...and on, after a brief stopover on the topic of this month's Mixology Monday as well as a ferocious bar-room brawl against an inexplicable episode of writer's block, here she is (finally, you say) - part deux of my long-delayed vacation recap from the often-curious perspective of food & drink...
Naturally, when planning this vacation, I had elected to take an excursion (arranged by the cruise) entitled "Cuisine & Bazaars of Istanbul". The tour began perilously (for me anyway) early in the morning, arriving in the Old City (where Istanbul was Constantinople) and walking through the marvel that is Galatasaray Square. Off this pedestrian-only street a multitude of confectionary shops, markets and other stores abound and the tour visited many of them, including a walk through the old Cicek Pasaji (once the Flower Market, the space is now filled with restaurants, coffeehouses & taverns) to reach Istanbul's outdoor Balik Pazari - the Fish & Produce market:
Following the tour & subsequent jaunts through the various Bazaars, being left with the option of several hours on my own in the city prior to boarding the ship, I thought to get a look at the quieter, less tourist-clogged areas. After wandering for short time towards the Old City, I stumbled upon a small back street which terminated at the coffeehouse, or kiraathane pictured at left. Though thirsty from walking, I thought of moving on - not wanting to push my caffeine-rush any further with yet another glass of coffee or tea (delicious though they may have been) - yet something, perhaps the atmosphere, kept my feet firmly planted. As I took a carpet-draped seat and the proprietor approached, I recalled there was libation particular to Turkey which I had not yet sampled - the native spirit called Raki.
Vanilla & Star Anise Syrup
1 Cup: white Sugar
1 Cup: Water
1x Madagascar Vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1x Star Anise pod, whole
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a light simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and allow to cool before transferring to a clean airtight container & adding ¼ oz. Vodka as a preservative. Allow to rest, agitating occasionally, for twelve hours before removing the Anise pod. Allow to rest for six days, agitating occasionally, before removing the Vanilla bean & bottling.
Many thanks again for the fabulous hospitality and phenomenal drink Max! For those of you gentle readers who have not checked out his bilingual cocktail blog or tried any of the inspired recipes he regularly posts there - get to it posthaste!
Much as with Rome, I had been to France once before - Paris specifically - yet let the record show that the culture of southern France is worlds removed from that of the north. The cuisine for example, while undeniably French, tends towards more Mediterranean leanings with a serious emphasis on fresh seafood and flavorful herbs like the omnipresent Lavender & Herbs de Provençe blend(s). The wines produced in this area and its' surrounding regions were already among my favorites, particularly vintages hailing from the Côtes du Provençe and nearby Côtes du Rhone appellations. This appreciation did nothing to prepare me for the incredible wines I would enjoy at the cozy Pour le Vin (whose list of specials for the day is pictured at left) in beautiful Arles, a small city dating to Roman times, deep in the heart of Provençe...
Following the glorious wine and food, I journeyed around the tiny streets of Arles for a while until later in the day when I came across the following famous cafe. [The first person to correctly name this places' significance in the comments section will receive a bottle of my own homemade Honey Tangerine bitters.] Regardless of the quiet establishment's history, the strong coffee they served up was superb - particularly when sweetened by a splash of Orgeat syrup in a handily-named Cafe au Orgeat. My only regret about this particular stop was that I wasn't in Arles (or even Marseilles) at nightfall and so could not have gotten a much more apropos look at the cafe...
Les Baux de Provençe
Before my return to the ship, the final stop of the "Provençe on your Own" tour (read: glorified bus transport) I had undertaken was at the medieval village of Les Baux de Provençe. Built on a truly incredible location, this one-street tourist-town, complete with the ruins of a medieval castle, is precariously perched atop a limestone cliff, overlooking the scenic valley pictured at left. The shops here largely carry an interesting variety of art, homegoods and spices alongside artisanal spirits & liqueurs. Absinthe and Pastis were everywhere, with literally dozens of both lining the shelves of most every shop, as well as the numerous types of specialty glasses, spoons, fountains and drippers which facilitate their enjoyment. Though I contemplated purchasing one of the many beautiful blown-glass absinthe fountains I saw, I limited my purchases to several more interesting (& easier to transport home) items of local origin:
Though I was in Barcelona for only one full day after the ship disembarked, it certainly was a culinary dream of sorts, one whose brevity required me to enjoy it in a mad dash about the city. Barcelona is a wonderous city, particularly from an architectural and aesthetic standpoint, with a plethora of things to see and do - made simpler by the (genius) tourist bus lines which run preset routes through the city. A sort of combination multilingual tour-guide & taxi service, these brightly-colored buses take one nearly anywhere you would care to go, highlighting stops one may not have known of along the way & allowing one to see as much of the massive city as possible.
After lunch I worked my way towards the central portion of the city with a purpose - a stop at the famed bar Dry Martini. Dimly-lit and quiet at the time of my late afternoon visit, this gorgeous, classy spot is lined from floor to ceiling in antique bar equipment, books and cocktail-artwork - making it a kind of museum of the bartender's craft. The specialty drinks served across its' long hardwood bar were excellent, a blend of classic recipes - Martinis, Frappes, Highballs - with modern interpretations on the above.
Unable to get a reservation on such short-notice at Dry Martini's highly-rated restaurant Speakeasy, I inquired with the hotel concierge for an alternative dinner spot. Though, to me, an unlikely name for a restaurant, "The Crazy Crab" would prove to far outstrip even the most glowing recommendations I received for it. I returned to the harbor area not far from where I had lunch to the last building along the Port Olímpic piers. What followed ranked among the top five meals of my entire life, no fooling:
Cheers & Thanks!