watermelon granita with natural goats milk yogurt @sthelensfarm
  • galletto all’arrabbiata with delicious anchovy fillets in olive oil and peppers @delicius_official
  • authentic Italian artisan gelato @remeogelato

Quite a feast don’t you agree?

Photograph by @annekejagerphotography

 

Each course was paired with a different wine and we were given a brief introduction to each one. Standouts for me were:

Purgatori 2014 Costers Del Segre

Vina Esmeralda 2018

The evening went by really quickly – always a sign of a good evening. It was great to get to know others who are equally passionate about food and were happy to photograph it at length without any ‘oh hurry up’ or sarcastic remarks from our other halves.

Above is me pictured with (from left to right)  @anders_kitchen @kokkiecooking @eathappyfeelgood @emmaeatsandexplores and @endofthefork Do check out there feeds and blogs – all so inspiring and creative.

After a quick round of photos we were handed the most incredible goodie bags – I’m surprised I managed to carry it all home – and said our farewells and thank yous before heading off into the night.

 

Back at home I decided to make the watermelon granita again for the family. It’s perfect when you have a super hot day and need cooling down. Here are my efforts:

It’s absolutely delicious and easy to make ahead of time. The only part you need to do last minute is the blitzing of the iced watermelon in the blender.

Check out the recipe below and give it a whirl this summer

Watermelon Granita with Natural Goats’ Milk Yogurt

recipe created by St Helen’s Farm for the Grand Blogger Dinner 2019

serves 8

1 small watermelon (approx 1.8kg)

60g stem ginger in syrup

2 limes

1/2 bunch of fresh mint (approx 15g)

8 tbsp St Helen’s Farm Natural Goats’ Milk Yogurt

 

  1. First prepare the watermelon by removing the rind and chopping into small chunks and removing the seeds.
  2. Roughly chop the ginger and place in a large sealable freezer bag with the watermelon chunks.
  3. Finely grate in the lime zest, juice and then freeze for at least 8 hours (I froze mine for a few days as I wanted to have it ready for a hot day)
  4. When ready to serve, pick and reserve the baby mint leaves then put the rest into the food processor along with the contents of the freezer bag. You may need to do this is batches so that it is properly blitzed.
  5. Serve 2 heaped tablespoons of the ‘pink snow’ granita per person with 1 tbsp of goats’ yogurt, a drizzle of ginger syrup from the jar and a few baby mint leaves.

 

I was kindly invited to this event. All views and opinions are my own.


A Weekend in Turin

When I mentioned I was heading off to Turin for a weekend away I must admit the usual reaction was something along the lines of ‘really, isn’t Turin just an industrial city’ or ‘interesting choice’ with a hint of sarcasm. I purposely picked it as it is off most people’s radar and I was convinced there would be lots to see and do, and ultimately eat, away from throngs of tourists. What I discovered was that Turin delivered on every level – cheap tickets on BA, easy transfer to the centre of town (we took the train and then local bus on the way in and returned in a taxi), a stunning hotel that served the best breakfast I can remember having eaten in Italy, delicious meals out – with change from €50 for 3 of us, museums, great shopping and ultimately the most amazing food market. The sun shone and there was a relaxed grandeur to the city. In short, it was the perfect weekend away that ticked all our boxes and more.

Where To Stay

I booked the four star Hotel Victoria Torino, which is centrally located and has a wonderfully inviting old school charm (that you would not sense from the outside) and serenity about it. The decor is British country house meets chinois in a deliciously charming fusion.  There is a grand fire place, big sofas and the owners’ collection of French and Italian works of art as well as number of Asian pieces dotted around, clearly picked up on the owners’ travels overseas. The overall effect is charming and a place that you want to linger and enjoy a coffee or an aperitivo in the evening. In fact, Poirot would not seem out of place residing in the Hotel Victoria Torino.

The other major plus about the hotel is that it has a spa/hammam with steam rooms, sauna, cold plunge pool and jacuzzi as well as a lovely space with sofas, magazines and fruit and tea. There is also a magnificent pool (which was one of the reasons I booked it), which guttingly was closed when we were there as it needed some work. It is now back up and running. As we were three friends we managed to book a very large duplex room, which had two double bedrooms and another ‘bedroom/sitting room’ on a lower level with a double sofa bed. The space also included two bathrooms, one included a bath. It was perfect for us and a very generous space, allowing us all to have our own rooms.

The breakfast was also incredibly generous with a wide variety of treats to accomodate both the sweet and savoury palate. You can choose to eat inside or out in the courtyard, which was just warm enough for us with the suns rays shining down on us.

Price wise we split the bill between three and each ended up with change from £200 for a two nights stay. Amazing value for the offering.

 

What to Do

Visit the Porto Palazzo Food Market (on Piazza della Repubblica)

It is the largest open air market in Europe with around 800 stalls from Mondays to Fridays. Inside there is a Farmers market with over 100 stalls and another section selling all manner of meats, cheeses and fish.

The place is bustling and the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere of Turin over a coffee.

If you are there over lunch time grab a plate of ‘fritter mista’ and a glass of local white wine from Gallina Pescheria Banco N.2. It has quite a following so get there early to secure a table.



Stroll around the famous flee market of Balon

Open every Saturday morning and every second Sunday of the month (on Sundays there is more on offer), this flee market is a wonderful place to wander and find that real gem you have always wanted in your life. It is a stones throw away from the Porto Palazzo Food Market and is a maze of 250 stalls selling a wide range of antiques and retro furniture. Amongst the stalls are a number of restaurants, especially along Via Borgo Dora.

Sample and buy some Chocolates

Yes you read correctly. Turin is THE place of chocolate innovators owing to its history back in 1585. The Turin-based Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel I, married the daughter of Philip II of Spain and through the Spanish colonies, raw cacao arrived in Italy. Turin’s expertise for chocolate burgeoned and turned the city into the chocolate centre of Europe. Today, the city is still synonymous with the sweet treat – especially Nutella, which was given life by Pietro Ferrero, a pastry chef in Turin.

