Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Ahh Paris! The city of love, shopping and most importantly: the capital of French Cuisine!
Notre Dame Cathedral

 We started off our first day in Paris with a healthy petit déjeuner:
At McDonalds!
Les petite pain trio and an espresso shot for €2
After travelling to so many different countries, I was really impressed by McDonalds! They cater to the preferences of every culture around the world. In this case, baked pastries and espresso for breakfast is just so Parisian. We also found some McCafes with pies, tarts and macarons:
Even the specialty drinks at the McCafes were much more impressive than Canada's McCafes: 
Caramel Macchiato

After grabbing breakfast, we went to meet up with a Sandeman tour. The final stop was near Les Invalides and our tour guide took us to a cozy neighbourhood French restaurant for lunch. The meals were simple, filling and most importantly - reasonably priced for about €10 - €15 an entree. 
Duck Confit

Frog Legs
I didn't really know frog legs were so meaty. The mean was pretty lean with a string-like quality - the cream sauce was pretty nice as well. 

Cafe Le Flores
(not to be confused with Cafe de Flore, the famous coffeehouse)
We saw the Cafe de Flore recommendation in our travel guides; little did we know how different the restaurants were (and the difference was "le" instead of "de" and a "s" after Flore!!)

Mmmm snails with lots of butter and cheese!

Duck confit (at the top) and duck a l'orange
It was an average meal and pretty filling for €20 a person (appetizer to share and entree). I found it very touristy. I wonder if people confused Cafe Le Flores for the famous Cafe de Flore. 

The next day, we decided to explore Montmatre:
Moulin Rouge in Montmatre

We took in the scenery at the top of butte Montmatre near the Sacré-Cœur Basilica:
And grabbed a bite to eat in the touristy area near Place de Tertre and Sacré-Coeur

Croque Monsieur €8
I actually really liked the croque monsieur! It was nicely crispy on the outside and cheesy with ham inside. It's way more gourmet than any grilled cheese I've had in North America (with the exception of Clafouti)

We decided to treat ourselves after that crazy walking tour up butte Montmatre and we went to Angelina on Rue Rivoli for the famous pot au chocolat and the Mont Blanc.

Angelina's Pot au Chocolat et Mont Blanc €15
The Pot au Chocolat was rich,decadent and super indulgent. It was so heavy that it almost felt like a meal. 
The Mont Blanc was made of meringue, sweet whipped cream, chestnut puree vermicelles. I wasn't very impressed by it (most likely because I don't really like chestnut as I find the grainy texture and taste off-putting). Also, I think I might have gotten food poisoning from the Mont Blanc I had because the next few days my stomach felt off. (What a nightmare...food poisoning in Paris of all places!)

We also got some snacks in the Le Marais area:
Pistache souris
A pistachio cookie shaped like a mouse. It was so adorable that I couldn't help buying it. The cookie was pretty hard and didn't really taste like pistachio, but oh well, I bought it for the novelty.

Pain au chocolat aux amandes (chocolate and almond pastry)
French bakeries are amazing! No matter if they're boulangeries or patisseries, the French have taken baking to a whole new level and it's evident wherever you go in Paris (even McDonald's)

For dinner, we stopped by food floor in Galleries Lafayette and picked up some Thai food, as well as some macarons from Pierre Hermé!
Galleries Lafayette - The Thai food stall
Salmon quiche from a shop on our way back to the Hotel and Macarons from Pierre Hermé
I love these Department stores with everything! Tokyo's Mitsukoshi and Matsuzakaya, Berlin's KaDeWe, Paris' Galleries Lafayette and London's Harrods all have these fantastic floors serving ready-to-eat gourmet food. The Canadian equivalent of Holt Renfrew Gourmet pales in comparison.

Pierre Hermé
Clockwise from the top right:
Infiniment Pistache (pistachio), Huile D'Olive À La Mandarine (Olive oil with mandarin orange), Mogador (Milk chocolate and passionfruit), Infinitment Rose (Rose and rose petal), Réglisse & violette (liquorice & violet), Huile D'Olive & Vanille (Olive oil and vanilla) and Métissé (carrot, orange and cinnamon). €11.10 for 7 macarons (and well worth it)

I can't rave enough about Pierre Hermé macarons: they are the BEST in the world! From the exotic and unique combinations, to the perfect execution of each delightful morsel - he really is the master of macarons. 

My absolute favourite has got to be the réglisse & violette combination! I should probably give a little background: I really dislike flower flavoured macarons (rosewater, lavendar, etc.). I find the perfumed fragrance distracts me from the actual taste (and subsequently enjoyment) of the macaron (especially rose macarons - it's like eating a puffy rose petal confection and I just can't find eating it enjoyable). Then there's liquorice  and for someone with such a big sweet tooth, liquorice has got to be my least favourite candy. So my first thoughts about the Réglisse & Violette combination was "Ew! A combination of my two least favourite flavours - what a disaster!"
Little did I know....

Something about the crazy combination just works! The liquorice has no resemblance to any liquorice candy and the violet is subtle but adds a nice balance to the liquorice side of the macaron along with the perfect finish of the delicately crunchy outside and moist, chewy inside make this the BEST macaron ever. 
Heavenly - Pierre Hermé macarons are a MUST TRY in Paris!

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

Unfortunately, due to tummy problems, I was reduced to eating on a soup and bread (mostly melba toast!) diet for the next few days:
However, I did manage to splurge a bit and get a French onion soup at some restaurant on our way to the Panthéon. I was actually expecting a puff pastry French onion soup and so I was quite surprised to get this soup with a thick layer of cheese on top and a hearty stew of caramelized onions. I find you can't really go wrong with French food in Paris...yum!

