Holiday foodsteps: Ruben, Budapest

The train that we boarded for our 6 hour journey from Prague set the scene for the next part of our Eastern European adventure. Unlike the more modern bullet trains of the rest of Europe, the train connecting Prague and Budapest has a slightly more traditional interior, everything you would have imagined train travel to have been like as a child - all those images of steam-filled platforms and passengers waving their hankerchiefs from their cabins. Once you get there, it doesn't take very long to realise that Budapest is breathtaking, especially when you discover that you'll be staying right by the Danube.

We were on the hunt for a good meal as soon as we got there. Our kind receptionist gave us a comprehensive run-down of the popular spots in the city. First on our list of restaurants - Ruben.

Budapest Magyar utca 12-14,
Budapest, Hungary

We were told that Ruben runs a very good lunch deal but we decided that we couldn't wait until the next day for lunch so we dropped by for dinner instead. Eager to start tucking into some Hungarian specialties, we combed the menu in search for the "traditional" section, placed our orders and waited in eager anticipation.

Left - spicy beef goulash soup. Right - rabbit soup.
The goulash soup was a fiery red concoction, served with a dish of what looked (and tasted) like sambal belacan. There were great expectations for the goulash soup, having read so much about Hungarian goulash but it was the rabbit soup that won (and warmed) the heart. With a tartness that I can only describe as quite like the flavour you get from gherkins and capers, there was an intriguing blend of flavours that was unlike anything I have ever had before.

Lamb served with mushrooms and a vegetable strudel. I've always got a soft spot for lamb, whether it's a stew, a curry, a roast - I'm sold. This one is right up there with some of my favourite lamb dishes, a simple roast that didn't comprimise the texture or flavour of the lamb.

Grilled pike perch with mushrooms, peppers and sour cream sauce. We didn't expect a whole fish to arrive at the table so it was quite a delight when it did. Living in London, one gets quite accustomed to having fish appear in the form of fillets - none of the joy of enjoying a fish from head to tail. The fish was nothing fancy but was a nice change from all the meat that we'd been having.

Home-style roasted rabbit ragout with tarragon sauce, soft ewe's cheese and bread dumpling.
What appeared to be multiple blobs of colour on on a plate turned out to be the star of the show. The lovely sauce that was both sweet and savoury was a lovely complement to the soft pieces of rabbit. Truly "home-style" comfort food.

After declaring that we were far too full to move, we proceeded to order a trio of desserts, one of which involved a delicious chilli chocolate souffle. I would share the photos if I could but we got a little too caught up in tucking in that the camera was completely forgotten for awhile. As if dessert wasn't enough, we decided to take a slow stroll along the Danube to cap the night off. I'll let the photo do the talking.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri - May it be filled with much love, ketupat and rendang.

Holiday Foodsteps: More duck in Prague

While we didn't have anymore accordion-accompanied meals while we were in Prague, we still sat down to some good food. I love that food there is honest and hearty - dishes that truly warm the heart and satisfy. I remember having dinner at a rustic beer house on our second night there. Smoke filled and with wooden furnishings, it felt a little bit like being in a log cabin up in the mountains. We had taken a chance with this place, having stumbled upon it on the net - it promised authentic food and a local feel, away from the more touristy spots. Unfortunately, it was so off the beaten track that I cannot seem to recall the name of the restaurant or which road it is on - it's funny because I can still imagine sitting in our booth at the corner of the restaurant, tucking into some amazing food.

Potato pancakes topped with goat's cheese.

Ribs. Enough said.

Yes, more Bohemian duck. We knew we had to have the duck one more time before we said goodbye to Prague but were afraid that after the lovely duck we had at the Plzenska Beer Hall, any subsequent ones would pale in comparison. I don't know if Prague as a city just really knows how to cook it's duck or if we were twice lucky but this topped even the one we had the previous night. Half a duck appeared at our table - more tender and served with red cabbage that was even more addictive than before. While props still goes to Plzenska's duck in terms of skin-crispiness, this one wins in terms of flavour and texture.

After all our main courses, we were stuffed but couldn't resist dessert (it goes into a separate section of the stomach!). We went with crepes an ice cream, something that seemed to be a local favourite.

I find it amusing that I remember the meal so well - the smell of the place, the childish delight we all felt when our little mountain of food arrived at the table, the conversations that we were having, the way the duck-dumpling-cabbage-gravy combination tasted. I just cannot seem to remember the name of the place. I suppose that's the power of a great meal.

Holiday Foodsteps: Plzenska Beer Hall Restaurant, Prague.

We were this close to giving up on trying to find the restaurant, having walked passed the restaurant a few times before realising it was there. It isn't that it's hidden in a little corner on a quiet street - far from it actually. We just didn't expect a restaurant that had been described as "affordable" to actually be in the gorgeous Municipal House itself.

Plzenska Beer Hall Restaurant
Republic Square 5
Old Town, Prague 1
Czech Republic

After a day spent in the day exploring Kutna Hora and experiencing the simultaneously fascinating and disturbing bone chapel first hand, we were eager to settle down in a less gruesome setting to sample some of the Czech Republic's tradtional fare. The beer hall is a lively place - an accordion duo provides some happy folk tunes, entertaining customers as they tuck into their meals in the rather lavishly decorated hall.