 

The two well known chocolatiers are:

Confetteria Stratta (Piazza San Carlo 191)which opened in 1836. It is the perfect place to pick up ‘gianduiotto’ the most symbolic chocolate of Piedmont -bite-size, boat-shaped, hazelnut chocolates that were invented in Turin.

Guido Gabino (Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange 1) opened in the 1960’s now has two branches. Beautiful little orange bags are filled with individually wrapped chocolates. I may have picked up some from here on my visit.

Take a Glass Lift up to the top of the Mole Antonelliana for a panoramic view

An absolute must is to visit this architectural landmark in Turin. It was originally conceived as a synagogue but after being bought by the Municipality of Turin it was made into a monument to national unity. Completed in 1889 it was, at the time, the tallest building in Europe reaching 167.5 metres. The building also houses the National Museum of Cinema which spirals around the central atrium as the glass lift speeds up through the central part of the building. My advice is to prebook tickets for either the panoramic view and/or the museum. The queues on the Saturday for the panoramic view were easily a couple of hours wait so we returned on the Sunday at 9am when it opened and when there was a shorter queue and only a 30 mins wait, before returning to our hotel for a leisured breakfast.

The view from the top is spectacular and you can see the whole of Turin and the snow-capped Alps in the background. (first photo at top of blog post).

 

Visit the Turin Shroud in Turin Cathedral

Probably one of the most well known facts about Turin is that the shroud is housed in Turin Cathedral. The shroud is a length of linen cloth bearing the negative image of a man that some believe depicts Jesus and that the fabric is the burial shroud in which he was wrapped after crucifixion. Evidence points to it being a medieval creation and a forgery owing to radiocarbon dating. Nonetheless it is interesting to visit the Cathedral, which is just next door to the Royal Palace of Turin.

Wander the streets and marvel at the architecture and beautiful arcades

Turin is great to amble around on foot, although the classic orange tram cars also add a rather picturesque backdrop to the whole experience. There are some beautiful arcades, which I urge you to explore and wander through. I particularly loved the art deco LUX cinema in Galleria San Federico.

Just near by is the food speciality shop ‘Ferrero’ on Via Antonio Giuseppe Bertola 6/D, which is definitely worth popping into. It has a little restaurant attached where you can join locals for a bowl of carbonara and a glass of Barbaresco.

The Baroque architecture is beautifully elegant and I spent a lot of time looking up at the towering buildings as I wandered the streets.

If you are after a spot of clothes shopping then they have all the known brands, as well as lot of chic boutique Italian stores that are worth visiting. You want to head to Via Roma, as well as the two main department stores: ‘San Carlo 1973’ on Piazza San Carlo 201 and ‘Top Ten’ on Via Marcello Soleri. Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange – away from the main drag – has lots more boutiques worth checking out. It was here that we bumped into the only other British tourist we saw on our weekend – actor Ralph Fiennes – clearly having done a spot of shopping himself.

I didn’t manage to get to ‘Verdellila’, unfortunately, but I hear it is Turin’s answer to Anthropologie – in a hidden courtyard behind a glass gate. It’s on Corso Re Umberto 17. Next time….

 

On my list was a number of places which we ran out of time to visit, but on my next visit I will try and spend time in the following:

The Egyptian artefacts at Museo Egizio

A museum specialising in Egyptian archaeology and anthropology. It houses one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities, with more than 30,000 artefacts. We ran out of time, but on a return visit I will be making a bee line for this museum.

The Galleria d’Arte Moderna

This modern art gallery was on my to do list but again we ran out of time. We decided that we would have a leisured weekend instead of running around trying to fit in everything to 48 hours. It looks and sounds fascinating so if art appreciation is your thing then this place is worth checking out.

The original Eataly

Set in a vast converted factory in the southern area of Turin, next to the former FIAT Lingotto factory, you will find the Eataly mothership opened in 2007. It houses a staggering array of sustainable food and drink, along with beautiful affordable kitchenware and cook books.  You can take a food tour whilst you are there and end with lunch sampling the incredible produce on offer. The NY branch of Italy is really impressive and I can only imagine that the mothership in Torino is equally impressive.

 

Where to Eat in Turin

Aperitivo is serious business in Italy and our Hotel had a great bar with snacks where a number of the guests began their evening. You can also visit it even if you are not staying in the hotel. It’s an oasis of calm and grandeur.

Caffe Vini on Via Porta Palatina, 9/g. This rather enchanting ‘piola’ is a simple tavern that has been serving traditional food, local wines and a welcoming glass of vermouth to locals and passing travellers since 1850. The places oozes charm and nostalgia with old Campari and Cinzano posters adorning the walls, faded rusty mirrors and a room and courtyard full of locals. We managed to slip in to secure a table just in time before the place really begin to throng with people. It’s open at lunch times and early evening. We sampled the local vermouth – heavenly- with some bar snacks, although we could have easily had our antipasti here as the plates of food coming out of the kitchen really looked very tempting indeed.

Da Ciani Piola Caffe

A few minutes walk away from Caffe Vini is Piola Caffe on B, Largo IV Marzo, 9. YOU NEED TO BOOK  (+39 011 569 0425) this place as it gets rammed. It is located on the edge of very pretty little green space called Giardino Bottero. It is good, honest, home-cooked food. Nothing fancy, but at a price point that is attractive with everyone. It is a good place to try local antipasti and pastas. Our meal included many antipasti, three pastas, a tiramisu and some wine and water came to €43 for the three of us. Pretty unbelievable. They do have secondi options too but we found the antipasti and pasta more than enough.