When I finally recovered, I went all out at another well-known macaron maker:
There's 5 locations in Paris and quite a few around the world. 

Rose, lychee and raspberry come together in this delicious dessert. The raspberries and cream filling are sandwiched between large rose lychee feet. It's such a treat!

Gigantic Pistachio Macaron
It's probably a true testament to Ladurée that they can make such a large macaron consistent with the same texture as a smaller bite sized macaron with the textbook perfect crunchy shell and chewy inside. Considering it was about 4 times the size of a normal macaron - it was quite a feat (and really well done).

Millefeuille Fraise
Delicious! Crunchy pastry with delicious strawberry custard all layered in a perfect package!

Pistachio Griotte Saint-Honoré

Macarons: traditional flavours of pistachio, rose, vanilla, coffee, lemon
Very classic macarons and they held true to the French receipe. They were picture perfect and classic (and beautifully executed), but I love the creativity and genius of Pierre Hermé more.

Then we went to Dalloyau

I actually recognized Dalloyau from Tokyo (they have 5 shops in Tokyo and in all the major areas).
I didn't get the chance to try Dalloyau (or Pierre Hermé for that matter) in Tokyo, so I figured this was a perfect opportunity to try it in the city that it originated from.

Opera cake
This is the most famous cake that Dalloyau is famous for! Classic and delicious. 

Another famous Parisian thing was street crêpes
Street crêpes €5.30
I thought the crêpes would be a lot more popular, however, we actually had difficulty finding places that sold them. This street crêpe place we found was across the street from the Galleries Lafayette at Montparnasse. 
It was a nice snack - convenient and cheap in a town full of delicious expensive food.

Conclusion: Contrary to popular belief that French portions are tiny and not-filling, I found the opposite to be true when I was in Paris. The food is pricey here, but the size of the meal didn't differ so much from any other countries (except maybe the portion sizes in America which are insane). I had a lovely time in Paris eating all the desserts and macarons and I can't wait to go back again (hopefully with a bigger food budget). 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Barcelona is such a vibrant, bright and bold city!
From Las Ramblas:

To Gaudi's architecture: 
Park Guell and Casa Milà

And last but not least, who can possibly forget Sagrada Familia? 

Another popular tourist destination is La Boquiera off Las Ramblas (the main street in Barcelona). Apparently the public market (Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria) has been around since 1217 and it's quite a sight to behold.  
La Boquiera


So many choices and so colourful!

Paella 10
The bowls of fruit were 2 for 1 (end of day sale at 2pm)
That sounds weird at first, but Spaniards operate on a different schedule than the rest of the world. Business hours in Spain start from 9am until 2pm and 5-8pm with a break from 2-5pm for the afternoon siesta! Trust me, in the heat, they definitely need their siesta time. 
We were exploring La Boqueria and we wandered past a few restaurants with their massive paella pans (paellera) and we couldn't resist buying two servings of their aromatic seafood paella. The paella looked so bright and colourful with the slightly orange saffron rice, green peas, pink shrimp, black mussels and purple octopuses and it was pretty tasty.  

And for dessert, we had a colourful assortment of fruits! Red dragonfruit, kiwi, coconut, grapes, watermelon, apples and pineapple - and they were all sweet and juicy!

On our way to my favourite European clothing store, Desigual, we saw a Tapas restaurant. We figured we could try a few tapas as a mid afternoon snack...and it turned into a full lunch. 
It seemed like the options were endless! Unfortunately, we had to keep asking the servers behind the counter about the tapas because there weren't any descriptions. 

Top to bottom:
1) Salmon with capers and cream cheese on a piece of toast
2) Tuna with fried onions on toast
3) Fried potato pancake and mayonnaise on toast
4) Mysterious purple tapa

Some croquette tapas
The total bill came up to 19.80 which is not bad considering how many tapas we ate. They calculated the total bill based on the number of toothpicks left on your plate (which is a pretty snazzy way of keeping track but obviously not as cool as Conveyor Belt Sushi). 

Casa Culleretes
The second oldest restaurant in Spain!

Wild Boar Game Stew
I'd say I can be a pretty adventurous eater: I love trying new dishes and meats, but at the same time, I know what I like and don't like. This stew was really good! The boar was a little tougher than pork, but it was perfectly complemented with the sauce and mushrooms. It probably would have been even better with white rice (that's the Asian in me).

Seafood Paella

A huge helping of the paella
The paella was creamier than the paella from La Boqueria (which probably dried out a bit since it was on display all day) and there was more sauce, vegetables and seafood in this paella. I liked that they added some chicken and pork to give the paella more hearty elements and make it more full-bodied. 
Considering the whole pan was considered one portion of food - it was little wonder why this place was so popular! Good food for good prices for sure!

Lastly, we finished with the traditional Catalan dessert:
Crema catalana
It was different from crème brûlée in that it wasn't as sweet and it used a type of un-sweetened and flavoured custard. I wasn't too sure what to think of this dessert...I'm so used to sweet creme brulees with their crackling caramelized layer that this seemed very foreign to me.

Conclusion: I LOVED Barcelona! It's such a lively, dynamic and colourful city. The Spanish really know how to live it up and enjoy themselves. And of course, who can forget the history? Spanish history is so fascinating from the ancient Roman ruins to the Conquistadors and the Imperial Age of Spain - there's so much going on!