Friday, September 9, 2011

Kusadasi, Turkey: A Whole New World

As we pulled into our first port in Turkey, scenes from Aladdin started streaming through my mind. I was on a Disney fantasy kick during this trip.

Kyle and I walked around the market place, hoping to find a couple bargains and a good place for breakfast. I stopped into a shop with floor to ceiling shelves full of Turkish goodies.

When you only have a couple hours in a port, you get a little taste of the flavor of the country/city. I mean this literally. One of the flavors in Turkey we had to get a sample of was the Turkish coffee. We found out that the coffee itself is not Turkish--it's probably the same beans that we drink in the U.S. It is the style of coffee that makes it unique.

The coffee is a dense concoction with thick sludgy coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup. You don't drink this part of the coffee, but it definitely helps to give the drink an extra punch of flavor and caffeine. A nice pick-me-up when you dock at 7AM in a port!

I had the Turkish apple tea which is a tea with a subtle apple flavor. You can add a sugar cube to add some sweetness.

As Kyle and I strolled around the city, we quickly discovered that this was a tourist hot spot by the fact that every breakfast spot advertised an "Irish breakfast." This was a bad sign. All we wanted was a true Turkish breakfast. We were starting to wear down and decided to stop anywhere that at least owned a meat spit, which would indicate they eventually sold some type of Turkish food at some point in the day.

I was slowing down to look at a restaurant when an older gentleman started chatting with me, suggesting I stop for breakfast. He was perched on a little stool outside a jewelry shop and spoke perfect English. We took a seat and asked him what Turkish people usually eat for breakfast. He told us that they don't typically eat breakfast like Americans. Breakfast is usually a light meal of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, some feta and a little bread. The main course is the Turkish coffee. He waved the waiter down and spoke in Turkish, telling him that we wanted a Turkish breakfast. For 10 euros, we drank coffee and tea, munched on sweet, fresh tomatoes, crispy cucumbers, some delicious feta, and crusty bread. Best of all, we learned a lot about Turkey from our new friend, who told us to call him "Kevin" because it was easier to pronounce that his true name.

Kyle and I made up a story for Kevin, that included a tale about Kevin being a fugitive hiding out in Turkey. Kevin told us he speaks 7 languages and appeared to know everybody. He sells jewelry for his friend and tried to convince me to buy a $900 ring (I had to go into the shop after all the time and effort he spent talking to us during breakfast! I know Jasmine would do the same). When we asked him to take a photo with us and the restaurant owner, we took several photos and Kevin did not look at the camera in any of the shots! He was my Turkish mystery man.
Sometimes food can create stories, but in this case, the food tasted better because of the stories, thanks to Kevin and this Aladdin-like land.
Happy Eating,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Athens Part 2: Exploring the Plaka and in search of a Greek gyro

After finishing up our lunchtime feast, we decided to walk it off by exploring the Plaka. One nice thing about traveling with our parents is we didn't have to lug gifts back to them. Instead we did some shopping for ourseleves. When one thinks of Greek cuisine, gyros, olive oil, and ouzo are usually the first things to come to mind. Lucky for us olive oil shops were on every corner.

We never knew how much of a difference a quality olive oil's taste could have in comparison to a cheap American olive oil. We probably never knew because we were so used to the flavorless American variety. Also what's nice is that in Greece the olive oil is relatively cheap. The same bottle that would run $20+ in the US was half the cost in Athens.

Of course they had tons and tons of Ouzo. We brought back a few bottles as gifts for friends. A light, affordable, compact gift.

Steve ran into a pistachio vendor and needed to buy a bag for all of us to enjoy. They were amazing! Oven roasted and salted. Much more savory than their weaker California cousin. They had a smoked flavor to them.

Ice Grill was recommended to us by our tour guide. We asked for an authentic sit down eating experience along with a place we could find a good simple gyro. 30 minutes earlier we had finished our sit down feast, but I was NOT leaving Athens without a gyro!

Emi's mom thought this picture was funny because I was so excited to get started on lunch #2.

mmm, the first bite

Even though I was somewhat full, I found a second stomach in order to enjoy this tasty gyro. I noticed everything in Greece is either stuffed with fries or comes with them. They love their fries. I could have gone without them, but in general great gyro and another checkmark for my food eating To Do list.

