Monday, 3 November 2014

Food not to be missed in Vienna

The land of Mozart, Beethoven and many other great artists, Vienna is quite a musical city. Home to centuries of imperial grandeur, Vienna also has some great culinary treasures to offer. They are not hidden, but definitely require some great taste in food to appreciate ;).

Below I have listed the food experiences which I feel should not be missed in the Austrian capital -

  Grab a sausage at a Würstelstand

"Würstel" means sausage in German. These traditional Austrian street food outlets were created during the Austro-Hungarian dynasty. There are many different types of sausages, but I will recommend the Käsekrainer. Its a sausage filled with cheese. An absolute delight for cheese lovers. The cheese is hot. Be careful not to burn your mouth.

 Try the Stelze at the Schweizerhaus

Stelze is German for roasted pork knuckle. I got a chance to try this Austrian dish in Schweizerhaus in Prater. It was a delicious experience. A definite treat for meat lovers. Vegetarians, please close your eyes.

We managed to find an empty table in the beer garden. After walking for almost half an hour through the amusement park, my stomach was growling. We ordered for the the Stelze (the roasted pork knuckle) and two local beers. I am not a beer drinker, but was hoping Vienna would change me. The waiter appeared with this huge meat piece, leaving us speechless for at least a few moments. It was big, and we were not sure if we could finish it. We ordered for some mustard and horseradish.(Yup, you have to order it separately). For my Indian taste buds, I required some sauces with the the meat. It took some effort to cut, but it tasted delicious with the sauces. I would definitely recommend trying this Viennese speciality to all foodies, especially meat lovers.

Don't forget to sample some local Viennese beers.

Don't miss the Schnitzel

It is considered the national dish of Austria and is popular in many countries. Schnitzel comes from the word "Schnitz" which means slice. Its a slice of boneless meat which is pounded until it becomes very thin and then it is coated with flour, egg and bread crumbs and then fried. The Wiener Schnitzel is traditionally made from veal. Other Schnitzel varieties could use pork, chicken, mutton, beef etc.
This piece of deep fried goodness is definitely worth a try. Apart from restaurants in Vienna, it is also available on sausage stands - sliced, easy to eat and in takeaway boxes.


Viennese cuisine is popular for its amazing sweets and desserts.

Get ready to satisfy your sweet tooth - Viennese style

Apfelstrudel or Apple strudel

It is interesting to know that the strudel was actually influenced by the Turkish Baklava. It came to Austria through Turkey via Hungary.

This heavenly pastry is filled with apples,cinnamon, raisins and bread crumbs and is served with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. It is eaten with whipped cream, custard or vanilla sauce.
I tried this delicious dessert at the Cafe Museum. Very close to the Opera House. It has great Ambience and some amazing desserts.


This famous torte (cake) is a rich delicious chocolate cake with an apricot jam filling inside. This cake is so famous in Austria, that they have a day dedicated just to this rich cake - The National Sachertorte day, which is celebrated each year on the 5th of december. 

The Sachertorte was created by Franz Sacher in the year 1832 for the Prince Klemens Von Matternich. 

Viennese coffee

History says that the Turks are responsible for spreading the coffee culture in Vienna. When they retreated after the second siege of Vienna, they left some of their coffee supplies. Since then coffee and coffee houses have become a major part of Viennese culture.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Albufeira - The hidden gem

If there was a beauty pageant for destinations, Algarve in southern Portugal would have surely taken the crown. The region is blessed with a picturesque coastline and many stunning beach towns, but I fell in love with one charming historic town. My exotic little Gem – Albufeira

The name Albufeira originated from the Arab word Al-buhera which means “The Castle of the sea”.
 It is well-connected from cities of Portugal and Spain and the nearest airport is in Faro, which is the capital of the Algarve region.


                       Take a stroll through the Old area 

Get the feel of the Old town. Spend some time admiring the unique Portuguese architecture.  Wander in the beautiful, quaint, cobblestoned narrow alleys. Be awed by the beautiful whitewashed houses and get a sneak peek into the lives of the locals here.

Lounge at the Beach

I can promise that the first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean will be breathtaking. The stunning turquoise seascape is awe inspiring. Spend some time lazing on the beach, enjoying the relaxing sound of the waves. Take a swim, soak in some vitamin D, or just collect some shells from the sea shore. The symmetry and shapes of the shells are very fascinating. It’s a pleasure to watch them wash away and to see new ones come with each wave.