 

Pizzeria IV Marzo

Just across the way from Piola Caffe is a great little pizza joint called Pizzeria IV Marzo. A great little menu with outside dining options and the perfect place to have lunch in the sun, soaking up the ambiance of this pretty neighbourhood. They have a good selection of beers and wines. It’s popular but does not take too long to get a table.

Di Michele or Porto di Savona

Both restaurants are on Piazza Vittorio which is a huge, elegant piazza running down to the River Po. I was recommended both restaurants and the concierge managed to get a table outside at Di Michele. I hear that Porto di Savona is a little more formal than Di Michele offering a number of local Piedmont dishes, where as Di Michele has a broad selection of Italian pastas and pizza. The food was tasty – and no different in quality than Piola Caffe, but three times the price – which to be fair was still reasonable at €125 for the three of us. I would be keen to try Porto di Savona next time to see how that compares as I hear good things about it.

Di Michele: Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 4 +39 011 888836

Porto di Savona: Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 2 +39 011 817 3500

In Balon, the flee market district I have a strong recommendation for:

Trattoria Valenza

I have had many recommendations to go here next time. With decor along the lines of ‘grandmas living room’ this gem offers traditional piemontese cuisine which has been described as outstanding. Honest, homely and rustic, it makes me want to book a return ticket to try this place alone.

Via Borgo Dora, 39,

+39 011 521 3914

Jazz Club Turino

Two minutes walk from our hotel – Victoria Hotel Turino – is the Jazz Club Turino. We walked passed it each evening and the place was full with jazz devotees listening to the bands on stage. The glass structure allowed us to peer in and it looked a really fun way to spend an evening. I have no idea what the food is like, but perhaps it is worth checking out or going to have some drinks and listen to the jazz.

Via S.Francesco Da Paola, ang, Via Giovanni Giolitti

+39 011 882939

reservations via the fork

 

 

Turin really is a fabulous city that I would not hesitate to return to or recommend. There is so much to see and do and if you have fine weather, like we had thankfully, it is a joy to walk around soaking up the atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Lindisfarne and Pilgrims Coffee Cake


On our recent visit to Northumberland we visited the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It is a tidal island that is accessed by a paved causeway, which is covered by the North Sea twice every 24 hours (so check tide times before you visit). It is one of the most important centres of early English Christianity when Irish monks settled there in AD635.

The Northumbrian King Oswald summoned an Irish monk named Aidan from Iona – the island monastery off the south west coast of now Scotland – to be bishop of his kingdom. He granted Aidan and his companions the island of Lindisfarne on which to found a monastery.

In the AD670’s a monk named Cuthbert joined the monastery at Lindisfarne and later became the greatest monk-bishop, and the most important saint in northern England in the Middle Ages.

Cuthbert also spent time on the even more remote island of Inner Farne just off the coast from Bamburgh. We visited the priory, which is now run by English National Heritage and definitely worth exploring, along with the fascinating exhibition which is included in the ticket. We combined our adventures on Lindisfarne with a stunning walk of the coast line of the whole island – around a 5 mile circular walk. We use Pathfinder walk books which I really recommend.

At the end of the walk, before we headed into the Priory, we chanced upon a rather inviting coffee house called ‘Pilgrims Coffee and Roastery’. I highly recommend you make a detour here to purchase a bag of their coffee beans (great gifts) as well as a cup of coffee and some excellent cakes and savoury eats. Their ‘Espresso Cake’ was so good that I thought I would share it with you here.

They have a cookbook, which you can buy with all their recipes in – you can purchase that here.

 

Pilgrim’s Coffee Cake

adapted from the Pilgrim’s Coffee and Roastery Cookbook

Serves 12

250ml espresso

250g salted butter

50g cocoa powder

400g caster sugar

150ml sour cream

2 eggs

1 tbsp vanilla extract

300g plain flour

200g chopped walnuts

2.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing

60g unsalted butter

120g sifted icing sugar

2 tbsp espresso

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (they state 160 degrees if using fan, but I found it needed to be hotter for my fan oven)
  2. Line a 20cmx30cm tray with greaseproof paper
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  4. Mix in the espresso, cocoa, sugar, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, flour, bicarbonate of soda and walnuts to a loose batter.
  5. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tray.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes until risen and dark brown – I found I needed to do it for a little more than 40 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool on a baking tray and remove the greaseproof paper when cooled slightly.

Icing


8. In another bowl whip together the butter and icing until light and fluffy.

9. Fold in the espresso until smooth.

10. Spread over the cooled coffee cake. Decorate with a few extra walnuts.

 

Note: It’s probably me, but I found the icing did not work when I used the amounts in their recipe – 250g unsalted butter, 250g icing sugar and 120ml espresso so I redid the icing to the amounts above and it worked. I tend to prefer less than more when it comes to icing anyway as I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. Let me know what works for you.

 

 

 


Celebrating 100 Years of La Scolca Wine at Novikov Mayfair

Photo by Tibor Silva

It’s not every day that you get invited to help celebrate 100 years of La Scolca winery, hosted by the very charming and charismatic owner and CEO, Chiara Soldati, at the Italian restaurant of Novikov in Mayfair. The vineyard is located in the Piedmont region of Italy and was purchased between 1917-1919 by Chiara’s great-great grandfather who planted Cortese vines in an area traditionally used to cultivate only red grapes. Through the hard work, drive and tenacity of the Soldati family La Scolca winery has created an extraordinary set of wines that have brought attention to the “Gavi” region and to the Cortese grape.

Photo by Tibor Silva

Attending the seven course lunch were a host of gourmet food and wine connoisseurs from industry, the press and bloggers, as well as some of the most respected general managers from well known Italian restaurants across London. The gathering was intimate and celebratory and we began the occasion with a glass of Soldati Brut Millesimato to mark the occasion. This sparkling wine is 100% Cortese, is fresh, full with a velvety embrace.