In the hot, humid, July, middle of the day heat these sweetened ice coffees were a welcome reprieve from our dry, hot mouths.

Kanafeh/Katayifeh or whatever you want to call it as some of you may remember from my memorable meal at Ala Turka in Singapore is one of my favorite desserts of all time. This one proved to be super sweet and a little soggy. Not as amazing as the one in Singapore, but something I had to eat in the Mediterranean.

This baklava was in a cylindrical shape. Different. I usually enjoy the layers of philo. In this shape it was a giant, sweet mass. After enjoying a salty, savory gyro the sweets were a nice change of pace.

Some of you may not know, but Emi's dad has spent a good amount of time in Greece, so he wanted to show us how to deal with the locals.

Little did we know, but we were still in for some amazing, life changing meals during our travels through Greece.

- Kyle

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Authentic Greek Food - A memorable meal in Athens

After spending the morning taking a bus and walking a tour through Athens which included a visit to the Parthenon we were ready to eat. I had been waiting all morning to get to the Plaka so we could find some authentic Greek food.
The idea behind our cruise started with my passion for Greek food. Probably three years ago or so, I decided I wanted to go to Greece. After doing some research I knew I wanted to visit all of the amazing islands Greece had to offer. Diving deeper into my research, I determined Turkey and Croatia would be pretty amazing to visit too and from there we were hooked on a Mediterranean cruise. It was surreal to finally be a world away in Athens and ready to enjoy real Greek food!
Nothing goes better on a hot, humid day with Greek food than a nice ice cold Greek beer; Mythos in this instance.
And of course Ouzo! Not necessarily a favorite of mine, but something Emi's Dad has always enjoyed and introduced over the years to Emi and myself. Think harsh, Jagermeister. Jager is probably sweeter, where ouzo has a tongue numbing aftertaste and that strong licorice flavor. Not a favorite of mine, but when in Greece you have to drink ouzo.

The best way to enjoy ouzo is with a few ice cubes and a little water to dilute it. The ice and water turns the ouzo a milky color.
We started the meal with a loaf of bread, olives, and a cod roe butter. The butter was a little fishy as expected, but the olives and house olive oil made up for this first taste of the meal. A common theme throughout our trip was how amazing the olive oil was everywhere we went.
Smoked babaganoush or eggplant dip, which we enjoyed with our bread. This smoked, olive oil infused, tender eggplant concoction was amazing.
The best dolmathes I've ever enjoyed. These warm grape leaves were stuffed with rice and ground meat and covered in a thick lemon sauce. Very tender and also a little tangy and salty.
A true "Greek" salad, with sweet juicy tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and red onion. Similar to Kotor the fresh Greek feta was soft and not too salty, but still very flavorful.
Our chicken souvlaki with fries. Everything came with fries in Athens. The chicken was a little crispy and even though I'm not a huge fan of chicken breast was still very good. I was disappointed they didn't have gyros on the menu, but this was a classy joint, so I had to wait till later to check that off my list.
Our waiter prepping our giant grilled squid.
He squeezed fresh lemon juice over the squid, which made a great sauce when combined and mixed with the natural juices from the grilled squird. Tender and delicious. Not as good as the grilled octopus we enjoyed in Kotor, but still very tasty.
Happy couple after a great meal. My favorite memory of Athens was this meal. I couldn't get over the fact that we were finally in Greece eating authentic Greek food! Amazing and made me realize how fortunate we are to be able to fulfill our crazy wishes and dreams.
- Kyle

Friday, September 2, 2011

Beautiful and Boozy Kotor, Montenegro

After departing from Venice, Kotor in Montenegro was the first stop of the cruise. To be honest, Emi and I had low expectations. Probably because we didn't know what to expect. We had originally signed up for a 4x4 excursion through the hills and valleys of Croatia and Montenegro, but not enough people joined in so the excursion and our plans for Kotor were canceled. Instead of signing up for something else, we decided we would wander through the city to see what piqued our interest and especially our appetites.