We ordered with our eyes - taking a bit of time to survey the table-tops of our neighbours before deciding what we wanted. A basket of rolls appeared at our table together with the beer the solitary guy in our group ordered - to whet our appetites before the main dishes arrived.

Roasted Pork Joint - arriving at the table in all it's glory, the joint was a huge chunk of meltingly tender pork that was absolutely delicious when eaten with gravy made out of its roasting juices and a selection of dips and sauces.

Bohemian duck - roast duck served with braised red cabbage and dumplings. Crispy skin, tender duck, delicious gravy and the most addictive red cabbage - this was our first encounter with the famous dish, and what an incredible introduction it was.

Our meal at the Plezenska Beer Hall Restaurant pretty much set the tone for the rest of our Eastern European holiday. So the place has a name I still cannot pronounce but with a lovely setting, good food that's affordable and huge portions - the restaurant is definitely worth a visit.

Holiday Foodsteps: The last bits of the States

I'm going to cap off my trip to the States with a few more random bits and bobs, the last of it, I promise.

Mexican food after the adrenaline high

When you're in Orlando, food becomes a bit less of a priority (unless it's butterbeer and gigantic turkey legs, of course). It's difficult not to be sucked into the the theme park madness - I arrived rather apprenhensive about all the rollercoaster rides that I would inevitably have to go on but was completely caught up in all the excitement one ride in. It's only upon leaving the theme park, after a whole day on a cycle of feeling anxious, screaming your heart out then grinning from ear to ear, that you think about settling down for a proper meal. We found a tiny cafe serving Mexican fare opposite the Wet 'n' Wild park, beside a large souvenir shop and decided that it would be far better than another round of theme park food. The lunch menu involved rice with your choice of a main dish. The food was simple and hearty - a nice amount of spice and yes, far more interesting than any of the fried stuff that's on offer at the parks.

Feeling intellectual in Peet's Coffee & Tea

Peet's Coffee & Tea
100 Mt. Auburn St
Cambridge, MA 02138

They say that Harvard is a must-see if you're ever in Boston and I say that if you're visiting Harvard, Peet's Coffee & Tea in Harvard Square is a must-not-miss. Our guide in Philadelphia was quite adamant that we pay the coffee house a visit for the Godiva Dark Chocolate Raspberry Freddo and I'm glad we listened to him. The freddo is really more of a dessert than a drink - chocolate that's not too sweet (though I'd preferred if it was a little more bitter) and swirls of raspberry that add a welcome zing to the concoction.

Indian cuisine in Niagara.

This tops my list of the holiday's biggest surprises. I remember arriving in Niagara overjoyed that it wasn't pouring - we'd had a bout of terrible weather at our previous stop, Boston. The failed attempt at having a lobster meal in Boston still stung a tiny bit and while we were extremely excited at the thought of finally seeing the falls, we were also craving some food-related satisfaction. While on the bus from the airport to the guesthouse, we spotted an Indian restaurant with a huge sign promoting an all-you-can-eat buffet. We knew immediately what we wanted for lunch and upon checking in, quickly ventured out on the hunt for the restaurant. What we quickly discovered was a whole host of Indian restaurants offering an all-you-can-eat buffet and pretty soon, we were spoiled for choice.

Sardar Sahib
421 3rd Street
Niagara Falls, NY 14301-1505

We finally settled on Sardar Sahib, a wise, wise choice. While the spread is not extensive, there's a good amount of choice and a there's something for everyone. The delicious flavours and aromas awakened our tired senses as we tucked into perhaps one of the most satisfying meals of the entire holiday. We returned later that day for dinner to escape the rain (and after having no luck in finding a place to eat) and were happy to find that they offered a different spread for dinner.

"You make a hole in the puri and fill it up with some sour water"

I'd heard many accounts of Sapna's favourite Indian street food, something I'd never come across before and something she believed could only be found in India. To say that we were taken aback when we spotted a van selling pani puri (previously known as puri with sour water) while on a late-night stroll back from the falls is an understatement. With much anticipation, we ordered a serving of pani puri, a helping of papdi chaat and a cup of hot chai to wash it all down. The pani puri, pictured on the right, was quite the interesting dish with its cold, tamarind-chilli-spiced water and crisp little puris. I loved the papdi chaat which had a lovely mix of textures and flavours. Finish off with some hot, flavourful chai and you've got a winning supper.

Frozen yogurt, frozen yogurt and more frozen yogurt

I'm a huge fan of frozen yogurt and was eager to sample the American version of the popular dessert. While most frozen yogurt outlets in the States have the same fun concept as the ones in London, I found the frozen yogurt to be quite different. The flavours were a lot stronger and the frozen yogurt generally a lot sweeter over there than in London - one can be easily fooled into believing that the frozen yogurt was really ice cream. Perhaps it's a matter of familiarity but I definitely still prefer the lighter, more tart version of the dessert that we get on this side of the world.

There we go, the last of my American food stories - I have to admit, it really is quite like what you see in the movies but I suppose we wouldn't have it any other way.