Revisit those childhood days. Try your hand at building some sand sculptures. 

Take a boat cruise to the Caves

To truly experience the beauty of the Algarve, a boat trip to the caves is a must do. Head to the Marina. There are many boat companies offering different types of cruises, at different timings and costs, so choose wisely.

Get ready for a glimpse of heaven. The coastline is dramatic with hidden beaches and stunning limestone caves and grottoes.  Each cave is more alluring than the other. The most famous and spectacular ones are the Captain’s cave and the Cathedral cave.

Enjoy the nightlife

Entertainment options are abundant in Albufeira. For a fun night out, head to the center. The atmosphere is exuberant and frolicsome. It is vibrant enough to put anyone in a party mood. “The Strip” as it is famously called, is the hangout for all night birds. There are many restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes. Many of them offer live music and performances. Indulge in some retail therapy at the tiny shops and boutiques selling souvenirs, beachwear, clothes, trinkets and other small treasures. 

Indulge in some gastronomic Delights

It is hard not to sample the local cuisine when it is based around fresh seafood. With the long coastline, it’s not surprising that seafood is a major part of the diet here. Salted and dried cod or Bacalhau is a traditional Portuguese dish, and is worth a try. Spicy but delicious, the popular Piri Piri chicken is a definite superstar. To satisfy your sweet tooth, try the local egg tart – Pastel de Nata.

I went, I saw and I left a piece of my heart in Albufeira. Obrigado! Albufeira,  for such a wonderful time. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Travel like a local

Visiting a foreign country, takes me back to the days of wide eyed wonderment, when everything seems fascinating. Every time I visit a place I have not been before, there is a hunger to explore. To see more, in the time available. Sometimes, even broken roads and unpredictable weather seem fascinating.

The inquisitive explorer in me always tries to experience the destination like a local. Some travel tips below.

Give hotel stay a miss, and choose a home stay instead

For a valuable insight on the local life, bid goodbye to hotels, and choose a home stay instead. In addition to being a form of cheap accommodation, it also gives a closer look into into the lifestyle of the locals. Interacting with hosts can give you true sense of the community, along with some useful tips on the destination.

Don’t waste your money on expensive hotels, use it to explore unique experiences which give value alternative to a hotel or vacation rental - 

   Walk and Explore

An interesting way to explore a city/town is on foot. If time is not a concern, ambling around the town with no fixed itinerary is something I would suggest. Walking will not only give you the luxury to move and stop at your own pace but also help you to keep the holiday fat at bay.

A traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see - G.K. Chesterton

Know a few basics of the local language

Make a little effort to learn a few basic words and greetings in the local language. Also, being aware of the local traditions before reaching the place is a wise idea. Its amazing how a smile and some politeness can break the ice. Talk to a few locals. Ask them for suggestions on what what to see & eat, where to shop.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

 Ditch the Taxi, and use the local train - Be a responsible traveller 

For long distances, use the public transport. Whether its the tram, train, or bus, hop on and experience how the locals travel.  Its fun plus its interesting to see life on the move in a foreign nation and you also end up reducing your carbon footprint.

Try the local food

Entering McDonalds, KFC, Pizza hut etc. should be  a crime while in a foreign country . Why waste calories on common junk food when there is a entire culinary treasure, waiting to be discovered. Be adventurous and try some local dishes. You will be surprised that if you search a little, in most places you will find vegetarian food too. Contrary to belief, you can find vegetarian food in most cuisines. I was always under the impression that turkish food is all meat, but the best potato dish I have had is in Turkey - Kumpir

 Experience a local art form

Being a part or experiencing a local form of art like a local dance or any local performance, not only gives you a sneak peek into the local culture but also encourages the local artisans. Whether its the Rajasthani folk dance or the whirling dervish of Istanbul, do take time out to watch and appreciate these cultural performances.

Celebrate with the locals

Be in time for a festival. Experience the celebrations, joy and  enthusiasm with the locals. A closer look in to the local culture is guaranteed. Don't hesitate to be part of the local traditions. Get amazed by how similar or dissimilar the traditions are from your own.

Visit a local market

Give your senses a treat. Enjoy the different sights, sounds and smells of the marketplace.Whether its the Arabic souk in UAE or a farmer's market in Europe, let your senses loose. Experience the locals in action. Don't miss the opportunity to sample some local foods.

Go to a traditional wedding
Its a rare situation that a foreigner visiting a city/town, gets invited to a local wedding, but if you manage to get invited, don't miss it. Its the best occasion to experience local traditions in full form.