Kotor is a beautiful city. Everything I imagined a Mediterranean port to be. Colorful and warm, surrounded by the mountains and blue sea. We knew this place was special, but didn't know at the time this would be one of our favorite ports of the entire cruise.

What made this port special for us was the amazing experience we enjoyed at a small family owned restaurant called Restoran Mediteran outside the walls of the city.

We were hungry and tired after walking around in the hot, humid heat so the shaded outdoor dining area covered by grapevines provided a much needed hiding spot from the hot Mediterranean sun.

Emi read before we left the ship that the specialty wine of Montenegro is Vranac. Vranac is a bold red that comes in 1 Liter bottles, no wimpy 750 mL bottles, but a whole Liter. Also it comes sealed like a beer bottle with a bottle cap. This was a great wine and with the heat and little to no food in our stomachs the beginning of a fun day.

One of the patrons of the restaurant came over and told us our waiter didn't speak much English, so he could help us order. He told us his brother ran the restaurant, but he wasn't paid to work there. We were definitely a little skeptical, but he ended up being our guide for the meal and really added to the experience.

We started with their crumbly olive oil cheese, with their variation of Prosciutto, tomatoes, and olives. This delicious meze provided us with a great sampling of their local cuisine. Also salty cheese, meats, and olives always pair nicely with a glass/Liter of wine.

Our first "Greek" salad of the trip. The feta cheese was amazing. We had never tried anything like it before. Not as salty and dense as the American feta we are used to here in the States. This cheese was softer and less salty. I felt I could eat a whole block of it. The tomatoes, cucumber, and even the red onions were sweet too. Emi usually avoids red onions, but even she enjoyed them. A perfect salad.

This amazing bowl of deliciousness is olive oil with parsley and slivered garlic. It was amazing, sooo garlicky, yet without that overpowering raw spicy taste fresh garlic can leave behind. We dipped our loaf of bread in this amazing olive oil and also used it to garnish our main courses.

Emi was convinced to order the local fresh Dorado and I went with the grilled octopus. Both were brought out fresh and grilled up right in front of us. Fish is semi expensive in the Mediterranean because of over fishing in the region, but octopus and squid are more affordable and just as delicious.

My octopus was served with grilled vegetables. The best recommendation of the meal was my new friend's recco to drizzle the garlic olive oil over the octopus. I can still taste this tender, slightly charred, BBQ octopus. It wasn't chewy at all and had such an amazing flavor. Maybe it was the Liter of wine, but this was one of my favorite meals of the entire trip.

Our friend deboning Emi's Dorado

Emi's Dorado was served with soft grilled potatoes. This wasn't quite as tasty as my octopus, but a good opportunity to try the local catch. We had a great time because of the amazing food, great affordable wine, and conversations with our new friend.

Emi as some of you may know has a soft spot for animals, especially kittens. Everywhere we travel I feel as if she's buying canned fish or storing away her leftovers to feed cats. I call her the cat lady. This was a sickly kitten she adopted and named Monte, short for Montenegro. We saw him earlier in the day and Emi decided she would pack up her leftover fish for him.

"That might not be his momma"

After lunch we decided to walk off the feast and took a hike up the mountain. It was a steep and hot climb, but well worth the walk for the beautiful view. When we were done we had some time to kill and I noticed how most of the bars in the city had really cheap booze, so decided that's how we would utilize our remaining time in Kotor. I miss being on vacation!

We ordered their local beer Nicksicka which came in a dark and light variety. After a few of those, which were nice, cool and refreshing we decided we should try their other well-known local specialty, Loza.

Each drink was around $2. The cold, clear Loza was super strong, 90 proof, but went down surprisingly smooth. It didn't have a strong aftertaste, so it sort of reminded me of vodka. After sipping a few of those we were ready to stumble back to the ship.

I guess Emi didn't think the Loza was as smooth as I thought it was.

Later that night we ended up having a few more drinks and paid for it the next day, but at least it was a day out at sea so we didn't miss muich. Kotor is a port we'll always remember for its beauty, amazing food, and cheap drinks. The city seemed pretty hard to get to unless by boat since it was tucked away, so this may have been our one and only opportunity to visit this amazing port. Maybe we need to start planning a return cruise.

- Kyle