The menu as you can see below, was beautifully put together and each dish presented was a triumph. I particularly loved the crispy sweet paprika coating to the calamari – nice touch – and the spiky artichoke salad from the starters and both mains were exactly the type of dishes I would naturally choose from a menu – and I got to eat both. LUCKY.

Photo (above and below) by Tibor Silva

With our food we were treated to two different wines from the La Scolca winery – Gavi La Scolca (Gavi D.O.C.G. wine), which is a delicate, dry white that paired beautifully with the antipasti and seafood and fish dishes that we ate. Following this we had the Gavi dei Gavi Black label, which again is made with the Cortese grapes and was utterly delicious, and one that I will most definitely be seeking out again.

Drinking Chiara’s beautiful wines got me thinking. Both the white wines I had drunk would work rather well with some of the Indian recipes that I make. Something light, fresh and possibly citrusy would work well with these wines.

Back in my kitchen I came up with a lemony tomato chicken curry, that does not have much chilli heat but is delicately spiced. I think it would work brilliantly with Chiara’s wines or other Gavi whites.

 

Lemony Tomato Chicken Curry

serves 6-8

4 medium tomatoes, quartered

1 large potato, quartered

1 large white onion, quartered

3 green chillies, halved

2 tbsp oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

4 lemons, juice only

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp brown sugar/jaggery

1 tsp salt/to taste

2kg chicken on the bone (legs and thighs)

1 large handful of freshly chopped coriander

 

  1. Blend the tomatoes, potato, onion and green chillies in a blender until smooth.
  2. In a deep wide pan heat the oil and when it is hot add the cumin seeds so that the begin to sizzle – within 20 seconds – and then add the garlic and ginger paste. Move around the pan for a minute before adding the tomato and onion puree.
  3. Add the lemon juice and the remaining spices as well as the brown sugar/jaggery. Mix together.
  4. Add the chicken and coat in the masala mixture. Place a lid on the pan and keep on a medium heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring intermittently so that nothing burns on the bottom of the pan and the chicken cooks through evenly.
  5. You may find you need to add a little more water if the sauce is drying up.
  6. Taste test the salt level and check the chicken is cooked through – it sometimes takes a little longer on the bone.
  7. Before serving mix in the fresh coriander and serve with some simple plain rice and some dal (see my recipe library for a wide selection).

 

Me, Chiara and Susi – check out her blog www.foodwithsusi.com @food_with_susi
I was a guest of Chiara Soldati. Some of the photos above (mentioned) were taken by Tibor Silva

 

 


Snap Shot of India and a delicious Indian breakfast recipe – Pongal

Happy New Year to you all. I have just returned from three glorious weeks in colourful, warm-spirited India (hence my lack of blog posts). I have seen and experienced so much that it feels that I have been away for far longer. I feel uplifted and invigorated and have returned to cold chilly London with a positive outlook and excitement for the year ahead.

If you’ve never been to India then I urge you to go. It’s incredible and, like Africa, seeps into your soul and never leaves you. It’s frenetic, chaotic and providing you leave your Western ways and customs at home, you can acclimatise to the way of life there pretty quickly. It’s crowded, intoxicating and full on, but remember to breath and relax and you will begin to enjoy everything about this magical country. I was pretty active on Instagram so if you are keen to see some of the Indian street life, food and people, then please follow me over there as well. Here are few snaps to whet your appetite.

We spent 9 days in beautiful Kolkata, visiting family and generally relaxing and seeing more of the city. Followed by a two week tour of Rajasthan. I have lots of tips and suggestions on the food front, but I am presently writing an article that I hope to get into one of the magazines or newspapers – so watch this space. The photo of ‘papri chat’ below gives you an idea of how epic the street food is in Kolkata. It is commonly thought of as the street food capital of India.

The best way to get under the skin of any city is to pound the pavements on foot and see everything up close. It’s an overload of the senses and truly engaging. In Kolkata one day, we walked 10km along the Hooghly River – a distributary of the Ganges River – and saw everything from the Mullick Ghat Flower Market, people bathing in the river, a wedding couple, the cremation ghats (I particularly wanted to show my children this, as death is dealt with in very different way in India and it is nothing to be afraid of), the district of Kumortuli Pally – Kolkata’s Potter’s community, to the Marble Palace.

Rajasthan was the second part of our trip and whilst, on paper, the trip sounded rather exhausting, it was in fact not the case. We combined culture and sights with relaxing in beautiful surroundings and meeting the local people. Staying in the Aravalli Hills, in a stunning heritage hotel in a small rural village, was a highlight. It you are planning a trip to Rajasthan, make sure you book a night or two at Rawla Narlai – where you will get to meet this fine gentleman, who I think without doubt has the best attire of any hotel staff I have ever met.

Without overloading you on my first blog post back, let me introduce the recipe that I wanted to show you today. To give you a brief back story, I was poorly for a few days with Delhi belly (not from street food but from a ‘smart’ hotel dinner). After eating next to nothing for a few days I wanted to eat comforting food that would ease me back. At our hotel in Delhi ‘pongal’ was on the breakfast menu. It’s actually a south Indian breakfast originating, I believe from Tamil Nadu. It is often referred to as ven/ghee/kara or milagu pongal but the one in the hotel simple said pongal, so I will go with that. It is made with rice and a small yellow lentil called moong dal – which you can order online from Asian Dukan in the UK. It didn’t look dreadfully appetising, but my goodness it tasted wonderful. A cross between a savoury porridge and dal – not dissimilar to Chinese congee, but in my mind – better.

I have a couple of other tasty Indian breakfast recipes on this blog – Upma  and Hoppers or Appam so thought this might be a good one to add to the list. You can make it the night before then leave it in the fridge until morning. Simply add a little boiling water to bring it back to life, and hey presto you have a deliciously subtle and tasty Indian breakfast. It’s also perfectly tasty to eat for lunch too so you can make a batch and eat it as you want over a couple of days.