Converse with the locals

Create genuine conversations with locals, but, don't be pushy. Conversations can happen in pubs, cafes and almost anywhere. Also, simply asking for directions can lead to great encounters

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Lisbon - Explore the city of explorers

After enjoying  the stunning southern coast of Portugal, it was time to hit the capital. I slept on the way. When I woke up, the sight was beautiful. When I looked out of the bus window, we were on a huge suspension bridge. The bridge looked exactly like the Golden gate bridge of San Francisco. Before I could comprehend the existence of this Golden gate resembling bridge, I saw a statue that looked exactly like Christ the Redeemer of Rio. For a moment I thought to myself, am I dreaming or is this the real world - Christ the Redeemer in San Francisco? Makes no sense to me.

Actually, I was in real world, and this was Lisbon. The bridge that we crossed, to reach Lisbon is suspended over the Tagus river. Its built an American company, funnily enough not by the company that built the Golden gate bridge in San Francisco. The statue of Christ standing with open arms, dominating the skyline of  is actually a replica of Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio. Its called the Cristo Rei statue.

I had only 48hrs in Lisbon, but I made sure I utilized this time in the best way possible.Capital and the largest city of Portugal, Lisbon has great historical significance. Vasco da Gama, one of the most celebrated explorers in the world, set sail from Lisbon, and reached India after crossing the Cape of Good Hope, which lead to the establishment of the great Portuguese empire.
 Lisbon, also the only European capital on the Atlantic coast, is home to over 3 million people.

Walk, walk and walk.
Its the best way to know the city. Start from the Rossio square and walk up to the Praca the Comercio.
 A lot of hustle and bustle - guaranteed. You will cross a huge arch which is beautifully carved - Augusta Rua. Don't be surprised if you cross a drug peddler. A polite no, will give the signal.
Walk to Chiado, Browse shops or just indulge in some retail therapy.

Walk to Alfama - the oldest district of Lisbon. Slightly run down, but historically very rich. A walk in this old fashioned neighbourhood is without a doubt, essential for a Lisbon visitor. Just wander and lose yourself. Walk upto the castle. The views are breathtaking. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer while enjoying the gorgeous views.

Soak in the vibrancy of the city. Enjoy street performances, eat, drink, shop, just have fun.

TIP: Lisbon is hilly plus the streets are made of cobblestones. Advisable to wear the most comfortable footwear you have.

    Hop on the Legendary Yellow tram of Lisbon

The experience of riding this tram should not be missed. Purchase a day pass (Eur 4) and you can travel anywhere, on the tram, metro or bus. Its definitely not the fastest means to travel, but a great way to enjoy the landmarks in the city. Tram no. 28 covers the most picturesque route. I would say a visit to Lisbon is incomplete without a ride in these trams.

TIP:  Pickpockets look like you and me, so beware. Pickpocketing is common in Lisbon, especially in the trams.

Visit Belem
Belem has some of the most important historical sights of Lisbon. Some of them are from the Age of Discovery. Hop on to a tram, and reach Belem and let the magic begin.

Jerònimos Monastery
A UNESCO World Heritage site, its an example of Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture. The Great Vasco da Gama is buried here.
The architecture is stunning. A visit to this monastery will take you back in time.

The Discoveries Monument
It is, perhaps Lisbon's most emblematic structure. It was built in the honour of Henry the Navigator. The structure has more than 30 statues of people who played an important role in the discoveries of important lands in the World.

The Belem Tower
Its a symbol of the Age of Discovery. It was built in 1515, and served as a fortress to guard Lisbon's harbour. Its made of Lioz limestone and the architecture style is Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline.

Appreciate the amazing mosaic tiles of Lisbon
Its very rare that the piece of art that we are admiring is under our feet. Thats the case with these tiles. They are all over Lisbon, on the sidewalks , on the pavements, just everywhere. These tiny pieces of tiles are put together to form stunning art. They are a combination of black basalt and white limestone. Truly stunning!

Eat the local specialities

Pastel de Nata - Portugese Egg tart

They are delicious. Remember tasting them in Macau. Macau was once a Portuguese colony, the reason why these tarts are also a local speciality there. A sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar adds magic to these tiny beauties. These custard tarts are truly heavenly. Bet, you won't be able to stop at one.