 

Pongal

serves 4-6

120g basmati rice

120g yellow moong dal

900ml cold water

1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)

10 approx cashew nuts

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp roughly broken up black peppercorns

1 tsp grated/chopped fresh ginger

1 stem of fresh curry leaves (Sainsburys now sell them)

1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped, optional

pinch of asafoetida/hing

pinch of turmeric powder, optional

1tsp salt, to taste

handful of freshly chopped coriander, leaves and stems

  1. This first part is optional, but it gives the dish a slightly more smokey flavour. Dry roast the dal until it begins to bronze slightly. It will take a couple of minutes, but use a wooden spoon to move it around the pan so that it does not burn. You can omit this part and simply go to 2. should you wish.
  2. Add the rice and place some water in the pan. Move the spoon around the pan then discard the water by gently pouring it out – you don’t need to use a sieve. Repeat twice and then add 900ml cold water.
  3. Leave to simmer for around 20-25 minutes, by which time the rice and dal will be soft and the water soaked up. If it becomes too dry simply add in a little more water.
  4. Using a potato masher, mash the rice and dal so that it gets broken up and more ‘mash’ like in appearance. Place to one side whilst you do the next steps.
  5. Using a frying pan, add the ghee. Once it has melted add the cashew nuts and gently move around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the cumin and mustard seeds, black pepper. They will begin to pop, so make sure that your heat is on low.
  6. Now add the fresh ginger, turmeric (optional), asafoetida, curry leaves and green chilli (optional). Move around the pan for 20 seconds or so and then add the contents of the pan into the rice and dal mixture.
  7. Move around the pan and add salt to taste. Add more water if necessary. Check to taste and heat up again if necessary. Add some freshly chopped coriander and serve.

With these cold, dark mornings we are having in the UK, what better way to start the day than with some delicate spices in a comforting bowl of Indian pongal.

More exciting Indian recipes and photos next week. Have a good weekend in the meantime.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shakshuka and Visiting the Dead Sea area of Israel

Our final leg of our Israel trip was to visit the Dead Sea. You can do a day trip from Jerusalem, but we felt it deserved more than a passing glance, besides there was quite a lot to see in the area.

We stayed on the Ein Gedi Kibbutz, which is located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, at the edge of the Judean desert. It was founded in 1953 with its primary focus on agriculture and tourism. The kibbutz is all lush and green owing to a natural water source that runs under it, but the neighbouring area is barren and desolate. There is a hotel within the kibbutz – but we stayed in an apartment at the top of Zahava’s house, who has lived on the kibbutz, with her husband, for over 30 years.

We booked through Airbnb, so it’s easy to find if you fancy going. She and her husband were wonderful hosts, who made us feel right at home. As it was an B&B, Zahava would arrive each morning with a huge tray of delicious food that set us up for the day. We ate on the veranda before the weather got too hot, overlooking the dead sea and Masada in the distance.

As we were based on the Kibbutz we also had all the facilities available to us – pools, tennis courts, running track, supermarket, as well as a restaurant in the hotel. (Its important to note that the Ein Gedi spa by the edge of the Dead Sea – is not located in the Ein Gedi Kibbutz or hotel, but nearby) One evening we also ate in the kibbutz part of the complex, which you would not be able to do if you were simply staying in the hotel. The calm rhythm of the kibbutz dictated out days. In the morning we would head out and explore and then come back and relax in the afternoon before a late afternoon hike in a wadi. The kibbutz is within the En Gedi Nature Reserve, where there are some truly phenomenal hikes.

It’s super hot here as it is the lowest part of the earth, so as well as carrying a lot of water, I also carry an umbrella and wear a swimming costume so that I can soak in every waterfall and pool we pass. Walking in 40 degrees, requires soaking in cold water as often as possible.

The wildlife is also pretty special here. There are a some venomous snakes – I only saw one at night on the perimeter of the Kibbutz, so it’s advisable to wear covered shoes when you are on the hikes.

We also saw lots of Nubian ibex – desert dwelling goats – clambering around precariously upon the slopes of the wadi. You need to be aware of sudden rock fall if they are climbing above you.

Historically the area is fascinating with huge swaths of tourists visiting spectacular Masada. Herod the Great built a large fortress on the plateau as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. He erected two palaces there between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Jewish Roman historian – Josephus, the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire, at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War, ended in the mass suicide of 960 people (the Sicarii rebels and their families) hiding there.

The fortress is huge and had impressive ways of redirecting and saving fresh water at the fort, along with swimming pools, cold pools and spas. The mosaics found by archeologist are beautifully intact.

To reach this city you can either take the snake path before sunrise or else use the cable car. It’s one of Israel’s most popular sights but as we were in one of the first cable cars of the morning we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The other great magnet of the area is the Dead Sea itself due to its medicinal qualities. Sadly the sea has dramatically shrunk in recent years causing great concern. You can read more about this here.

When you go to the Ein Gedi spa you now have to get on a little train pulled by a tractor from the spa to the waters edge. In the 1980’s the water was right up by the spa itself.  Despite the notion that it is impossible to drown in the dead sea, this is a myth and there have been cases of people drowning. You need to keep on your back, not your front, and don’t attempt to swim.

Due to the high salinity, the water feels very heavy, kind of like bathing in salty olive oil,  so if you are on your front you can find it hard to turn on your back. It feels oily and you want to make sure you don’t get any water in your eyes or mouths. Thankfully the showers are in on the edge of the sea so that you can immediately wash the salty water off you as you get out. The medical qualities of the dead sea mud are also well known so make sure you slather yourself in mud (this is back at the spa itself) and then wait for it to dry before showering if off. Your skin will be glowing and you will be feeling pretty radiant.

The other must-see in the area is over in the West Bank – The Dead Sea Scrolls or the Qumran Cave Scrolls. It’s about 30 minutes from Ein Gedi Reserve and a good place to stop on your way back to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. There is an interesting museum there and you can hike all over the area, although those we saw hiking here had ropes and proper equipment so perhaps only for serious climbers.  The scrolls, which are ancient religious writings, were found by a shepherd in the 1940’s in 11 caves near the site of Qumram. You can see some of the caves in the photograph above.

 

I am going to leave you with a classic Israeli dish that is found throughout the Levant. Shakshuka is a delicious breakfast dish – although of course you can eat it at any time of day. It is basically poached eggs in a spiced tomato sauce with crumbled feta and parsley or coriander sprinkled on top. Everyone has their version but this is mine. It’s a big hit in my house and is super straight forward and easy to execute. Perfect for a filling breakfast before school/work as it takes 15 minutes to make from start to finish.

Shakshuka

serves 4-5

2 tbsp oil

1 white onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, finely diced

1 sweet red pepper (these are the long ones, but bell peppers are also good), sliced lengthways and then finely sliced crossways

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp smoked paprika powder

1 tsp salt

1x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped in the pan

3 large fresh tomatoes, finely diced

50ml water

4 eggs (or 5/6 depending on how many you are feeding)

To serve

1 handful of crumbles feta

1 handful of fresh coriander

 

  1. Heat a deep frying pan and add the oil.
  2. When hot, add the onions followed by the garlic and gently heat. After a couple of minutes, add the pepper, salt and spices. Move around the pan to soften for a further couple of minutes.
  3. Add both the tinned and fresh tomatoes and stir in well.
  4. Add the water and simmer to allow all the ingredients to soften and infuse. Leave for 8 minutes so that it thickens.
  5. Make a hole in the mixture and break an egg into this hole. Repeat, leaving a good gap between each egg.
  6. Place a lid on the pan and leave to simmer on a moderate-low heat for 3-5 minutes, by which time the eggs should be cooked but still soft. Leave for longer and increase the heat if they have not cooked sufficiently.
  7. Just before serving, scatter the feta cheese and fresh coriander. Spoon onto plates with some flatbread or sourdough to mop.

 

 

 

 

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Iraqi Jewish Kubbeh and Exploring the Galilee and Golan Heights

Nimrods Fortress

OK my absolutely TOP TIP when you visit Israel – maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but I reckon you are curious to visit. Am I right? Buy a National Parks Pass. I had no idea they had so many, but there loads with various ruins, waterfalls, forests and deserts. Providing you go to more than three (which you will) it makes sense to buy the pass. When you go off on a hike the important thing is to take loads of water, wear covered shoes, and if you want shade, carry a small umbrella.

Ramparts of Nimrod’s Fortress in the foreground and Banias Nature Reserve in the distance

The Golan Heights area, in the north of the country,  was pretty empty of tourists, but the scenery was stunning. This may have been because it is pretty close to Syria, so most tourists keep away, but we found there was lots to see, it felt safe and we never went closer than 10 miles to the boarder. We even went through an area, which becomes a ski resort in the winter months, with Mount Hermon looming large nearby. Nimrod’s Fortress is a must-see. It takes the mantle of the biggest castle from the time of the Crusaders in all of Israel, a mountain-top stronghold spanning back to the 13th century. You can clamber all over it with virtually no one else there. Below the fortress are the Banias forests with rivers and waterfalls.

Golan Heights is also perfect terrain for vineyards so if you are up for a bit of wine tasting you might want to consider visiting any of the following: Adir winery, Dalton winery, Pelter winery, Chateau Golan, Galil Mountain winery. 

We ended up visiting Jezreel which had some really fine wines with a grape that I don’t often come across – carignan. We learned some super interesting facts about the wines in Israel; such as the fact that many of the wines are kosher – meaning that only religious Jews can be involved in its production. It has to be sealed twice before it can be touched by moderate/non-religious Jew. Had we accidentally touched any of the barrels below, the wine would have had to be discarded immediately. They are trying to appeal to not just a Jewish audience and are beginning to export to the UK. If you are in the wine business then I would highly recommend a trip to Israel to try out the wines. One of the red’s I tried at Jezreel was the best red I have had in ages.

We based ourselves in a house (via Airbnb) in the hills behind Tiberias overlooking the Sea of Galilee – just south of Golan Heights. Tiberias itself was rather built up and did not have many redeeming features if I’m honest, although we did enjoyed a couple of delicious meals at Avi’s restaurant in town. We also drove to the other side of the lake one evening and ate in the Kibbutz En Gev, which had some tasty food.

Dinner at Kibbutz En Gev

Our reason for basing ourselves in this area for a few days was that it was well located to explore the northern region of Israel. The place also feels very familiar as a lot of the sights we visited are spoken about in the bible stories we were told as children – feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fishes (Tabgha), the sermon on the mount (Church of the Beatitudes). The fresh water Sea of Galilee itself is little changed over the centuries. It still has big waves – this surprised us – beautiful sunsets and fish to catch. We bathed in its cool, refreshing waters every day to cool down after a day of touring.

Sea of Galilee from the Church of the Beatitudes

On one day we visited a fascinating archaeological site within Megiddo National Park called ‘Tel Megiddo’ or ‘Armageddon’, as it is known in Greek. During the Iron Age it was a royal city and was of particular importance due to its strategic location overlooking the Jezreel Valley. Some Christians believe this will be the site of the final battle between Jesus Christ and the kings of the Earth who will go to war, as outlined in the Book of Revelation. Interesting stuff, whether you believer or not.