Fish is staple in Portuguese diet. Most dishes in Portugal are fish based. The most popular is the salted cod - Bacalhau  in Portuguese.Other fishes which are widely eaten are sea bass, sardines, octopus, squid, swordfish etc. Baked, grilled, fried and even in a stew form - choose what you like and dig in.

Beautiful & charming in more ways than one, this city definitely deserves another visit. Obrigado Lisboa !

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Foodie's guide to Spain - Madrid, Toledo & Seville

Every time I think of Spain, the first picture that comes to my mind is a group of cheerful, vivacious people having a good time and enjoying some delicious food & Sangria. Food is one of the most important aspects of travel for me. Unless you try what the locals eat, the experience of the place is incomplete.

Tapas, I feel are synonymous to Spanish cuisine.They are referred to as pintxos  in the northern regionThey maybe small portions but they are big on taste. You can call them appetizers, starters or snacks, but for somebody who likes variety, a combination of different tapas can form a perfect meal. They can be cold or hot, cooked or uncooked, vegan or vegetarian. The list is long.

I traveled to a few cities in Spain and did not miss any opportunity to eat local spanish food.

The capital and the largest city in Spain. There is an indescribable energy to this city. The city is a beautiful mix of the old and the new.

Puerta de Sol
Located in the heart of the city, this famous square is lined with restaurants, bars, cafes, ham & cheese shops. Bustling with tourists, its charming and alive. The most fascinating are the cave bars each famous for a particular tapa and some also serve a variety.

TIP: Cave Hopping - Visit different caves and try their speciality with Sangria

Champiñòn al ajillo (Mushrooms with Garlic) at the Mesòn del Champiñòn

 Delectable mushrooms, served with a smile

                                                                                            Sangria is served in earthen jugs

The Men behind the delicious mushrooms and Sangria

    Pimientos de Padròn (Spicy peppers) - Another superstar from the caves
Fresh, salty, lemony, mild & absolutely delectable. 

    Jamòn Ibèrico (Ham from Acorn fed pigs)
Finest ham in the world. It has a delicious nutty flavor.

        In Sol, you will spot many ham shops. It is quite fascinating to see so many different varieties of  ham. 

TIP: Vacuum packed ham is an ideal thing to take back from Spain.

Mercado de San Miguel
The oldest and the most beautiful food markets in Madrid. Even if you don't want to buy anything, its a market which should be experienced, just for its lovely sights and smells.

Paella - The showstopper in Madrid
This stunning dish is a concoction of  vegetables, chicken and seafood. It can be customized as per one's choice.It is eaten with aioli (garlic mayonnaise). It can be eaten as whole meal or as a starter. Most tapas bars serve Paella as a tapa. Paella may have humble roots, but this wholesome dish is definitely the king of all dishes.

Paella at the L'Albufera restaurant at the Melià hotel

The city of 3 cultures - There was a time when muslims, jews and christians lived here in harmony. This timeless city is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is just an hours drive from Madrid. 

Spend some time strolling in the city. You will cross many souvenir shops selling medieval swords in all sizes. It is a great souvenir take back home. While walking you will spot many cafes and bars. Grab a seat and enjoy some local specialities.

Gambas al ajillo (Garlic Prawns)
The aroma was so heavenly, that I was in love with the them before eating them. Cooking with the shell elevates the taste. Slightly messy, but definitely worth it.

Patatas Bravas (Fried Potatoes with Spicy sauce)
 They are fried potatoes, served with a spicy tomato sauce called Brava. Also sometimes, accompanied by aioli (garlic mayonnaise).

A city so stunning, you will fall in love on first sight. The charm of the city lies in its architecture which is a unique combination of moorish, gothic and Renaissance styles. 

Just lose yourself  in the maze of alleys in the old quarter. There are many cafes and bars. Sample traditional dishes with some beer or Sangria.

TIP- To fully experience the old city, book a hotel around the cathedral.

Pisto Con Huevo (Spanish style Ratatouille)
Fresh vegetables stewed in tomato sauce served with egg. Delicoso!

Pimiento Rojo en aceite de oliva (Grilled Red Peppers in olive oil)
Smoky and sweet, served with tuna. Scrumptious!

Seville is a great city to wake up to. I suggest, walk up to the nearest cafe. Enjoy some Spanish breakfast before starting your day in this wonderful city.

                                 Cafè con Leche (Coffee with milk)
Start your day with a cup of frothy goodness.

Have some bread and jam or churros with chocolate sauce or just a croissant. 
Spain is a big country & there is still lots to eat. Until next time, Adios amigos.