Megiddo

After wandering around the heat, the best thing to do is to submerge yourself in cool waters. Thankfully there is a national park called Gan Hashlosha, also known as Sachne that  is often described as one of the most beautiful places in Israel –  a real-life garden of Eden. It’s basically a series of natural spring pools (at a constant 28 degree Celsius year round). After you’ve swam the length of one you get out and climb into the next. Little fish also swim in these pools and have a tendency to nibble your toes if you take too long to get out – you’ve been warned! There were many families enjoying a day out, cooking their own BBQ lunches and swimming in the pools. There is also an archeological museum here, but we spent our times relaxing in the pools instead.

Gan Hashlosha

I love a good view, especially an elevated one, so before sunset we headed to Belvoir National Park and drove to the highest peak so we could see the whole of the Jordan Valley, with Jordan in the background.

View over the Jordan Valley towards Jordan

Before and after sunset. Totally stunning.

Continuing with the theme that I will incorporate every travel post with a recipe I ate on my travels, today I wanted to show you how to make kubbeh (kubba/kibba), which I mentioned in my post on Jerusalem when I visited Azura restaurant. It’s an Iraqi Jewish recipe that is typically eaten in the winter months, so perfect to eat in the months ahead here in the UK. As I made so many kubbeh – around 24 of so, it made sense to show you two different varieties – one yellowy green and the other red. The kubbeh taste the same, but the soup they are in is very different. The red is sweeter from the beetroot and the yellowy/green is more zingy from the lemon.  What you can do is freeze the patties, pre-cooking, and then use them at a later date if you don’t want to cook them all in one go.

Kubbeh is made with semolina (although I have seen some recipes with 50% plain flour and 50% semolina). They are then filled with minced beef with a hint of cumin, paprika and onion. You can add touch of cinnamon should you wish or perhaps pine nuts; you can be as inventive as you want.

Jewish Iraqi Kubbeh

Makes around 24

2 tbsp olive oil

500g minced beef

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp smoked paprika

salt and pepper, to taste

*******

640g semolina

400ml warm water, add gradually

1 tsp salt

*******

 

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Gently move around the pan to soften for 3 minutes before adding the mince, followed by the spices and salt and pepper. Leave to bronze for 10 minutes, moving the mince around the pan from time to time. Place to one side to cool whilst you prepare the semolina.
  2. In a bowl add the semolina and salt and then gradually add the water. Use your hands to help bind the semolina together so that it comes together like one large play-doh ball. Leave to chill in the fridge for 10 minutes and then remove from the fridge and break off a golf ball size portion of the dough.
  3. Flatten the dough out in your hand and then place a teaspoon amount of spiced beef into the centre. Bring the sides up towards one another and cover so that the semolina dough completely covers the beef. Pat into a round shape and place on a plate whilst you complete the rest.

 

EITHER

Beetroot Kubbeh

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

pinch of cinnamon

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cumin powder

salt and pepper

2 tbsp tomato puree

juice of 1 lemon

1.5 litre water

4 beetroot, peeled and chopped into match sticks

 

  1. In a deep pan heat the olive oil and add the white onion and all the spices and salt and pepper. Move around the pan to soften for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato puree.
  2. Add the water and lemon juice and mix into the ingredients.
  3. Place the beetroot in the pan and gently submerge half the kubbeh. Keep on a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring a few times so that the kubbeh don’t stick to one another.

Serve with fresh parsley.

OR

Greens and Chickpea Kubbeh

1 tbsp oil

1 leek, finely chopped

1 celery, finely chopped

1/8 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 preserved lemon, finely chopped

1 tin (400g) of chickpeas

1 chicken stock cube

1 litre of water

3 tbsp cubed marrow, optional (I had some that needed eating so popped it in)

3 rainbow chard leaves and stalks, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

 

  1. In a separate saucepan, heat the oil and then add the leak and celery and let them soften for a few minutes before adding the spices.
  2. Add the preserved lemon, chicken stock, chickpeas and water.
  3. Now add the marrow (if using), rainbow shard and gently add the kubbeh patties and gently simmer for 20-30 minutes

To serve add some fresh lemon – quartered and some fresh parsley and mint.

 

Which would you choose?

 

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Seven Things to Do When Exploring Jerusalem

Jerusalem is an absolutely fascinating city on many levels. I loved it. Whether you are religious or not, you can’t help but be hypnotised under it’s spell. My advice is to give the city time. Don’t do a whistle stop tour ticking off the usual suspects and leaving within 24 hours. We stayed for three days and to be honest I would have loved a couple more to explore further and just watch the world go by. People watching in this city is something else.

  1. Hire a Guide

Whilst we did a lot of exploring on our own, we did book an excellent ‘Three Religions Holy City Walking Tour’ of the old city via Viator. We lucked out massively on a hugely knowledgable guide called Joshua Levinson. He was absolutely brilliant. Our tour was a group tour and he kept our attention for 7 hours, both my daughters (12 and 9 years old) were absolutely entranced by all his stories and did not once say they were bored.

If you want to book him directly you can contact him via his facebook. You’ll need a comfortable pair of shoes – be warned that the narrow streets in the old city can be slippery if the shopkeepers have washed their steps outside their shops, and a big bottle of water. I also found an umbrella a great way to keep out of the sun.

The old city is divided up into four uneven quarters – Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim and within these quarters there are subdivisions; for example in the Christian quarter you will also find Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in an area with their own Ethiopian Monastery Church and dwellings.

 

2. Tea at the Austrian Hospice

Take some time out from the hustle and bustle whilst exploring the old city and go to the Austrian Hospice for tea, sachertorte and apple strudel.  Seriously. Sure it’s surreal eating these Austrian fancies in Israel, but I think it’s these things that adds to its charm. It’s based directly on the Via Dolorosa (the road that Jesus walked on carrying the cross to his crucification).  Built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse palaces, once you’ve found the buzzer to open its large looming doors you’ll be greeted by a peaceful oasis. You can also stay here as well – it’s perfectly located in the middle of all the action, but peaceful at the same time. As a visitor you can also go on to the roof, which affords beautiful views across the old city.

3. Try some Middle Eastern Jewish Food at Azura

Modern Jerusalem is culturally rich with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds living together. The food at family-run Azura, located in the middle of the Machine Yehuda Market, or shuk, is an unforgettable experience. It has Iraqi, Kurdish, Turkish and Tunisian influences and the result is sublime. On our first visit (yes we returned it was so good) we felt the best way to experience the menu was to try the tasting menu – obviously! The portions are still large, not your usual tasting menu size, so we ended up taking a doggie bag of goodies home to have for supper.

Highlights from the menu were Azura – Turkish eggplant filled with group beef and pine nuts in a special sauce with cinnamon, okra with tomatoes, Mejadara – a rice and lentil combo, beet kubbeh, a glorious soup made with beet, celery and swiss chard, the meatballs in a tomato sauce, beef sofrito and of course the hummus to kick off the proceedings.

The staff were great, the owner – Moshe – incredibly affable and warm and the food delicious. If you aim for a late lunch getting a table won’t be tricky. It’s closed for supper, but lunch goes on until 4pm. Also don’t go on a Saturday as you’ll find it closed.

4. Linger in Machane Yehuda Market

Since you’ll be going there anyway to visit Azura, make sure you leave time to properly explore the Machane Yehuda Market. It’s the largest in Jerusalem with over 250 vendors selling a wide range of food and clothes. There are also a number of bars within the market, which even at 5pm were pretty buzzing. The sights, sounds and smells are hypnotic and its a great place to feel the vibe of a Middle Eastern style market. If you are staying in an Airbnb and want to cook at home then it’s also a great place to pick up some delicacies.

 

There are a number of food tours available, but it just so happened that the lovely lady, Aliza Press, who welcomed us at our Airbnb (who was a friend of the owners who were away), was a chef and she offered food tours as well as being a private chef. If you drop her an email to AlizaPress@gmail.com she can arrange a time to show her beloved city from a food perspective. Sadly due to timing I could not take her up on her offer, but when I return, I will be certainly be getting in touch. Mention my name and my blog if you get in touch with her.

5. Go eat Pizza and Panzanella at P2

Yes….. seriously….. you read correctly. P2 on Keren HaYesod Street is a small (max 20 covers), unassuming little restaurant where most of seating is up at the bar watching the chefs make the pasta and pizza from scratch – literally. The menu is short, as all good menus should be, but the quality of the food was spot on. We were in awe at the one waiter who served out the tiramisu, made the lettuce salads, served and cleared plates like a whirling dervish, took orders and settled bills for the whole restaurant; it certainly created a buzz. The panzanella salad was the best I’ve eaten – so make sure to order one to share before your pizza. Photo of said salad below.

Below is my take on the wonderful salad that we ate at P2 and the recipe to follow. The combination of the crunchy old toasted baguette, onion rings, cucumber, the creamy mozzarella, salty black olives, fleshy tomatoes, work so well with the sherry vinegar dressing.

 

 

Panzanella Salad

serves 4

4 medium tomatoes, quartered

1 cucumber, cut at diagonal angles

1 small/medium white or red onion, finely sliced

3 tbsp black stoneless olives

2 mozzarella, broken up into bite size chunks

12 small pieces of day or two old baguette, cut into bite sized pieces (I used white petite ficelle hand cut bread that I found at Waitrose)

1 tbsp olive oil

handful or two of fresh basil leaves

*********

vinaigrette 

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/4 tsp dijon mustard (optional)

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

 

  1. This recipe is mostly a case of compiling ingredients. Make sure you cut the cucumber into diagonal bite sized chunks. The different shapes of the ingredients really makes this dish. Place all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Using a pan, dip both ends of the bread in the olive oil and heat in the pan so that it begins to bronze and slightly char, turn over to bronze the other side and then remove. Place into the bowl with all the other ingredients.
  3. Prepare the vinaigrette in a separate small bowl.
  4. When ready to serve gently toss the vinaigrette over the salad and place in a large bowl for people to serve themselves.

Delicious hey!

6. Deciding Where to Stay

There are lots of options on where to stay in Jerusalem. For us it made sense to book an Airbnb and I found a beautiful apartment in Talbiyeh, a good 15 minutes walk to the Jaffa Gate. The area is safe, quiet, with tree lined roads with beautiful grand houses. Below is a photo of the outside of our apartment.

If a hotel is what you are after and perhaps one with a pool, then The American Colony might be a stylish option. The Austrian Hospice, that I spoke about earlier in this post, looked lovely and might be a good option if you are travelling as a couple or solo traveller. This article by Vogue also has a few other good options.
7. Sunset at the Mount of Olives
Walk up to the Mount of Olives just before dusk to watch the setting sun over the old city. Yes it’s a step – ish climb, but you will be rewarded with a truly beautiful sight. It’s a 15/20 minute walk from Lions Gate in the old city. The walk takes you pass the Garden of Gethsemane as well as the Russian Orthodox church and convent (photo above). It’s a great way to work up an appetite before supper.
There are taxi’s at the top, if you don’t want to walk down, but the evening was so balmy when we were there that we continued down on foot to walk through the old city once the crowds had made their way home.
Jerusalem really is an extraordinary city that I would urge you to visit if you get the opportunity, but don’t get too carried away. I will leave you with these words below written by Lonely Planet about  ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’.
Jerusalem syndrome
Each year tens of thousands of tourists descend on Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of the prophets – and a handful come away thinking they are the prophets. Jerusalem Syndrome is a medically recognised ailment that occurs when visitors become overwhelmed by the metaphysical significance of the Holy City and reach the conclusion that they are biblical characters or the Apocalypse is drawing near. Doctors estimate the syndrome affects between 50 and 200 people per year, and although many have a recorded history of mental health issues, about a quarter of recorded cases have no previous psychiatric record.
Source: Lonely Planet